UCL Department of Geography


Description Photo Here

Personal tools
Log in
This is SunRain Plone Theme
UCL Home  /  Geography  /  People  /  Academic Staff  /  Jennifer Robinson

Professor Jennifer Robinson

Jenny Robinson.jpgUCL Department of Geography
University College London
26 Bedford Way

Tel: 020 7679 7569 (ex 27569)
Fax: 020 7679 7565

Click here to watch Jennifer Robinson's Inaugural Lecture in December 2011.

A comparative analysis of governance innovations in large scale urban developments in Shanghai, London, Johannesburg

I did my undergraduate, Hons and MA studies in Geography at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, followed by a PhD in Geography at the University of Cambridge. I worked for some years in the first of half of the 1990s at University of KwaZulu-Natal, before some time at the LSE and then a good long stint at The Open University, with a super group of colleagues working collectively on what it might mean to think spatially. I have been at UCL since October 2009. Here I am active in the Urban Laboratory, a cross-University network for Urban Studies.

  • 2017. Cities Methodologies Matter: Comparative urbanism, urban theory and theory cultures, in B. Campkin and G. Duizings (eds) Engaged Urbanism: Cities Methodologies. (IB Tauris: UCL Urban Lab publication; )
  • 2016. Thinking cities through elsewhere: Comparative tactics for a more global urban studies. Progress in Human Geography, 40, 1: 3-29.
  • 2015. with Ananya Roy (co-edited and joint introduction) “Global Urbanisms and the Nature of Urban Theory”, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research Debates and Developments Symposium.
  • 2016. Comparative Urbanism: New Geographies and cultures of theorising the urban, in Robinson, J. and Roy, A. (eds) International Journal of Urban and Regional Research Debates and Developments Symposium, Global Urbanisms and the Nature of Urban Theory. Vol 40, No. 1, pgs 187-199.
  • 2016. Comparison, in  M. Jayne and K. Edwards (eds). 2016. Urban Theory. London: Routledge.
  • 2016. “Spaces of Comparison and Conceptualisation” in Guggenheim, M. and Deville, J. (eds)., Practising Comparison. Matterings Press.
  • 2014. ‘Competitive cities or competing agendas?’ in Le Blanc, A., Piermay, J-L. Gervais-Lambony, P, Giroud, M., Pierdet, C.and Rufat, S. (eds) Métropoles en débat: (dé)constructions de la ville competitive. Paris: Presses Universitaires de Paris Ouest. 407-420.
  • 2014. New Geographies of Theorising the Urban: Putting Comparison to Work for Global Urban Studies, in S. Parnell and S. Oldfield (eds) Handbook for Cities of the Global South. London: Routledge. Pgs 57-70
  • 2014. Comparative Urbanism Virtual Issue, editorial on Comparative Urbanism, “In the archives of comparative urbanism”,  International Journal of Urban and Regional Research,
  • 2013. “Arriving at” the urban/urban policy: Traces of elsewhere in making city futures, in O. Söderström (ed) Critical Mobilities. London: Routledge. [PDF Download]
  • 2012 (with Colin McFarlane) Experiments in Comparative Urbanism: Introduction to co-edited Special Issue, Urban Geography, 33, 6: 765-773.
  • 2012. (With Sue Parnell) (re)theorising cities from the global south: looking beyond neoliberalism, Urban Geography, 33, 4: 593-617.
  • 2011. Cities in a World of Cities: The comparative gesture’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 35, 1: 1-23 (2nd most downloaded article for IJURR as recorded by October 2011 and October 2012; 2nd most cited article for 2012)
  • 2011. Comparisons: Cosmopolitan or colonial? Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 32, 2: 125-40 (Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography plenary lecture, RGS-IBG, 2010)
  • 2011. The travels of urban neoliberalism: Taking stock of the internationalization of urban theory. Urban Geography 32, 8: 1087-1109 (Urban Geography plenary lecture at the AAG 2010)
  • 2011. 'Cities in a World of Cities: The comparative gesture' International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 35, 1: 1-23.

  • 2011. (with Sue Parnell). Travelling Theory: Embracing post-neoliberalism through Southern Cities, in G. Bridge and S. Watson (eds) New Companion to Urban Studies. Oxford: Blackwells.

  • 2011. The Spaces of Circulating Knowledge: City Strategies and Global Urban Governmentality in E. McCann and K. Ward (eds) Mobile Urbanism. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

  • 2010. 'Living in Dystopia: Past, present and future in Noir Urbanisms, (ed) Gyan Prakash. Princeton: Princeton University Press, pgs 218-240.

  • 2008. Continuities and Discontinuities in South African Local Government. In M. van Donk, Swilling, M, Pieterse, E. and Parnell, S. (eds) Consolidating Developmental Local Government: Lessons from the South African Experience. Cape Town: Isandla and UCT Press. Pgs 27-50.
  • 2008. Geographies of Globalisation: A Demanding World. (Edited with Gillian Rose and Clive Barnett) London: Sage and The Open University.
  • 2008. Developing Ordinary Cities: City visioning processes in Durban and Johannesburg, Environment and Planning A 40, 74-87.
  • 2007. The Handbook of Political Geography (Edited with Kevin Cox and Murray Low). London: Sage.
  • 2007. Development and new forms of democracy in Durban. Urban Forum. 18, 265-287. [Reversioned and translated for publication in French in Revue Tiers-Monde, edited special issue by Claire Bénit, 2008]. (with Richard Ballard, Debby Bonnin and Thokozani Xaba)
  • 2006. Ordinary Cities: Between Modernity and Development. London: Routledge.
  • 2006. Development and Urban Policy: Johannesburg’s City Development Strategy (with Sue Parnell), Urban Studies 43, 2: 337-355.
  • 2006. Inventions and Interventions: Transforming Cities (Special Issue edited with Edgar Pieterse) – An Introduction, Urban Studies, 43, 2: 251-258.
  • 2005. In the tracks of comparative urbanism: difference, urban modernity and the primitive Urban Geography, 25, 8: 709-723.
  • 2005. Urban Geography: World cities, or a world of cities, Progress in Human Geography, 29 (6): 757-765.
  • Robinson, J. (2004) Cities Between Modernity and Development South African Geographical Journal 86, 1: 17-22.
  • Robinson, J. (2003) Postcolonialising Geography: Tactics and Pitfalls Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography. vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 273-289.
  • Robinson, J. (2003) Cities as spaces of interaction: African Participation in Johannesburg's 1936 Empire Exhibition. Journal of Southern African Studies. vol. 29, no. 3, pp. 761-791.
  • Robinson, J. (2002) Global and World Cities: A view from off the map, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol. 26, no. 3, pp. 531-554.
  • Robinson, J. (2000) Feminism and the spaces of transformation, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, vol. 25, no. 3, pp. 285-301.
  • Robinson, J. (2000) 'Power as friendship: spatiality, femininity and "noisy surveillance"' in Philo, C., Routledge, P. and Sharp, J. (eds) Entanglements of Power, London, Routledge, pp. 67-93.
  • Robinson, J. (1998) 'Spaces of democracy: re-mapping the apartheid city', Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, vol. 16, no. 5, pp. 533-48.
  • Robinson, J. (1998) '(Im)mobilising space - dreaming (of) change' in Judin, H. and Vadislavic, I. (eds) Blank_____ : Architecture, Apartheid and After, Rotterdam, NAi publishers (D7).
  • Robinson, J. (1997) 'The geopolitics of South African cities: states, citizens, territory', Political Geography, vol. 16, no. 5, pp. 365-86.
  • Robinson, J. (1996) The Power of Apartheid: State, Power and Space in South African Cities, London, Butterworth-Heinemann.

    My current research interests focus on developing a postcolonial critique of urban studies. My book, Ordinary Cities (2006) looks at how the interplay between urban modernity and development frames a conceptual and practical divide between "Western" and "Third World" cities. The book develops the claim that urban theory needs to be more cosmopolitan in the resources it draws on; and argues that urban development policies need to move beyond developmentalism and draw on the wider cultural and economic resources of urbanism in poorer cities. More recent writing extends this argument to develop appropriate methods and tactics for international theorisation of 21st century cities, organised around the conceptualisation of comparative urbanism, and a book on this topic is under preparation. Grant applications and research in progress explore questions of the geopolitics of policy mobility; international theorisation of global city-regions; and activist research on London’s city strategies. These all take forward methodological experiments for an international urban theory.

    Previous research has centred on the relationship between power and space, specifically in cities and mostly in relation to South African politics. For example, I have written on the 1936 Empire Exhibition in Johannesburg to explore spaces of racial interaction in South African cities. I have also written on issues in feminist politics, including questions of difference and methodology, and more recently on the implications of Julia Kristeva's psychoanalytic writing for feminist theorizations of space. More broadly, I have explored ways of postcolonializing the theoretical and empirical practices of Geography.


    Critiques of global and world cities: A seminal critique of the dominant global and world cities analysis with respect to its implications for wider urban studies and for the politics of development in poorer cities  has been drawn on in background and published policy documents which have informed the conceptualisation of urban development in South African cities, e.g. the background review document for the 2006-2011 Growth and Development Strategy which scoped international experience in city strategies and established an approach to Johannesburg’s strategic policy. Robinson was invited to speak to city councillors and officials in Johannesburg on various occasions (2004; 2011) and on their study tour to London (2006) informing ongoing strategic policy development in this period. The research is planned to be taken forward in a collaboration with the Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO) on conceptualising global city-regions.

    City Strategies: Studies of the politics of Johannesburg’s City Strategy led to Robinson being invited to review and comment on the draft revised GDS2040 at the Johannesburg City Council’s international conference as part of the consultation process in October 2011, including speaking to a mass public gathering and on the main morning news television. These contributions encouraged the strategy’s commitment to a broadly balanced and locally resonant range of policy commitments.

    Examples of Impact:

    1) Desktop review of international experiences with city strategies to which Robinson inputs were noted as helpful – document available from Robinson.

    2) SACN State of South African Cities Report (2006) – setting guidance 2006-2011 for city strategy development across 9 metros – available at Robinson (2006) is cited and also in the formulation of the Good Practice Guide to State of Cities Reporting (2010)

    3) Publicity pages on consultation process and international conference on GDS2040 – available at; TV interview, available at ucl web page;;

    4 ) Planned collaboration: Gauteng City Region Observatory information here:

    5) Robinson’s comparative and global urbanism is influencing practitioner training in a developmental partnership between South African, African and Brazilian planning netowrks:

    6) Participation in African Centre for Cities (ACC), Central City Urban Laboratory (a joint initiative in knowledge co-production between the ACC, provincial and local governments, NGOs and community groups) which Robinson co-ordinated January to July 2009 ;;;

    7) Participation in the generation of a programme of state of the city reports across African countries, funded by the World Bank and the Cities Alliance. Robinson wrote a preparatory background document for the conceptualisation of this project

    8) Building links with community groups involved in the London Plan processes, as co-organiser of a joint Urban Salon and Just Space network conference, June 2011 (; ongoing collaborations through community-based teaching (URBNG007) and collaborative research activities, including comparative work on the London Plan and the Johannesburg GDS with links to supporting community participation through Planact explored in collaborative work with Barbara Lipietz at the DPU(

    I have been at UCL since October 2009, teaching on MSc courses (Thinking Space, Globalisation, Methods, City space and power, Comparative Urbanism, Community Participation in City Strategies) and 1st year (Global Geographies), 2nd year (Urban Geography) and 3rd year (Comparative Urbanism) courses.

    I am currently supervising PhD researchers on the following topics:

    • Carole Enahoro (2009) Humour and negotiating access to housing in Abuja, Nigeria
    • Astrid Wood (2010) Policy mobilisers in South African cities
    • Tauri Tuvikene (2010) Automobility and material governmentality in Tallin Estonia
    • Aidan Mosselson (2011) Residential renewal in Hillbrow, Johannesburg
    • Myfanwy Taylor (2011) Alternative economic policies for London
    • Susana Neves (2011) Politics of governance and water delivery, Bafata, Guinea Bissau
    • Jens Kandt (2011) Comparative study of Health care provision and space in London and Hong Kong.
    • Alvaro Sanchez-Jiminez (2012) A comparative study of local government responses to fiscal crisis in Spain and Argentina
    • Rita Lambert (2013) Comparative study of community mapping in Lima and Addis Ababa.


    We meet regularly as a group to discuss recent developments in urban theory and comparative urbanism. I welcome applications from students eager to take forward international and comparative approaches in urban studies.