GY479      Half Unit
Urban Revolutions

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Ryan Centner


This course is available on the MSc in City Design and Social Science, MSc in Culture and Society, MSc in Environment and Development, MSc in Human Geography and Urban Studies (Research), MSc in Regional And Urban Planning Studies, MSc in Social Policy and Development, MSc in Urban Policy (LSE and Sciences Po) and MSc in Urbanisation and Development. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course uses the concept of “urban revolutions” as an organizing principle to introduce students to key theories and debates related to societies undergoing rapid urban change. Course lectures examine “urban revolution” in three senses. The first pertains to Henri Lefebvre's use of the term to signify the “complete urbanization of society” – a historical process by which social life, even outside of cities, becomes urbanized. This means addressing the relationship between the country and the city, the idea of the urban in historical perspective, and the relationship between urban life in the global North and South. The second treatment of “urban revolution” considers the city as a site for radical political change and social experimentation. This means studying cities as spaces of movement, resistance, and innovation, with an emphasis on urban experiments in the South. Thirdly, urban revolution is analysed in terms of the explosion of theorizations about the nature of the urban, how to study it, and how to make a difference in “the urban,” both intellectually and materially, within a global economy. Through these three overlapping lenses – history, politics, and theory – the course aims to equip students with a conceptual and empirical foundation for analyzing city transformations and globalized urbanization, with particular attention to emerging urbanisms in the global South.

Topics covered may include the following: industrialization and immigration; processes of suburbanization, ghettoization, and gentrification; global cities; the colonial and postcolonial city; the right to the city; urban uprisings; urban informality; urban violence; the geopolitics of urban theory.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the MT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT.

A short essay of 2000 words (maximum). Critically explore the applicability of one week's readings from the first 5 weeks of the course to an empirical case outside the course reading. This will be due in Week 7 of MT.

Indicative reading

H. Lefebvre, Writing on Cities, 1996;

R. Beauregard. When America Became Suburban, 2006;

J. Brown-Saracino. The Gentrification Debates, 2010;

M. Davis, Planet of Slums, 2006;

T. Caldeira, City of Walls: Crime, Segregation, and Citizenship in São Paulo, 2000;

D. Harvey, Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, 2012;

J. Robinson, Ordinary Cities: Between Modernity and Development, 2006;

A. Roy and A. Ong, Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments and the Art of Being Global, 2011;

T. Samara, S. He, and G. Chen, Locating Right to the City in the Global South, 2013;

N. Brenner, Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization, 2013.

The reading list is intended only to be indicative of literatures broached in the course. Actual readings will consist of particular articles and chapters on a weekly basis, as well as a wider range of inclusions.


Essay (100%, 5000 words) in the LT.

Due in Week 1 of LT. This essay of 5000 words (maximum) will be based on a small set of options for questions provided by the instructor. Some options will be very specific about certain issues and/or regions, whereas others will be more conceptual and open for student exploration. Across all these options, there will be wide enough scope for students with different academic backgrounds and thematic or geographical interests to be accommodated, while still hewing to the organizing topics of the course.

Key facts

Department: Geography & Environment

Total students 2015/16: 25

Average class size 2015/16: 12

Controlled access 2015/16: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information