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In my research and teaching I extend myself across theoretical and applied concerns. As an urbanist, I am deeply fascinated by the drama of cities everywhere and at different moments in time, including the future, the past and science fiction invocations. Simultaneously, I endeavour to remain grounded in the tough and messy realities of cities—invariably always on the move—working with materialist and aesthetic optics. My own work is rooted in two South African cities, Johannesburg and Cape Town but I also track the fortunes of African cities as part of larger discourses on sustainable urban transitions and southern urbanism.


During 2008-2012, I mapped this implied conceptual canvass through a book, City Futures (Zed 2008), and a number of edited volumes (see below). In addition I oversaw the conceptualisation and emergence of a vibrant interdisciplinary research agenda at the African Centre for Cities, located at the University of Cape Town. One of my key tasks is to continuously evolve a theoretical frame that can suture the diverse topics and scales of work at ACC, without necessarily providing a comprehensive synthesis. During 2015-16 some of this agenda is being written up in a co-authored (with AbdouMaliq Simone) book that will be published by Polity Press in 2017. An enduring element in my scholarship is an interest in urban politics, everyday culture and adaptive governance systems. At the moment I am PI for a comparative study on so-called turnaround cities: Lagos, Luanda and Johannesburg. The research will manifest in an edited volume in 2017 under the auspices of PASGR. The second phase will explore: Addis Ababa, Kigale and Nairobi.


Working in an interdisciplinary frame at ACC led me to become seduced by the power of the written word rubbed against visual registers of representation and interpretation. This stems from a related concern about how scholars and universities can do better to animate publics that can complicate and shape the city; i.e. constituencies outside of the academy that truly invoke cityness. These concerns have led to the creation of a hybrid magazine/journal—The African Cities Reader that I co-edit with Ntone Edjabe, and Cityscapes—an international magazine on emergent urbanisms in the global South. In 2014 I co-curated with Tau Tavengwa a substantial exhibition: “City Desired”; an exhibition on cities refracted through the prism of Cape Town. See: In 2015-16 I am working with Prof Mark Swilling and Tau Tavengwa as co-curator of the African component of the International Architecture Biennale of Rotterdam 2016 dedicated to the Next Economy. This is blossoming into a new project that will lead to an exhibition in various African cities in 2017-18.


Invariably my research, policy engagement and curatorial interests embed me in various international networks. For example, since 2014 I have been involved with the Research by Design Working Group anchored by Henk Ovink and Eric Klinenberg. Also, since last year I serve as co-lead author with Prof Saskia Sassen of the Urban Chapter of the forthcoming report of the International Panel on Social Progress (2015-2017). I further serve as a member of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Thematic Group on Sustainable Cities established to promote the Urban Sustainable Development Goal.


Finally, on the applied end of things, I am Chairperson of the Panel of Experts working on the Urban Development Framework for South Africa. The draft policy is meant to lead to more coherent and effective urban regimes in South Africa over the next few years. I am also working with various colleagues at ACC and across the continent to grow a new network of urban research centres called: African Urban Research Initiative.


Book chapters:

Pieterse, E. (forthcoming 2016) “Landscapes of Terror: Cityness, routine violence and urban development”, in Khan, F., Grundling, E., Ruiters, G., Ndevu, Z. & Baloyi, B. (eds.) State, Governance and Development in Africa. Cape Town: UCT Press.

Pieterse, E. and Cirolia, L. (forthcoming 2016) “South Africa’s Emerging National Urban Policy And Upgrading Agenda”, in Cirolia, L., Smit, W., van Donk, M., Gorgens, T., & Drimie, S. (eds) Participatory Informal Settlement Upgrading in South Africa. Cape Town: UCT Press.

Pieterse, E. (forthcoming) “Exploratory notes on a socially-grounded policy frame for African cities”, in Richard Stren and Dickson Eyoh (eds) The Urban Experience in Africa: The Living City and its Local Policy Challenges. New York: Routledge.

Pieterse, E. (2015) Epistemological Practices of Southern Urbanism. In: Wowo Ding, Arie Graafland, and Andong Lu (eds) Cities in Transition II. Power, Environment, Society. Rotterdam: nai010 Publishers.

Pieterse, E. (2015) “Reaching for adaptive urbanism.” In: Holm, J.H. & Kallehauge, M.M. (eds) Africa. Architecture. Culture. Identity. Louisiana:   Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.

Journal Articles

Pieterse, E. (forthcoming 2016) Urban Governance and Spatial Transformation Ambitions in Johannesburg, Journal of Urban Affairs.

Pieterse, E. (in press 2016) Interviews with Rebuild by Design’s Working Group of Experts by Daniel Aldana Cohen, Public Culture, 28(2): 328-333, doi 10.1215/08992363-3451339.

Parnell, S. and Pieterse, E. (2015) Translational global praxis –rethinking methods and modes of African urban research. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. DOI: 10.1111/1468-2427.12278.