The 21st century is an urban century, one where the human condition has become an urban condition. Much of this urbanization is taking place in the global South. Yet, the theories and methods used to study cities, constituting the knowledge-space of “global urbanism,” remain bound to the North American and European urban experience. The focus of this research field is to decenter this dominant optic, catalyzing an approach that takes seriously the distinctiveness of urbanization across the global South. What we have in mind is the “provincializing” of global urbanism. We intend to develop “new geographies of theory,” attentive to the relational multiplicities of contemporary urbanism. Such a research field will also yield new possibilities for imagining urban futures.

We invite submissions that pay attention to one or more of the following research problems. First, how do we study cities through their connectivities (including vernacular connections) and how do these connectivities transcend the flows of North-centered financial and cultural logics that global urbanism tends to emphasize? Such questions require rethinking global ethnography and related research methods; they require exploring multi-sited research design, institutional and policy analyses, and relational rather than discrete comparisons. Second, against the recognized frames and bounded topologies of global urbanism, e.g. “the slum,” how do we craft a conceptual vocabulary to describe the really existing diverse social relations and forms of mutuality in cities? This requires interrogating the relationship between research methodologies and the production of analytic concepts. Third, how do we attend to and analyze the alternative imaginaries and practices that contest global urbanism? To study the complex terrain of everyday activism, insurgence, and organized social mobilization necessitates the careful navigation of the politics of ethnography, notably empathy, complicity, immersion, and objectivity.

We invite students from all disciplines who are engaged in the critical study of global urbanism to join this research field. We seek to build a cohort of doctoral students who will engage with the research field’s theme and each other’s work over the course of this fellowship program. This will involve the reading and discussion of theoretical and methodological material, constructing networks of research that remain active through pre-dissertation fieldwork, and preparing dissertation proposals.


  • Jose H. Bortoluci

    University of Michigan, Sociology

    The social question and the politics of spatial regulation in São Paulo
    This project’s central aim is to understand the changing regime of urban social-spatial regulation in São Paulo in the last two decades. I intend to study the emergence, re-creation and dissemination of repertoires (discourses and practices) for the regulation of the social, particularly the urban poor. São Paulo will be my central case, but also my entry point into transnational comparisons about recent programs for the urban regulation of the social, particularly in the field of housing. Disputes among developers, social movements, architects and the state on issues such as the existence of public subsidies, the localization of the houses in the city, the method of building (e.g., collective self-construction versus market mechanisms), and house design will be closely examined. By looking at the politics of housing and house design for low income sectors of the population, I intend to investigate how the “social question” is formulated – in other words, to investigate the discursive and material constitution of “the social” by means of the transformation and management of urban form and built environment. By looking at housing and its functioning in the regulation of the social, I hope to contribute to the literatures on Critical Urban Studies, Sociology of Knowledge, Critical Social Theory and Urban Sociology.
  • Sian C. Butcher

    University of Minnesota / Twin Cities, Geography

    Entrenching enclavization or facilitating transformation? Everyday articulations of race, class, citizenship and consumption in postapartheid South Africa’s suburban spaces
    I am interested in building a critical ethnography of everyday life in middle class South African suburbs after apartheid . As a less attended-to spatiality of the African urban experience, the suburb provides a different entry point into the postcolonial city – a site that helps us explore more banal, and perhaps vulnerable, spaces of power beyond the gated community and other elite enclaves. This entry point also challenges universal notions of the ‘suburb’ and its socio-spatial forms based on Northern cities. In my study, I plan to explore how subjective experiences, practices and social relations around race, class, citizenship and consumption are mediated by the suburban built environment and its relations to other parts of the city (especially the township). I will focus on three kinds of suburbs constructed in different historical periods: the historically white colonial formation; the racially segregated post-war apartheid suburb; and the postapartheid low density agglomerations aimed at the deracializing ‘emerging’ middle class. Furthermore, I will work to embed these suburban ethnographies within South Africa’s wider political economy, and particularly the postapartheid projects of deracialization, democratization, growth and development in which individual homeownership and middle-class growth have been explicit goals.
  • Jacob Doherty

    Stanford University, Anthropology

    ‘Keep Kampala Clean’: Class, Disposability and the Environmental Politics of Garbage in Urban Uganda
    “Keep Kampala Clean.” The slogan appears throughout Kampala on billboards and trashcans sponsored by a Kenyan chain mega-store, Nakumatt, that embodies the middle class aspirations of many urban Kampalans and the government’s own ambitions for Uganda to become a middle income country. The signs suggest a linkage between the emergence of an African consumer class in Kampala, Uganda’s capital and largest city, and a particular form of environmental politics. Yet Kampala’s slums, estimated to cover up to a quarter of the city’s space, are saturated with garbage; the poorest inhabitants bear the environmental, medical, and personal burden of a form of life (from which they are excluded) that produces an increasing amount of garbage in a city struggling to develop and maintain appropriate waste infrastructure. This project is an ethnography of the political ecology of Kampala, focusing specifically on issues of the management and uneven distributions of solid waste. It explores discourses of urban cleanliness, the lives and labor organized around garbage, and the emergent environmentalisms through which belonging and exclusion in Kampala are contested and contested.
  • Sophie Gonick

    University of California / Berkeley, City and Regional Planning

    At the Margins of Europe: Immigration, Informality, and Urbanism in Contemporary Spain
    As immigration reshapes civil society in Europe, so too does it affect the continent’s cities, reinventing through a different logic urban space and the dominant planning narratives of the state. Southern Europe, almost a frontier space between the continent and Africa, has been profoundly impacted by rapid immigration as well as the recent economic crisis, and yet remains under-studied. Migrant groups, particularly from North- and Sub-Saharan Africa, often use techniques that both confound and resist the state’s efforts to manage and control those populations and the spaces they inhabit. By examining the spatial appropriation and production put forth by immigrant groups in Spanish cities, this dissertation will seek to understand the way ethnicity and migration effect urban change and offer new means of thinking about first world urbanism in a time of crisis. Further, by using theoretical frameworks and methods advocated by practitioners and scholars from the global south, this project hopes to reframe debates around integration and inclusion, looking instead to the creativity, insurgency, and improvisation of migrant communities. Ultimately, this interrogation will analyze the existing linkages between people and place as a means of illuminating the contemporary relationship between immigration, urban space, and the state.
  • Radhika Gore

    Columbia University, Sociomedical Sciences

    The politics of collective claims for urban health in India
    Urbanization has intensified public health crises in the developing world, yet there is little research exploring urban health as a collective political concern in the global South. Cities in India exemplify the challenges of urban health: health risks are heightened in conditions of concentrated poverty and proximity to modern health facilities is a false predictor of access for the urban poor. Studies of civic engagement in Mumbai and New Delhi show how poor communities mobilize for housing and sanitation, but arguments based on North American and European experience caution against generalizing cities as models of democratic practice and attend to the diversity of contemporary urban social movements. I will conduct a political ethnography of collective claims-making for health in selected Indian cities, given two fundamental transitions: Reforms in India to extend participatory government to cities and simultaneously support private provision of healthcare, and the re-conceptualization of international health as global health, which recognizes that health, economic growth, and national security are interlinked and has introduced new non-state actors and transnational networks in public health. I argue that public deliberation among the urban poor is not necessarily inclusive and that urban community action is not uniformly opposed to the state.
  • Asli Ikizoglu

    University of Minnesota / Twin Cities, Geography

    Securely Globalized: Containing Asylum-Seekers in Cities Off-the-Map
    The main paradigm that organizes the regulation of people’s cross-border movements in 21st century is securitization, based on the shared understanding that migration poses a security threat. Countries of the global North are at increasing pains to close their doors, leading to an accumulation of asylum-seekers in those countries of the global South which traditionally serve as gateways to the North. This trend can also be observed in Turkey. Yet what is peculiar in Turkey is the fact that asylum-seekers are forcefully settled, that is contained, in provincial cities away from the metropolises, as they wait to be granted asylum from third countries. The arrival of such unexpected asylum-seeker populations is thrusting these cities, which are relatively small, marginal, inward-looking and homogeneous, into an unasked-for globality. From above, they enter under the sway of international institutions; from below, they find themselves as nodes in a global network of asylum-seekers, their friends and families. My project questions whether and how this globality that is established by force, for both asylum-seekers and local folk, on the basis of a security concern, transforms these cities.
  • Marisol Lebron

    New York University (NYU), Social and Cultural Analysis

    Mano Dura: Policing, Capital, and Social Transformation in Contemporary Puerto Rico
    Combining historical and ethnographic approaches, my research explores how policing in Puerto Rico during the 1990s developed into a form of both literal and metaphorical urban warfare aimed at controlling the effects of colonial and capitalist crises. Focusing on a series of anti-crime measures known as mano dura contra el crimen or iron fist against crime, I seek to show how and why police and military intervention emerged for the commonwealth government as the primary means of responding to the diverse issues confronting contemporary Puerto Rican society. In addition to tracing the growth of militarized policing as a means of managing social, political, and economic crisis, I examine how urban social movements are working to provide alternatives to the punitive state. I am particularly interested in the student strikes that have occurred (and continue to occur) across the University of Puerto Rico system as instances where youth, the so-called “children of mano dura,” are struggling for a new vision of justice.
  • Sergio Montero

    University of California / Berkeley, City and Regional Planning

    Mobilizing Green Urbanisms: The Politics, Scales and Networks of Green Urban Policy Circulation in Bogotá, San Francisco and Sevilla
    Bogotá, traditionally portrayed in the 1980s and early 1990s as an urban dystopia and a city of fear, became in less than a decade a global model of sustainable urbanism. The transformation of the city during the mid 1990s and early 2000s, based on the promotion of public space, non-car transportation alternatives and teaching citizens cultura ciudadana (a “citizenship culture”), has been nationally and internationally celebrated and, often, replicated by cities in the North and the South. A key research question guides this project: how and why do certain urban policies reach a global “best practice” status and what are the mechanisms and rationalities that allow or restrain their travels? Using Bogotá as an illustrative case study, this research will examine the construction of the so-called Bogotá model of urbanism in the 1990s, to, then, deconstruct it as a number of specific urban policies and practices that have followed different historical and spatial trajectories; some reaching a global “best urban practice” status -and thus travelled to other cities- and others being abandoned and forgotten. Why did non-car transportation policies and practices such as Transmilenio (Bogotá’s Bus Rapid Transit System) and Ciclovía (Bogota’s street closure program to promote bike use) rapidly become a worldwide “best practice” and flagship forms of Bogotá urbanism and other policies that experimented in original ways with the promotion of urban citizenship did not reach such status and mobility? Through policy analysis and interviews with local officials, transportation planners, employees of international development institutions and bike advocates in Bogotá and adopter cities, this research traces the key actors, networks and “green” discourses involved in the production and circulation of Bogotá’s recent contributions to the global repertoire of urban “best practices.”
  • Jessi Quizar

    University of Southern California, American Studies and Ethnicity

    Growing Power in the City: Cooperative Urban Agriculture in Detroit
    Contemporary Detroit is often described in terms of urban dystopia—violence, unemployment, poverty, corruption. However, more recently, it has also become known for grassroots urban agriculture. Projects have taken a diversity of forms: families squatting or buying vacant land to grow their own food, NGOs and schools that teach farming skills, Church farms, cooperative local markets, and the growth of roadside vegetable stands for small scale producers. These projects have developed alongside a growing conversation in Detroit about how to remake the city such that people may independently produce their own livelihoods without depending on unreliable and exploitative wage labor, and about developing Black economic and political power. These conversations have included discussions about land redistribution, collectivization of land, and cooperative economics, ideas that rarely are voiced aloud in the face of neoliberal urban development regimes in North America. I will use ethnography and interviews to examine Detroit's agriculture projects and ask, how might we reconceive urban development in ways that grow the power of people already living in a city? If Detroit offer us ways to rethink development that value people's creative capacity, their labor, health, and culture, how do these projects work and what are their challenges?
  • Stuart L. Schrader

    New York University (NYU), Social and Cultural Analysis

    Policing the World’s Black Metropolis in the Long 1970s: A Sociohistory of the Racial Logic of Risk Management
    Planetary urbanization is no accident. The accompanying turn in military strategy toward counterinsurgent urbicide and the revival of “empire” discourses, both critical and celebratory, are themselves linked to the historical roots of rapid urbanization in the Global South. These roots are rural counterinsurgency, civilian policing as nation-building, and Cold War social science and modernization theory. But whereas the late 1960s is frequently thought to mark a crisis in the global race-making project of US empire, such a view catalyzes surprise at the recent return and modulation of what were supposed to be long-dead discourses and practices. By foregrounding the way counterinsurgency was repatriated as urban policing and then again expatriated, I ask how it is possible to think the through-lines from the Global Cold War to the present by looking at US cities. In addition to “provincializing” concomitant conceptualizations of planetary urbanization and urbicide, my work aims to give a sociohistorical account of the period between the late 1960s and the past decade by analyzing the circuits of transmission of these concepts, policy-makers, and on-the-ground practitioners. To do so requires asking how race figured as the salient analytic category of urban risk management.
  • Elisabeth A. Wulandari

    University of Wisconsin / Madison, Comparative Literature

    Theater for Social Justice?: From Theatrical Practice to Social Practice, or a Circuit of Production-Circulation-Consumption
    My dissertation will address the production, circulation, and consumption of the work of South African playwright Athol Fugard, New Delhi-based street theater troupe Jana Natya Manch (Janam), and Indonesia’s Teater Garasi. The inquiries that this dissertation will attempt to address are: What can we learn about social justice from theatrical performances of the work of Fugard, Janam, and Garasi? Can theatrical performances contribute to social justice? Where might that contribution reside - in the text, in its performance, in its public consumption, in its translation or transformation into social action, in all of the above? The dissertation will examine the following: 1) the contribution of theatrical practice and form to visions of social justice; 2) the manner in which the performance's circulation, particularly its audience formation, inflects performance; and 3) the ways in which theatrical practice and form might be transformed or translated into social practice. The analysis of each performance's inception or creative process (production), its initial and subsequent performance and for whom (circulation), and responses to performances (consumption), including examples of specific local social acts or movements to which the performances have contributed, will suggest where the performance's contribution to social justice might reside.
  • Alper Yagci

    University of Massachusetts, Political Science

    Spaces of Inequality: Globalization, Governance, and the City
    Metropolitan areas in developing countries host many of the globe's poorest people, living side by side with some of the richest. Most of our vocabulary about globalization revolves around the latter: connectedness, mobility, commoditization, etc. How does the experience of living in increasingly globalized geographies affect the urban poor’s experience of the city, community, locality? And, in such a context, what does inequality mean to their understandings of ‘the economy’? In my research about inequality in Mexico City and Istanbul - where common people are growing cynical of reported aggregate economical improvements, I would like to shed light on layers of meaning about which econometric studies of inequality fall silent. The prime cities of two borderline cultures, standing at the gates of NAFTA and EU to the global ‘South,’ might offer striking observations to localize our understanding of economic integration and the asymmetries it involves. By attending to the urban poor’s relationship with the built environment, their consumption of the urban space, and their participation in the transnationally governed economy of poverty-reduction, I hope to explore dynamics of social differentiation that numerical indicators of globalization cannot capture.