Architecture-by-migrants: the porous infrastructures of Bellville

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This paper takes as its subject a series of contingent mixed-use urban markets that have been established in Cape Town, South Africa, by migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from various parts of the African continent. It argues that migrant spaces are historically and spatially situated, and constructed both by their wider urban context and the specifics of the patterns of forced migration. In South Africa, the literature on migrant spaces has largely focused on inner-city Johannesburg, emphasizing the creativity of spatial practices. This paper focuses on emerging pan-African markets created by migrants in the northern Cape Town suburb of Bellville. The paper adopts Walter Benjamin’s approach of “writing the arcades” in order to read the spaces of these markets through a complementary method of spatial ethnography and archival research. This research approach is grounded in the broader anthropological approaches and architectural fieldwork methods. The resultant multi-scalar reading of informal migrant markets, not usually found in spatial archives, questions dominant readings of formality and informality in postcolonial contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-58
Number of pages13
JournalAnthropology Southern Africa
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 9 May 2019


  • architecture
  • infrastructure
  • informality
  • migration


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