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Hauntopologies of the Urban Archeon

Authors: Aaron Young*, University of California - Berkeley
Topics: Urban Geography, Field Methods, Landscape
Keywords: land restitution, assemblage urbanism, assemblages, city as archive, urban geography, urban theory, archival turn, Johannesburg, South Africa
Session Type: Paper
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Urban space is increasingly entangled within the physical and political landscapes of archival evidence required of all claims submitted to South Africa’s land restitution program. Whereas archival materials and practices have largely remained under the purview of state, the emergent admissibility of the cityscape now responds to an ‘archival turn’ anticipating new post-apartheid engagements with sites and sources previously marginalized or excluded from the official record. This paper apprehends the urban archeon — an assemblage of archival sites, materials, policies and practices bringing state archives and ‘native’ urban cemeteries into new relations. Tethered to its origins of antiquity, an ‘archeon’ refers to a site of official record-keeping managed by the state — an inert and presumably objective repository of privileged historical record. A distinctly urban archeon is explored by this paper to apprehend the ways in which the historic valence and situated memories embedded within cemeteries of the displaced and dispossessed are newly valued and deemed admissible within the evidentiary phase of land restitution. Informed by a 'methods assemblage' approach to research conducted with the National Archives in Pretoria and several ‘native’ cemeteries in the metropolitan Johannesburg area, the results of this paper argue for a view to the urban archeon as a new knowledge landscape reshaping South Africa’s archival systems forged throughout its colonial and apartheid histories. Here, contemporary land restitution efforts and the archival turn reveal a new politics of evidence within the ‘city as archive’.

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