CANCELLED: Southern Urbanism

Exploring Urban Realities, Theories and Research Practices

PhD course organizerd by Sophie Oldfield (Centre of African Studies (Faculty of Theology) and Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies) and Rasmus Christian Elling (Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, Faculty of Humanities).

This course aims to explore several critical theoretical and methodological dimensions of empirically and historically grounded research from and on cities in the global South, that are part of an emerging Southern urbanism challenging older, Northern-driven paradigms that have long dominated urban scholarship and practice. This is an exciting moment for studying the urban in its global diversity, both substantively and theoretically, especially drawing on the histories, lived realities, knowledge and perspectives emerging in and through the global South. More people now live in cities than outside them, increasingly so in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and many of the major political contestations as well as cultural and technological innovations of the 21st Century occur in urban settings. At the same time, expanding modernist visions or models of ‘world cities’ are reshaping – and newly dividing – the urban South.

Recent years have seen a surge in new urban-based political and social movements, in experiments in local governance, in redefinitions of what it means to be an urban citizen, in innovative forms of protest, activism and grassroots initiatives, as well as in alternative forms of urban living, infrastructural arrangements, and economic practices. There have also been growing demographic shifts through both voluntary and forced movements into – or out of – cities. This is occurring in cities and smaller towns spanning both the global South and North. Rooted in, and responding to, the complex and rapidly changing realities of global Southern cities in particular, Southern urbanism reflects a renaissance in formerly Northern-driven urban theory and research, challenging among other things, well-worn urban planning and policy models and practices. Simultaneously it is prompting innovations in research methodologies.

These developments demand global and regional conversations that both recognise and theorise Southern urban realities in their complex contemporary forms, not simplified as deficit models or examples of retarded development and governance failures. ‘Southern urbanism’ grounds research empirically in place, time and context, challenging scholars to pay attention to a new epistemology of ‘the urban’ that can take into account the diverse changes and challenges emerging in all cities. This has implications for approaches to urban governance and development at global, national and local scales.

Crucially, it also opens up debate on the politics of knowledge production and scholarly writing, increasingly framed in relation to questions of decoloniality and relevance for an inclusive spectrum of citizens. In its scale and breadth, Southern urbanism is ‘a heterodox field of inquiry’, which demands the weaving together of deep, rigorous local knowledge and a globally legible theoretical language that works beyond Euro-America-centric urban theory to ‘produce alternative modes of inquiry and new geographies of theory’ (Robinson and Roy, 2016).

Course format

This PhD course aims at having 10-15 participants. Undertaken in an interdisciplinary workshop style, it offers the opportunity to reflect critically on theory, research methodology and writing related to urban conditions and developments in the global South, together with critical reflections on the multi- sited projects of building Southern urban theory. The course will combine keynote lectures addressing aspects of the field, with more intimate sessions engaging directly with students’ own work – a paper or draft chapter related to your own research – that will be circulated in advance. There will also be a specific Master Class in urban research methods. In combination, the course offers a chance for open sharing of insights from empirical or historical research alongside rigorous yet constructive collegial feedback. The course offers a chance to engage collectively with analytical concepts and their application, and with research methods, ethics and experiences central to the politics of knowledge production in the context of a Southern turn in urban thinking.

Focal themes and questions

A range of different urban themes may be addressed during the course, both through keynote lectures and PhD presentation sessions, depending on the composition of the PhD candidates and the papers proposed. At present this is still fairly open. However, possible themes might include the following:

• Experiences of and approaches to urban planning in the global South 


• Urban divides: productive juxtapositions of difference within the urban 


• Old and new urban politics and governance practices in friction 


• Historicising the urban: new global-historical approaches in urban studies 


• New vocabularies and modes of writing about/translating the urban 


• Expanding and innovating urban research methods 
Relevant Fields of Study 


This course would be relevant to PhDs in a wide range of academic fields, working with urban contexts and questions in/related to using perspectives from the global South (or SouthEast as Oren Yiftachel has coined the phrase). These could include: urban studies, African or other regional studies, human geography, history, anthropology, politics, migration and displacement studies, development studies, and so on. The course itself will be run as an interdisciplinary workshop that considers ‘the urban’ in its multiple, overlapping dimensions, using a range of inter-related approaches and methods.

Course Lecturers

  • Sophie Oldfield, Professor of Urban Studies (African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town and Urban Studies, University of Basel)
  • Rasmus Christian Elling, Associate Professor (Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen)
  • Amanda Hammar, Associate Professor/Director (Centre of African Studies, University of Copenhagen)

Course organisers

  • Amanda Hammar, Centre of African Studies, University of Copenhagen. Focus: African Studies, Development Studies, Urban Studies
  • Sophie Oldfield, African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town and Urban Studies, University of Basel). Focus: African Studies, Urban Studies
  • Rasmus Christian Elling, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen. Focus: Global Urban History, Iranian Studies.
  • Stina Møldrup Wolff, PhD fellow at Dept of Anthropology, Aarhus University, and visiting at Centre of African Studies, UCPH. Focus: African Studies, Anthropology, Urban Studies

Indicative general reading

Miraftab, Faranak and Neema Kudva (eds), Cities of the Global South Reader, London and New York: Routledge.

Myers, Garth, 2011. African Cities. Alternative Visions of Urban Theory and Practice, London and New York: Zed Press.

Parnell, Susan, and Edgar Pieterse (eds), 2014. Africa’s Urban Revolution, London and New York: Zed Press.

Parnell, Susan and Sophie Oldfield (eds), 2014, The Routledge Handbook on Cities in the Global South, London and New York: Routledge.

Robinson, Jennifer, and Ananya Roy, 2016. ‘Debate on Global Urbanisms and the Nature of Urban Theory’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (IJURR), Vol. 40, No. 1, pp. 181-186.

Practical information

Credit: 3.5 ECTS (with paper presentation)

Application deadline: Monday 2 March 2020, 17:00

Submission of working paper/chapter: Monday 23 March, 12:00

Application submission must include:

  • Name, institutional affiliation and current position
  • Name of PhD supervisor/s
  • Title or focus of PhD
  • Information abour your placement in the PhD programme
  • Brief letter of application indicating relevance of the course for your PhD or related project
  • Type of work (thesis chapter, other academic paper etc.) to be presented at the course

Please submit your application to Amanda Hammar and Stina M. Wolff

Course organisers

  • Amanda Hammar, Centre of African Studies, University of Copenhagen. Focus: African Studies, Development Studies, Urban Studies
  • Sophie Oldfield, African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town and Urban Studies, University of Basel). Focus: African Studies, Urban Studies
  • Rasmus Christian Elling, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen. Focus: Global Urban History, Iranian Studies.
  • Stina Møldrup Wolff, PhD fellow at Dept of Anthropology, Aarhus University, and visiting at Centre of African Studies, UCPH. Focus: African Studies, Anthropology, Urban Studies