Urban Research Design Workshop 2019


The Research Design Workshop is an annual event for the MA students in Critical Urbanisms, taking place in the second half of their semester at the University of Cape Town.

After an intense semester spent intellectually exploring ‘Southern’ notions of urbanism through cities in the South African and broader global context, students get the chance to kick-start their individual research project for their final dissertation. 

The Research Design Workshop is a unique opportunity for students to start thinking about what kinds of topics, methods and theoretical frameworks they may be interested in for their MA thesis.

Organized as a three-day retreat, far from the usual university spaces and coursework pressures, the workshop offered students the chance to work closely with their academic advisors from both the University of Basel and the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town.

 For the second year in a row, Fynbos Estate, a working wine and olive farm nestled in the beautiful Swartland mountains one hour north of Cape Town, provided the space for a relaxed yet rigorous working atmosphere. Based on the principles of collective learning and collaborative work between students and faculty, the retreat presented a varied programme with individual and group trainings, writing exercises and games.

During breaks, participants were able to hike the nearby Dragonridge Mountains, read a book on the old farmhouse veranda or take a dip in the (unheated) pool – an opportunity that was seized by some brave souls!

During work sessions, students explored a wide array of potential themes and topics. They began the process of formulating a research question by thinking through a range of methodologies and different research approaches in the multidisciplinary field of Urban Studies. Most importantly, while working with their advisors, students started thinking about and planning their original fieldwork, which will constitute an important milestone for their thesis research project.

Some students confided that prior to the retreat, they felt “quite lost”, “concerned that the workshop won’t help me” and that they “wouldn’t be able to find a topic within a weekend”. However, subjected to what was noted as a “good mixture of workshop and eating sessions”, all students were able to come away with a solid working topic and corresponding supervisor.

While “designing your research is a process and this weekend was just the first starting point of that journey”, both students and faculty left with a genuine sense of excitement. As one student summarized: “I think the whole weekend was very positive, empowering and entirely productive” with another one adding “if you learn to productively sort the mess in your head, you can create a great research project within a weekend!”