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Welcome to Cities in Transition

The Cities in Transition Project is based in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies and is coordinated by Noëleen Murray who works in the field of urban and spatial inquiry.


 Cities in Transition


The Cities in Transition Project is based in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies and is coordinated by Noëleen Murray who works in the field of urban and spatial inquiry. A central intention of the project is to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to this theme – which will result in closer linkages between new and existing initiatives in the Faculty of Arts. The project initiates a set of inquiries into the nature, form and processes contained in the making and unmaking of cities in Africa, specifically in Southern Africa. For 2012, the CIT project will focus on addressingsome of the often neglected areas of research current in the field of Urban Studies.

As its central rationale, the project aims to provide the space for careful, theoretically informed scholarship as a way to rethink some of the foundational aspects of knowledge production invested in spatial disciplines such as geography, environmental science, urban planning architecture and others. Typically, current forms of scholarship within these disciplines are often constrained by the provincialising discourses of development and the disciplinary demands of practice. Less attention is paid to the histories of discipline, the nature of practice or the questions of affect and intellectual location. The following projects are currently underway:

1. Land and Labour

This project entails an inquiry, in collaboration with the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum, into the nature and form of the making of Cape Town in the context of Coloured Labour Preference and migrant labour through an examination of the AECI Hostel Compound in Somerset West. Described by heritage practitioners as a “secret landscape” the now abandoned space contains evidence of migrant labourers’ presence that could significantly alter notions of Cape Town as a site of Coloured Labour Preference. Its future (and possible demolition) as part of a luxury housing development brings into question not only the criteria for the identification of heritage significance locally but significantly it will raise questions about the definitions of Cape Town as an apartheid city.

2. University and the City

This sub-theme will be developed through a postgraduate exchange in August 2012 with academics from the University of Ghent. A key component will be on the mapping of housing in Belhar; exploring further the ideas presented in the recent publication Becoming UWC – Reflections,pathways and unmaking apartheid’s legacy, edited by Premesh Lalu and Noeleen Murray, around the idea of “a campus apart”, and engaging with university planners towards thinking critically about the spatial but also the intellectual positioning of UWC.

3. Politics of Naming

In this project in the field of urban geography Elsworth McPherson documents the process of name changing nationally and in the Western Cape through a mapping of these changes and the associated debates since 1994.

4. Urban Revolutions in an Age of Global Urbanism

In this collaborative project Noëleen Murray, together with partners from the Universities of Minnesota and Berkeley in the USA and Tarumanagara Univeristy in Indonesia, foregrounds the necessity of viewing urban transition, in all its aspects, “from the South”. The aim of this project is to transform the field of Urban Studies on this basis.

5. Rethinking the rural / urban divide

This is a reflexive disciplinary project that will take the form of a set of critical conversations in collaboration with Prof Gary Minkley from Fort Hare. As a starting point towards unpacking some of the arguments current in South African urban studies and urban history, the discussions will focus on the idea of “the rule of experts” contained in Timothy Mitchell’s scholarship. As a conceptual starting point for an examination of local spatial practice, the project seeks to problematise local approaches to the field together with postgraduate students at UWC and Fort Hare.

6. City Visions

This project will explore aerial photography as part of the key apparatus of administering planned urban imaginaries with a specific interest in how authorities use this genre of knowing for population control and urban planning in the context of patterns of migration on the Cape Flats. An investigation into the politics and aesthetics of the “view from above” will open up sets of questions in relation to regional planning.

7. Environments of Science

This is a sub-theme in which Mike Dyssel and Mandy Carolissen investigate current forms of environmental practice and research and relate these lines of thinking to social critiques in discourses on sustainability.

8. Modernisms

In this project Noëleen Murray will explore notions of continuity with “apartheid modernities” in South African architecture. This will lead towards the publication of a book by Routledge. Critical comment and mentorship will be provided by Professor Lindsay Bremner (Head of Architectural Research, UCT).

9. Lets do Tourism!

In this sub-theme Mark Boekstein and others set out to problematise the field of tourism studies in Africa from a postcolonial perspective, as a means to critique current positivist forms of practice towards developing a revised curriculum and research focus.

10. Christianities: Changing geographies of sacred space in Cape Town

In this project Colin Moodaley documents the changing nature of spaces of Christian worship in the city, from the home or family church to the formal institutionalizing of contemporary forms of worship.

11. Re-imagining urban spaces: human security and the city

In this project Mandy Carolissen examines constructions of urban spaces and their utility in the context developing sustainable cities that promote human security using the city of Cape Town as a case study. The focus of the study has been on urban agriculture and water usage.

12. Changing urban ecologies of CT

In this envisaged collaborative project Michael Dyssel and others involved in UWC’s programme around Environmental Sustainability Studies will explore how service delivery and general developmental challenges feed into an urban metabolism that create new ecological and environmental management challenges.

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