MPhil in Southern Urbanism

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 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.

Dr Anna Selmeczi
Anna Selmeczi, is a senior lecturer and the course convenor of the Masters in Southern Urbanism.

Dr Laura Nkula-Wenz

Laura Nkula-Wenz is a senior researcher and lecturer at the African Centre for Cities. 

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.

How to apply

Applicants need to complete the University of Cape Town application process.

Faculty: Engineering and Built Environment

Programme name and code: Urban Studies – Southern Urbanism, EM027APG15

Please attach the following documents with your application:

– Current CV

– Certified copies of your university degree/s

– Letter of motivation

– 2 reference letters from academic or professional referees

For more information read the 2025 Directions for Postgraduate Applicants.

Deadline for SA and International candidates: 31 October 2024

Registration date: February 2025


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.


Limited funding opportunities are available for this course for both local and international students. Please contact the course convenor if you are interested in applying.

International students

The MPhil aims to attract a diverse and interdisciplinary cohort and therefore encourages international students from Africa, the Global South and elsewhere to apply for the course. To find out more about fees, VISA applications and other considerations for international students go to

After the MPhil

Continue from MPhil to PhD
The programme has been designed to act as a bridgehead for those who wish to continue with a PhD and academic career. The MPhil provides both the theoretical and methodological tools essential for PhD-level work.

Continue from MPhil to practice
Your field of professional expertise augmented by the theoretical and methodological foundation obtained through the programme can be applied in a wide range of opportunities for research, professional practice and consulting in urban-related fields.

University of Cape Town Steering Committee

Dr Ruchi Chaturvedi, Sociology
Prof Francis Nyamnjoh, Anthropology
Dr Zwelethu Jolobe, Political Sciences
Dr Nomusa Makhubu, Fine Art
Prof Nancy Odendaal, Architecture, Planning and Geomatics
Prof Susan Parnell, Environmental and Geographic Science
Dr Julian Raxworthy, Architecture, Planning and Geomatics
Prof Harro von Blottnitz, Chemical Engineering

International Advisory Board

Dr Akin Adesokan, Indiana University
Prof Ash Amin, Cambridge University
Dr Thomas Asher, Columbia University
Dr Gautam Bhan, Indian Institute for Human Settlement
Prof Jo Beall, British Council & London School of Economics
Prof Teresa Caldeira, University of California, Berkeley
Prof Teddy Cruz, University of California, San Diego
Dr Divine Fuh, Council for the Development of Social Sciences Research Africa
Prof Alcinda Honwana, London School of Economics and Political Science
Prof Daniel Inkoom, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi
Dr Vyjayanthi Rao, Spitzer School of Architecture
Prof AbdouMaliq Simone, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity


Course convenor
Dr Anna Selmeczi
+27 (0)21 650 5903

Postgraduate administrator
Faranaaz Bennett
+27 (0)21 650 1606

The Masters in Southern Urbanism is hosted by the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics at the University of Cape Town and was made possible with by generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.