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LCS-GY201: Urban Modernities: Space, Place and Difference

Professor Gareth Jones, Professor of Urban Geography, Department of Geography & Environment, London School of Economics
Dr Ryan Centner, Assistant Professor of Urban Geography, Department of Geography & Environment, London School of Economics
Dr Shari Daya, Lecturer, Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, University of Cape Town

Course outline (revised for 2015)

This course works across scale, and with insights from geography, anthropology, archaeology and history to think about the challenges and opportunities of contemporary urbanism as seen from the specific confluence of Cape Town. We explore urban modernities by interrogating how they are conceptualised, achieved and contested. 

The course begins with a debate on the nature and expression of modernity in the South African context, after which each lecturer provides their unique approach to conceiving modernity in the South African city. Collectively we consider what it might mean to think of urban modernity specifically from South Africa and from Cape Town. Lectures by Gareth Jones provide historical background on the making of the segregated South African city and how its spatial ruptures are cemented in modernist notions, followed by lectures with Ryan Centner focusing on how the South African city can be understood comparatively and over time.

Gareth and Ryan then introduce how contemporary forms of segregation are built-in to the city through the formation of enclave and fortress spaces, and how division and difference in the city is contested and emancipatory spaces are opened. Finally, we look at how the city is governed, secured and branded, focussing on how Cape Town has attempted to represent itself as a world-class, design and liveable city.

In the second half of the course, Shari Daya explores the interplay between consumption, identity, and materiality in the urban context.  This includes a field trip to Wynberg that interrogates the local and global forces at-play on the street-level of the African city.  Finally, Ryan Centner discusses new forms of shaping the modern city, considering how our understanding of Cape Town can inform urban processes and transformation across the continent, and also how we write about the contemporary city.

As a whole, this course brings together insights drawn from different disciplinary vantage points to rethink contemporary urbanism, informed by both a broad theoretical canvass, connecting South African insights to a broader comparative frame. 

About the instructors


Ryan Centner is an urban geographer and sociologist at the London School of Economics. His research and writing focus on urban transformation as it is related to large-scale economic and political shifts, as well as how it matters for life on the ground in terms of social and spatial changes. Connections between redevelopment, struggles over space, and the politics of citizenship feature prominently in this scholarship.

Most of his work has dealt with middle-income countries (especially Argentina, Brazil, and Turkey), but he also has experience with cases in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and the South Pacific. Prior to joining the LSE, he was Assistant Professor of Sociology at Tufts University, and has held visiting affiliations at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Universidad de Buenos Aires.

He received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. His research has been published in various academic journals, including Environment & Planning, the International Journal of Urban & Regional Research, and City & Community


Shari Daya’s research interests lie in the sub-discipline of cultural geography and her theoretical work focuses on questions of modernity and identity in the global South - particularly Africa and India. She is also interested to understand how modernity is not just talked and written about, but embodied, enacted and otherwise materialised in everyday life. To this end, she explores how people imagine and participate in systems of production and consumption – looking at formal, informal and ‘ethical’ economies.

Her current research examines the cultural economies of craft in urban Cape Town, alternative economies in Cape Town, and the literary geographies of modernity in urban India.


Gareth Jones is an urban geographer at London School of Economics where he teaches on urban theory and ethnography on the MSc Urbanisation & Development. He is founding member of the newly established International Institute on Inequalities and is currently setting up a Latin America and Caribbean Centre.

His research has focused on the politics and representations of the urban poor, youth and violence, elite identities and gated communities, and comparative urban theory. He has mostly conducted research in Mexico, Brazil and South Africa, and is presently involved with an ESRC-NWO-DFG grant with colleagues at universities of Amsterdam and Munich on the commodification of poverty and violence in Brazil, Jamaica, Mexico and the USA


 The full course outline is available here.