MPhil in Southern Urbanism

African Centre for Cities (ACC)

Cape Town
Master's degree
01.10.2021 - 01.10.2023

About the Programme

It is well known that the world is transitioning to an irrevocable urban future whose epicentre has moved into the cities of Asia and Africa, which together will account for 86% of all growth in the world’s urban population over the next four decades. This unprecedented increase will pose new environmental, economic and social challenges, the full implications of which demand new understandings as city-making and remaking are entangled in these vast multi-dimensional shifts. These shifts also highlight a profound crisis of knowledge production, one that forces us to question taken-for-granted assumptions of the field of Urban Studies. What is needed is critical engagement with the dominant global North theories, bold methodological experimentation, plural perspectives brought into conversation through co-production and critical inquiry from a global South perspective that resists easy generalisations. If you are interested in taking up this challenge, the MPhil in Southern Urbanism is your learning platform. Through a combination of guided learning in small group seminars, experimentation in various spaces of urban practice and independent thesis research, the programme provides a truly unique opportunity to ground yourself in the realities, theories and practise of cities of the global South. THE ACADEMIC JOURNEY The MPhil curriculum combines course work (50%) and a minor dissertation (50%), a full-time load completed over a period of 18 months. The language of instruction is English. In year one students complete the Masters coursework, which includes a compulsory City Research Studio, a choice of two of three interdisciplinary urban modules, and an urban-focused elective. In year two students write individual minor dissertations based on their own fieldwork, and supervised by expert faculty in either the Humanities, Engineering and the Built Environment, or Science Faculties at the University of Cape Town. CORE FACULTY PROFESSOR EDGAR PIETERSE Edgar Pieterse is the director of the African Centre for Cities and holds the South African Research Chair in Urban Policy, both at the University of Cape Town. PROFESSOR SOPHIE OLDFIELD Sophie Oldfield holds the University of Cape Town—University of Basel Professorship in Urban Studies, based at the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town. DR ANNA SELMECZI Anna Selmeczi, is a lecturer and the course convenor of the Masters in Southern Urbanism. CORE COURSES City Research Studio (CRS) The City Research Studio is the cornerstone of the MPhil programme. It is a year-long compulsory course that runs alongside the core and elective modules. CRS is designed as learning context in which you will experiment with multiple forms of urban knowledge, expertise and research methodologies beyond the conventional classroom setting. It is a laboratory space where the students and faculty will learn to walk, see, smell, touch, embrace, explore and reimagine the city through intimate engagements with the aim of exploring and understanding the city. Urban Everyday The Urban Everyday approaches urban studies through literature grounded in everyday practices central to the dynamism that shapes African and southern city contexts and their transformations. The course reflects on the productive tensions in and between structural forces (the state, capital etc.) with ordinary forms of agency (citizenship, collective movements, and ordinary acts of encroachment) and thinks through the ways the everyday locates and disrupts theorising Southern cities. Urban Theory The course sets out with the contention that urban theory is in crisis because it is not able to account for the diversity and innate complexity of urban worlds, especially as manifest in the Global South. The empirical basis of this contention is briefly explored before students are engaged to learn the craft of theoretical analysis and construction. Key urban theory works from the traditional canon and the Southern counterpoint will be explored to equip students to read critically, and ultimately be able to locate contemporary urban theory debates in a geo-historical context and place their own positionality within such a conceptual landscape. Curating Urban Regulation The central question of this course is this: What does critical policy look like from the vantage point of African cities? It seeks to offer answers to this question through a design thinking methodology that investigates space and politics and what alternative modes of regulation are possible (given, for instance, constant technological innovation) and necessary (given the multiple and intersecting crises of access to water, food, housing and other basic needs). Students will be equipped to map, interpret and devise regulatory modes and practices of urban intervention that are capable of addressing the most pressing problems of our cities and transforming the places where people live. The Minor Dissertation The pinnacle of the MPhil is the minor dissertation. To graduate from this degree, students must complete a minor dissertation of 25 000 words maximum. It is the chance to complete original research, engage in fieldwork, put methods into action and experience the satisfaction of producing original writing under supervision.

About You

In order to apply for the Masters in Southern Urbanism (an MPhil specialising Urban Studies) prospective students need to have completed a four-year Bachelors or Masters degree.

About Us

The African Centre for Cities (ACC) is an interdisciplinary research and teaching programme focused on quality scholarship regarding the dynamics of unsustainable urbanisation processes in Africa, with an eye on identifying systemic responses.


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