GY479      Half Unit
Urban Transformations

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Ryan Centner


This course is available on the MPA in International Development, MPA in Public Policy and Management, MPA in Public and Economic Policy, MPA in Public and Social Policy, MPA in Social Impact, 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 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 introduces students to key theories and debates about societies undergoing rapid urban change. Course lectures examine large urban transformations in three ways. The first pertains to 'urbanisation' as a historical process by which social life, even outside of cities, becomes 'urban'. 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 approach considers the city as a site for radical political change, as well as social experimentation in planning and development. This means studying cities as spaces of movement, resistance, and innovation, with an emphasis on urban experiments (especially in 'Southern' cities). Thirdly, urban transformation is analysed in terms of the explosion of theorisations 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/planning, and theory – the course aims to equip students with a conceptual and empirical foundation for analysing city transformations and globalised urbanisation, with particular attention to emerging urbanisms in the global South.

Topics covered may include the following: industrialisation and immigration; processes of suburbanisation, ghettoisation, and gentrification; global cities; the colonial and postcolonial city; urban citizenship and the right to the city; urban uprisings; the geopolitics of urban theory; urban nostalgia; urban innovation and the politics of urban self-regard/self-representation.


In the Department of Geography and Environment, teaching will be delivered through a combination of classes/seminars, pre-recorded lectures, live online lectures and other supplementary interactive live activities.

This course is delivered through a combination of seminars and lectures across Michaelmas Term.

This course includes a reading week in Week 6 of MichaelmasTerm.

Formative coursework

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

An optional 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

R. Beauregard. When America Became Suburban, 2006;

J. Brown-Saracino (ed). The Gentrification Debates, 2010;

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

M. Davis, Planet of Slums, 2006;

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

J.M. Jacobs, Edge of Empire: Postcolonialism and the City, 1996;

G. Moussawi, Disruptve Situations: Fractal Orientalism and Queer Strategies in Beirut, 2020;

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

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

T. Samara, S. He, and G. Chen (eds), Locating Right to the City in the Global South, 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 (90%, 5000 words) in the LT.
Class participation (10%) in the MT.

Due in the first half of LT, the essay (5000 words, maximum) will be based on a range of questions provided by the instructor during MT. 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 organising topics of the course.

Attendance and active participation in seminar is also essential, and assessed. Students will be required to co-lead discussion with a peer and the instructor for one (out of ten) seminars.

Student performance results

(2016/17 - 2018/19 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 46.1
Merit 31.6
Pass 18.4
Fail 3.9

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Geography & Environment

Total students 2019/20: 52

Average class size 2019/20: 18

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information