This is a special issue of Critical African Studies, entitled ‘Urban archives and Walter Benjamin's The Arcades Project’. It is followed by an individual article, authored by Julia Viebach. The special issue, guest edited by Noëleen Murray and Jill Weintroub, emerged through their involvement in the scholarly meeting Secret Affinities, a workshop in critical reading and an interrogation of the city in Africa via Walter Benjamin’s Das Passagen-Werk. The collection of essays presented in this volume is one of the outcomes of the workshop, which took place in Johannesburg in 2017. As Walter Benjamin turned his attention to the Paris of the nineteenth century, and to the space of Naples in the 1920s, to begin gathering lingering traces that would contribute to his ‘other’ history, so workshop participants sought to examine architectures, urbanisms and heritage spaces across the city and beyond. This special issue extends the concerns of the workshop, invoking creative modes of research and innovative and experimental forms of writing to construct alternative forms of archiving the urban and the social.
Viebach’s article draws on a four-year study of Rwandan survivors’ meaning-making practices. In the paper, she argues that caretaking is critical to understanding genocide memorials. Every day, voluntary practices of care at the memorials, including the cleaning and preserving of human remains, work both to rebuild the self of the caretaker, and to maintain relationships with those who died. These ‘deathscapes’ are important spaces that fulfil multiple and diverse aims, both personal and political.