Fifteen years into the 21st century, the world and its inhabitants face an uncertain and challenging future. In this rapidly changing and contested global environment, cities have become increasingly important, home to the majority of the planet’s inhabitants and sites for economic, social, political, ecological, and cultural transformation. This trend will only accelerate, with the rapid growth of urban agglomerations and, as a result, radical changes in the structure, form, and use of landscapes planet-wide.

Urban Studies is a strategic initiative of the University of Basel aimed at sustained, original, and proactive reflection on these critical issues. Students and faculty will benefit from dialogue with institutions of higher learning across the world—in particular from a groundbreaking collaboration between the University of Basel and the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town. Urban Studies also builds upon the existing strengths of key spaces of excellence at the University of Basel itself, notably the Centre for African Studies and eikones. Additionally, and for the first time in the history of the university, the Department will bring architecture and design into engagement with the humanities and sciences.

Calling on a diverse, internationally recognized faculty and building upon innovative teaching approaches, Urban Studies at the University of Basel aims to train a new generation of inquisitive and creative graduates prepared to tackle some of the century’s most pressing issues in the MA Critical Urbanisms.


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 first of all 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 intellectual constructs and professional practices through the study of lived experience, in all its complexity and contradictions.

The transformation of cities and landscapes has long escaped treatment as a topic exclusive to any one discipline or profession. But 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 hubris 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 and the social and environmental sciences 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.


Thematic Approach

Key themes for teaching and research include:

  • Legacies of empire and comparative colonial after-lives
  • Spatial 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 the faculty, these thematic focus points bring to bear multiple interdisciplinary perspectives 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 alike to transcend problematic geographic divides of North versus South and center versus periphery.

Central to this process is a move away from looking at cities as discrete and self-contained entities to think of them instead as embedded in complex and overlapping territories. These territories are shaped by political, material and creative forces at work across a vast range of scales. These processes often connect distant and even disparate spaces, unmooring conventional geographies. Thus, Lagosian pentecostal churches are actively shaping urban spaces and building practices across the Americas; Beijing-driven agricultural policies are reconfiguring entire sections of Zambia to become the breadbaskets of Chinese mega-cities; and Swiss E-waste is radically impacting lives and livelihoods in the Agbogbloshie neighborhood of Accra. A perspective attuned to such territorial processes allows for analyses capable of capturing the complex dynamics of contemporary globalization in novel ways. Specifically, it opens paths for thinking beyond parochial definitions of space, place and environment, as well as the limiting framework of identity politics. The foregoing informs debates in multiple fields, including urban studies, anthropology, architecture and planning, art and architectural history, geography and sociology.


Master’s Program

We will offer a four-semester MA in Urban Studies, entitled ‘Critical Urbanisms’, starting in Autumn 2017.

In our rapidly changing and contested global environment, cities have become increasingly important, home to the majority of the planet’s inhabitants and sites for fundamental economic, social, political, ecological and cultural transformation. This Master’s program foregrounds both the heterogeneity of urban life and the multiplicity of ways in which human beings seek to make sense of it. Interrogating perceived oppositions between “North” and “South,” center and periphery, global and local, and city and countryside, the program draws together critical and reflective approaches from the humanities, social sciences and design disciplines. It encourages students to develop competencies both theoretical and practical, oriented toward scholarly engagement as well as public debate, a combination essential to addressing the extraordinarily complex imperatives of urban lifeworlds in the 21st century.

At the core of the program stands an innovative pedagogical model: an interdisciplinary research studio, jointly taught by all members of the Master’s faculty, that integrates a wide variety of material, textual, discursive and visual methods. A second unique feature of the program is its internationalized learning experience, with a semester of study and research at the University of Cape Town, anchored in the African Centre for Cities.

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