/ Forschung

Call for Papers: "Urban Cultures in Southern Africa – 19th-21st centuries" (Revue d’histoire contemporaine de l’Afrique)

Special Issue coordinated by Sophie Dulucq, Noor Nieftagodien and Matthieu Rey

For this special issue of the Revue d’Histoire contemporaine de l'Afrique, the journal wishes to address the cultural history of urban societies in Southern Africa (19th-20th centuries) that was first shaped by encounters between various African societies and European settlers, imperial diasporas (Indians, for instance) and other immigrants (e. g. Chinese, Greeks), between repulsion and attraction, domination and resistance, invention and accommodation. It insists on the relationship between a specific place and stage – cities and towns – and the cultural forms that developed therein. Submission deadlines for proposals is 15 April 2020.

Axis 1. Everyday life urban experiences and cultural practices

Some studies have focused on understanding cultural activities, such as sport, food, clothing, cinema, photo, and music. Historians like Coplan, Ballantine, Ansell, Nativel have provided precious studies on music, while Khumalo, Nunn, and Goldblatt have underscored the importance of photography both as an economic activity and as a social self-staging medium for urbandwellers. Domingos has studied football in colonial Mozambique cities. Burns and Goerg have focused on cinema and on African audiences. If they encapsulate cultural activities in particular places, all of them have not systematically explored the relationship with emerging ‘cultural urbanity’ or ‘urban identities’. But these studies are very compelling and offer a very good incentive to explore more situations and cases, including the most mundane and modest activities that weave the web of urbanity. The topic of urban cultures also encompasses the sensitive, even sensory, experiences of urban residents, well-documented in the case of Western cities by authors, for example about the transformations timeframe in nineteenth century Paris (Corbin) or about the influence of street lighting on popular cultural practices (Csergo). Comparatively, the subject has so far been little explored in an African context: public lighting, the distorted relationship with the rural world and time frame, ease of access to different food and housing options, all had a tremendous impact on the physical and sensory existence of urban populations and the rhythms of their daily lives, their way of going out and eating for example (see for instance Almeida-Topor, on the diffusion of bread in West African colonies). The nocturnal life in these cities exemplifies how culture homogenizes certain generational practices across the continent.

Axis 2. Urban cultures, mobility and migrations

In his famous 1958 film Moi, un Noir [I, a Negro], Jean Rouch focused on the urban experiences of Nigerien migrants settling in Abidjan in the late fifties. From this perspective, urban cultures echoed several sensorial dynamics triggered by the encounters between a space (the town) and newcomers. What did the arrival in town mean? How did the transformation of the urban settings and consumption patterns (electricity, pavements, nightclubs, spectacles of boxing competition or football) modify the perceptions of migrants and new urban dwellers? And finally, what do migrants bring to urban cultures (frameworks of thought, eating habits, language intake)? Scholarship addressed several issues on the urban and rural migrations, on inter-cities movement, on their consequences for the emergence of new eras. Moorman (Luanda), Bonner & Segal (Soweto), Kaarsholm (Bulawayo) and Bickford-Smith (Cape Town) among many others have focused on cultural histories of the main cities. Our attempt is to shift the attention towards the relation between urbanity and culture through the lenses of migrations and mobility. How did cultural models or patterns circulate between urban and rural areas, between secondary and main cities? We encourage comparative works on several case studies to bring a better understanding of cultural circulation. In addition, this special issue is also interested by cultural flows and contributions from abroad (one example among others: the circulation of American/European records and artists in Southern Africa in the interwar period).

Axis 3. Urban culture and memories: facing the transformation of the city 

Urban cultures had been deeply affected by the urbanistic stage. An important historiographical tradition raised the question of social building and fabric of the Southern Africa cities or neighbourhood (Alexandra or Windhoek, for example). However, this scholarship did not necessarily address the urban cultures as a threat or a product of the new layout. The apartheid regimes ordered the violent removal of entire neighbourhoods that not only displaced populations, but also engulfed (at least partially) parts of local cultures (see Sophiatown in 1955, Old Location in Windhoek in 1959, District Six in Cape Town in the 1960s and 1970s). Often, the last remaining witnesses now carry a nostalgic memory of these places, and of the social and cultural practices that flourished there; sometimes their descendants or certain institutions (such as the District Six Community Museum) have become repositories for these memories. The present issue will question the importance of construction and destruction for the emergence of urban cultures but also the specific memory formed by traumatic events which reframed the city.


  • 30 April 2020: authors of the selected abstracts will be notified
  • 31 July 2020: deadline for the submission of complete articles (maximum 7000 words)