The City Otherwise: The deferred emergency of occupation of inner-city Johannesburg

Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon (2020). “The City Otherwise: The Deferred Emergency of Occupation in Inner-City Johannesburg”. Cultural Anthropology 35 (3):404–434.

This article draws on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Johannesburg between 2011 and 2019 in inner-city unlawful occupations and temporary emergency accommodation sites. These are often referred to as “hijacked buildings,” “bad buildings,” or “dark buildings.” However, they are also spaces of refuge, intimacy, and sociality for tens of thousands of South Africans and foreign nationals excluded from formal rental markets and often displaced by the drive for urban regeneration. This essay mobilizes two concepts to characterize these spaces. The first is the notion of the “city otherwise,” engaging Elizabeth Povinelli’s concept of “spaces of otherwise.” The residents of these occupations endure in spaces of emergence and potentiality. Furthermore, I argue that they exist in a juridical condition that I characterize as “the deferred emergency.” This condition entails the indefinite deferral of an emergency, framed around both the juridical and the infrastructural form of “temporary emergency accommodation” for the evicted.

About Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon

Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon is an Associate Researcher on the Migration and Health Project Southern Africa, based at the African Centre for Migration & Society at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits).

Matthew holds a doctorate from the University of Oxford, which was ethnographic study of HIV/AIDS treatment programmes to displaced communities in northern Uganda. Over the past five years he has conducting research in inner-city Johannesburg on themes of migration, religion, health and housing. He is beginning new research looking at African migration to Brazil.

Matthew has published widely in different books and journals including Medical Anthropology, Critical African Studies and the African Cities Reader, and a number of newspapers and journalistic publications including the Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Chimurenga Chronic and the ConMag. He is the lead editor of the book 'Routes and Rites to the City: Mobility, Diversity and Religious Space in Johannesburg' to published by Palgrave-MacMilllan.