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MPhil Degree in Southern Urbanism

Masters in Southern Urbanism

MPhil Degree in Southern Urbanism

General Information

Please Note: Application deadline is 30 September 2021 for local and 31 October 2021 for international applicants



  1. Introduction
  2. Summary of information for applicants
  3. The Curriculum
  4. Entrance requirements
  5. Application process
  6. International Students
  7. Scholarship and Funding
  8. Accommodation
  9. Core Faculty
  10. University Of Cape Town Steering Committee
  11. International Advisory Board



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. 

Summary of information for applicants

The Masters is open to students who have completed four-year bachelor degrees, as well as students with existing Masters degrees in various disciplines; previous qualification in urban studies, planning or geography is not a prerequisite. The programme has been designed to provide a rigorous theoretical as well as methodological foundation in interdisciplinary urban studies. It is intended as a bridgehead into PhD-level research, producing skilled researchers able to conduct compelling doctoral research, as well as an innovative and experimental learning platform for those aiming to continue or launch their careers as practitioners, equipped with the capacity of engaging and rethinking urban questions from a Southern vantage point.

Students of the first three cohorts have come from ten African countries, India, Germany and Italy, and their individual research projects range across topics and cities such as household strategies of accessing water in Tamale, placemaking through street art in Cape Town, informal traders’ experiences and practices in Gaborone and Epworth, migrants’ spatial improvisation in Johannesburg, smart city imaginaries in Bhubaneswar, and incremental home-making in Cape Town and Delhi. 

The Curriculum

The MPhil curriculum combines course work (50%) and a minor dissertation (50%), a full-time load completed over a period of minimum 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.

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.   

Arts of Space

Arts of Space thinks the city and its material forms through literatures on design from humanities and the spatial sciences, particularly architecture and planning. The course pays careful attention to genealogies of knowledge and ways to trace theoretical associations. It engages how the given problematics were originally formulated, and how they continue to shape debates in contemporary urban studies. Problematics such as affect, methodology, and the question of housing are addressed through the course.  

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.

Entrance requirements

In order to apply for the Masters in Southern Urbanism prospective students need to have completed a four-year Bachelors or a Masters degree.

Students from institutions whose language of instruction is not English may be asked for proof of language proficiency.

Entry to all our postgraduate programmes is competitive. In special circumstances graduates who have shown by examination, or publication, or a record of appropriate training, that they have a reached a level equivalent to an Honours degree may be admitted, at the discretion of the Dean of Science. Such cases usually involve research, professional experience or publication that demonstrate competence in an appropriate field, usually considered to encompass approximately five years of experience in a relevant field subsequent to obtaining a first degree in that field.

Application process

Please download and complete the following:

–  Environmental and Geographical Science departmental application form (you will need to submit all the documents listed on the form.

–  MPhil Reference form (please ask two academic or professional referees to fill this form and send it directly to Ms Ms Fahdelah Hartley ( OR

Once completed submit these documents in one single pdf  to

CLOSING DATE: 10th July 2020 for local, and 31st August 2020 for international applicants.

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

Scholarship and Funding

We have a limited number of bursaries available for South African and international students respectively. Successful local applicants will be advised on their application to National Research Foundation (NRF) bursaries following the decision of the MPhil in Southern Urbanism selection committee two weeks after the application deadline. All international applicants are considered for our Mellon bursaries by virtue of applying to the programme, a separate bursary application is not required.

All applicants are encouraged to seek additional funding, as the number of the programme’s own bursaries is limited and the selection process is therefore competitive. Please regularly check the Postgraduate Funding Office’s website for current funding opportunities.

Should you have any further questions regarding funding, please email the course convener, Dr Anna Selmeczi (


If you wish to join one of UCT’s student accommodations, you are strongly encouraged to apply early. For all information regarding student accommodation, please contact the accommodation office. Note that the course convener will not be able to assist you regarding fee, funding or housing issues. Please browse for information related to student life here.


Core Faculty

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.

Sophie Oldfield holds the University of Cape Town-University of Basel Professorship in Urban Studies, based at the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town.

Anna Selmeczi a lecturer at the African Centre for Cities and the convenor of the Masters in Southern Urbanism.

University Of Cape Town Steering Committee

Prof Tomà Berlanda, Architecture, Planning and Geomatics
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, Social Science Research Council
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, The Open University, UK
Prof Daniel Inkoom, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi
Dr Vyjayanthi Rao, New School for Social Research
Prof AbdouMaliq Simone, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity


Administrative Officer

Ms Faranaaz Bennett  

Postgraduate administrator 

Ms Tanya Basadien


The Masters in Southern Urbanism is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and is hosted by the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences at the University of Cape Town, in partnership with the Department of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics.