UCL Department of Geography
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Convenor: Dr Alan Latham


Unit Value. 0.5 unit Year: 2 Term: 2


Aims of the Course

This course will provide students with an introduction to and overview of the sub-discipline of urban geography. The aims of the course are:

  • To examine the key social, cultural, economic, and political dynamics that structure urban life.
  • To provide students with a grounding in the key intellectual traditions upon which contemporary urban geography is built.
  • To provide an overview of some of the key intellectual debates within contemporary urban geography.
  • To present case studies of cities that are paradigmatic of a range of different patterns of urbanization.
  • To give students an overview of both the challenges and potentialities of urban life.
  • The course will place particular emphasis on examining examples from the Global South along side case studies from the Global North.



The course is divided into three main sections with two introductory lectures outlining the key themes of the course and how they will be approached, and two concluding lectures drawing the themes of the course together around the question of city futures.

i) Urban Economies

Cities are concentrations of money, firms and workers. This part of the module offers an economic rationale for the existence of cities, explains how the contemporary city has been shaped by processes of industrialization and de-industrialization, identifies cities as drivers of the global economy and views spatial and social uneven development as necessary outcome of capitalist competition.

ii) Social and Cultural Worlds.

'Cities are very distinct social spaces with specific cultural landscapes. This part of the course explores how the size and density of cities creates complex social networks of association and support, and accompanying dynamics of racial, ethnic, and class segregation. It examines how cultural landscapes have helped mediate and naturalise the socio-economic and political transformation of cities. Yet it also considers how interventions around these landscapes have challenged ways in which the city is experienced, shaped and lived.'


iii) Urban Politics.

The diversity and dynamism of city life, as well as the many challenges posed by urbanisation, mean that politics is an important component of all cities. Various groups and organisations mobilise to demand change; governments attempt to respond to and co-ordinate the diverse requirements of different interest groups, often through partnerships with business or communities. An important question concerns the spatial scale of urban politics – to what extent is urban politics focussed on the territory of the city, or part of wider global and regional processes? This section of the course will consider some core elements of urban politics today through the themes of governance, participation, social movements and urban planning, and also attend to the cultural politics through which the meaning of life in cities, and the right to the city, is contested.


Learning Outcomes

At the end of this course students should; 1) have an understanding of the key social, cultural, economic and political dynamics that structure urban life; 2) an overview of the intellectual traditions that have shaped the sub-discipline of urban geography and a reasonable understanding of the differences between these traditions; 3) understand and be able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a number of key intellectual debates that are shaping contemporary urban geography; 4) appreciate and be capable of explaining analytically the different forms of urban settlement and development that characterise cities in different parts of the globe; 5) appreciate the complexity of organising and governing urban environments.



40% coursework assignment, 60% two hour unseen examination.


Key Texts

Hubbard, P. (2006) The City, London: Routledge.

Latham, A., McCormack, D. McNamara, K., and McNeill, D. Key Concepts in Urban Geography. London: Sage, 2009.

Le Gates, R. and Stout, F. eds., (2003) The City Reader, 3rd Edition, London: Routledge.

Robinson, J. (2005) Ordinary Cities: Between Modernity and Development, London: Routledge.