In our rapidly changing and contested global environment, cities are becoming increasingly important: they house a majority of the world’s inhabitants and act as catalysts of social, economic, cultural, and ecological change. Urban Studies at the University of Basel offers a new platform for understanding these planetary transformations, starting from the premise that the world’s urban and environmental challenges call not only for new ways of doing but for new ways of thinking. Imagining alternative futures means rethinking the present—its historical making, its political unfolding, and the ways in which it is made sensible.

Starting in Fall 2017, the University of Basel’s Master in Critical Urbanisms is an English-taught four-semester program that will train a new generation of graduates to think beyond divisions of urban versus rural and North versus South in order to address the complexity of urban lifeworlds in the twenty-first century. The program is founded by an internationally recognized faculty who work on and with cities and territories from a global perspective. The curriculum is structured around an interdisciplinary research studio where students work together combining humanities and social-scientific methods with visual and spatial analysis, and a semester of study and fieldwork in Cape Town, at the African Centre for Cities of the University of Cape Town.


Mission Statement

Urban Studies at the University of Basel starts from the premise that the world’s most pressing urban and environmental challenges call not only for new ways of doing but for new ways of thinking. Imagining alternative futures means rethinking the present and the past. Instead of seeking to solve problems as they appear, we interrogate their historical making, their political unfolding, and the ways in which they are represented. We do so by approaching scientific expertise, intellectual constructs, and professional practices through the study of lived experience, in all its complexity and contradictions.

The transformation of cities and territories has long escaped treatment as a topic exclusive to any one discipline or profession. To tackle this century’s urban and ecological crises, we need more than the practical application of specialized knowledge. Against the abstraction of the bird’s-eye view and the limits of problem-solving expertise, we are committed to critical, interdisciplinary interrogation as the foundation for imagining alternative futures. With this in mind, we harness methods drawn from the humanities, social sciences, and design disciplines in order to address contemporary conditions ranging from land degradation and the spatial violence of modernization to ever-increasing flows of global migration. We deploy in-depth fieldwork and archival research but also include visual media and creative intervention as forms of research integral to everyday processes of knowledge acquisition.

Key themes for our teaching and research are: – Legacies of empire and comparative colonial after-lives – Spatial and architectural practices of mobility and migration – Territorial dimensions of resource economies – Urban cultures, creativity, and the production of imaginaries – Urban governance, politics, and spatial violence

Drawing explicitly on the research and teaching experience of our faculty, these thematic focus points bring specific interdisciplinary perspectives to bear on fundamental questions of contemporary global urbanization. They open the way to original analyses grounded in the concreteness of everyday life and provide platforms for faculty and students to transcend problematic geographic divides of North versus South and centre versus periphery.

Central to this intellectual project is a move away from looking at cities as discrete and self-contained entities toward thinking of them as embedded in complex and overlapping territories shaped by political and material processes that connect distant and even disparate spaces across the globe. Migration and remittance flows are transforming not only global cities but rural landscapes across the developing world. Material waste travels from rich cities to poor countries, radically impacting lives and livelihoods across vast distances. Global agribusiness reconfigures large sections of rural Africa to become the breadbaskets of new megacities in Asia and elsewhere. A perspective attuned to such translocal processes allows for analyses capable of capturing the complex dynamics of contemporary globalization. Specifically, it opens paths for thinking beyond parochial definitions of space, place, and environment, as well as the limiting framework of identity politics and area studies. The foregoing informs debates in multiple fields, including urban studies, anthropology, architecture and planning, art and architectural history, geography, and sociology.


Master’s Program

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The Masters draws on a diverse faculty from across the humanities, social sciences, and design disciplines to develop ways of interdisciplinary learning. At its core stands a pedagogical model, a jointly taught research studio that immerses students in collaborative research using a wide variety of material, discursive, and visual methods. A second unique quality of the program is its international learning experience, with a semester of study and fieldwork research in Cape Town, anchored in the African Centre for Cities of the University of Cape Town. Through fieldwork, archival work, and mapping, students gain fluency in spatial, social, and visual research methods. As such, they acquire relevant practical and theoretical knowledge of the social, economic, cultural, and political processes that make up cities and territories. Interdisciplinary proficiency and international experience will enable graduates of the program to effectively interact with the broad range of constituents and institutions that play a vital role in shaping the future of cities in a global context.


The University of Basel’s Master in Critical Urbanisms will be taught in English and begins in Fall 2017. Administered by Urban Studies faculty members and staff within the Department of Social Science, the program builds upon existing departments and research centers at the University of Basel, notably the Centre for African Studies and eikones. Students also benefit from a close collaboration between the University of Basel and the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town.


Taken in the first and third semesters, the research studio immerses students in collaborative, interdisciplinary research practice that combines humanities and social-scientific methods with visual and spatial analysis and representation. Jointly taught by core and affiliated faculty, with regular visits by external experts, the studio takes place in a dedicated studio space that acts as a laboratory in which small teams of students hailing from different disciplinary backgrounds can work closely together.

Students will work on a range of outputs, from essays to illustrated booklets, maps and diagrams, photographic projects, videos, and installations. This work will be assembled and edited for public presentation as the collective outcome of the research studio. The research studio theme for 2017 through 2021 is Highway Africa.


The second semester of the master’s program takes place at the University of Cape Town. The semester focuses on African Urbanisms, exploring cities in the African and broader global southern context as crucial sites for the analysis of everyday forms of agency central to contemporary urbanism. The semester provides students with firsthand experience in research on urban conditions.

Students whose circumstances prevent them from participating in the Cape Town semester can take a year-long course at the University of Basel in anthropological fieldwork methods that will include a research trip during the winter holidays.


Urban Studies faculty teach seminars and lecture courses on a variety of urban topics aimed to help students gain in-depth knowledge of specific disciplinary approaches. Students may also take elective courses from the rich offerings at the University of Basel (e.g., in African Studies, Anthropology, and through the Centre of Competence Cultural Topographies), as well as at the University of Cape Town.


The master’s thesis is an independent, academically rigorous work through which students identify a research problem in an area of urban studies and, by engaging with this problem, develop knowledge that can answer theoretical and/or practical questions. While thesis work is independent and distinct from the work pursued in the research studio, it ideally builds upon the studio. Even though theses will be submitted in conventional form (approximately eighty pages of text on average), students are encouraged to supplement their written work with a practice-based and/or visual component to make their findings accessible to broader audiences.


The program targets international and Swiss students in the humanities, social sciences, and the arts. It is likely also to be of interest to academically qualified professionals from the fields of architecture, urban planning, and environmental management. English proficiency is required.


The program prepares students for careers in a variety of national and international contexts, from research institutions to local, regional, and national government planning offices to development aid organizations, NGOs, architecture and design firms, museums, urban planning and policy offices, international organizations, universities, and consultancy firms. Students will be equipped and are also encouraged to continue their studies at the PhD level.


The MA program starts in the fall semester. Applications for admission need to be submitted through the Student Administration Office of the University of Basel. Applications are due by 30 April and can only be reviewed once they are complete.

We recommend that you contact us beforehand by emailing Michelle Killenberger.
+41 61 207 58 37


Since the application process for a study permit for non-EU citizens can take up to four months, and this process can only be started after the letter of admission is issued, we highly recommend that students submit their complete application as early as possible. 


Tuition costs at the University of Basel are low compared with many international institutions of similar calibre. For information on tuition and living expenses, see the University’s FAQs. Partial fellowships are available to contribute towards the costs of travel to and the semester in Cape Town.