What is Southern Urbanism?

YouTube video

In this short video Edgar Pieterse, director of the African Centre for Cities and member of the core faculty of the MPhil in Southern Urbanism, explains what the term ‘southern urbanism’ refers to in the context of the degree programme.

He explains that while the first instinct is that we have a geographical territory in mind — so  everything outside of the West — that geography is only part of the story: “It’s only a part of the story in the sense that it captures where the majority of urban dwellers will live in next 30 to 40 years as we know that 95% of urban growth will be in Asia and Africa between now and 2050.” 

This, he underscores, is significant and happens at a moment that the world economy is changing; in which we understand environmental limits and that the way in which we have conceptualized and experienced cities is just not an option for the future.This contextual relevance is one piece of the argument.  

“The other part is really a theoretical move. It is to suggest that what we’ve inherited as a canon in terms of what urban studies and urban theory is, is in fact not an abstract thing; that it is a highly contextual thing that speaks to a specific experience of modernity in particularly Europe and America,” he argues. 

Edgar Pieterse

He continues that even though that body of knowledge has always paraded as universal it is in fact highly contextual: “What we’re trying to do is also to unpick what the theoretical underpinnings of that approach and to suggest that there’s a different way of thinking about urban theory. The spirit of that is, if we want to give it a political label, is about that southern critique; it’s a critique from the global South about the universality of that knowledge.”