Academic Papers

Dispossession as depotentiation

This paper proposes a theory of urban dispossession as depotentiation. ‘Depotentiation’, as I employ the term, indicates the diminishment of imminent capacities, affects and potentialities. I propose this formulation to both complement and critique Harvey’s dominant notion of accumulation by dispossession as the commodification of the urban commons and to contribute to conceptual developments on the stratified and affective dimensions of eviction…

The City Otherwise: The Deferred Emergency of Occupation in Inner-City Johannesburg

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…

The ruinous vitalism of the urban form: ontological orientations in inner-city Johannesburg

This paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork, conducted between 2011 and 2016, in unlawfully appropriated buildings, or the ‘dark buildings’, of inner-city Johannesburg in which thousands of the city’s marginalized black populations live, including many cross-border migrants. It argues that responses to traumatic and debilitating events, including fires and building collapse, invoke an unstable ontological multiplicity oriented around the fragility of the urban form. ‘Ruinous vitalism’ refers to this instability and malleability of urban infrastructures, the scars and traces these leave and the capacities for social relations and regeneration they provoke. Ontologies here are not thought of in terms of sets of pre-existent beliefs or essences, but rather modes of orientation.

Vital instability: ontological insecurity and African urbanisms

This special issue aims to trace the manifold insecurities and responses to these, enfolding ontological concerns, in geographically diverse African urban spaces. The papers in this volume reveal the multiple forms of insecurity characterizing African urbanisms: violence; joblessness; indeterminate legal regimes; infrastructural fragility; continual persecution by state and private actors; epidemic disease and metaphysical disorders, among others.

Decoding dispossession: Eviction and urban regeneration in Johannesburg's dark buildings

In January 2012 the residents of an inner-city tenement building in Doornfontein, Johannesburg, were evicted on a court order. The building was situated in a post-industrial neighbourhood in which thousands of South Africans and foreign nationals, many blind or disabled, live in unlawfully occupied buildings without access to water, basic sanitation, electricity and waste management services. Such buildings are known in policy discourse as ‘bad buildings’, and informally as ‘dark buildings’, invoking both a sense of developmental failure and spiritual insecurity.

Disease as Dwelling: Sustaining Life with HIV in Post-displacement Northern Uganda

In this article, I draw on an ethnographic study focused on the experiences of internally displaced people living with HIV/AIDS in northern Uganda between 2006 and 2013; in particular, I explore the ways in which they have navigated the effects of conflict, displacement, and post-conflict return movements. Here, I argue that disease, more than simply a vulnerability or a social identity, became a way of dwelling with displacement and in the post-displacement landscape. I argue here that a dwelling perspective, derived and adapted from the work of Tim Ingold, provides a lens into understanding the intertwined embodied, social and environmental concerns of people living with HIV in the post-conflict situation.

Crossing the Borders of Humanitarianism: Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Inner-City Johannesburg

This paper is an account of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Brussel’s projects in Johannesburg from 2007 to 2013, drawing on the ethnographic research of an external researcher (Wilhelm-Solomon) and MSF health worker and project leader (Pedersen). We argue, based on this case study—spanning responses including interventions targeted at mass migration, xenophobic violence, cholera and finally involving health, waste and sanitation interventions in inner-city unlawfully occupied buildings—that urban humanitarianism in inner-city Johannesburg evolved from reworking contested humanitarian principles in dense and diverse urban spaces.

The Priest's Soldiers: HIV Therapies, Health Identities, and Forced Encampment in Northern Uganda

In this article, I analyze how antiretroviral therapy and associated HIV support programs engendered HIV-based health identities in displacement camps in conflict-affected northern Uganda. Drawing on multisited ethnographic fieldwork I conducted between 2006 and 2009, I argue that these health identities were intimately tied to the congested physical and social conditions of the displacement camp. I argue, too, that the interactions between therapeutic practices and biosociality, along with the social observation and labeling of people with HIV/AIDS, produced new health identities. Furthermore, the labels applied to people with HIV—and adopted by them—reflected a local repertoire of meanings associating HIV/AIDS with militarism, Christian missions, camp life, and humanitarianism: thus people living with HIV/AIDS were labeled ‘the priest’s soldiers.’

Challenges for antiretroviral provision in northern Uganda

Northern Uganda is in a phase of momentous transition. The end of hostilities between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan government in 2006 paved the way for the return of hundreds of thousands of IDPs. The challenges of treating HIV in the post-conflict phase are almost as formidable as during the conflict itself. A 2004-05 study by Ugandan Ministry of Health suggested in 2006 that northern Uganda had an HIV sero-prevalence rate of 8.2%. There are indications based on this sample that northern Uganda has the highest rates of recent HIV incidence in the country(1), though reliable data from rural areas and camps is scarce, and the validity of the evidence disputed. In 2007, St Mary’s Hospital Lacor, a surveillance site, recorded an antenatal sero-prevalence figure of 9%. Recent data from other health facilities suggests that prevalence has been increasing over the last three years.