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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 an interview (February 2018) with Jennifer Robinson, on policy mobility and the urban, global south and urban theory, challenges for future generations of urban scholars, in preparation for the International Conference on Policy Diffusion and Development Cooperation, 16-19 May 2018 Sao Paulo-Brazil, where she will give a keynote lecture.

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

Governing the Future City

Find here details and findings of a major ESRC funded research project, together with Prof Fulong Wu (Bartlett) and Prof Phil Harrison (University of the Witwatersrand):

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

Making Africa Urban


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.


  • 2022. Comparative Urbanism: Tactics for Global Urban Studies. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • 2022 (forthcoming). Handbook of Comparative Urban Studies (Edited, with Patrick Le Galès), London: Routledge.
  • 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. Translated into Spanish, ANDAMIOS 13(32):163-210
  • 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). Free Open Access to French Version is available at:
  • 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 comparative urbanism and specific tactics for comparative urban analysis as part of a wider postcolonial critique of urban studies. My book, Ordinary Cities (2006) looked 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 in press.

    Current research is funded by an ERC Advanced Grant (Making Africa Urban), and looks at transnational processes (sovereign, developmental and private sector) shaping large scale developments in urban areas across Africa, with cases in Accra (led by George Owusu), in Lilongwe (led by Evance Mwathunga), and Dar es Salaam (led by Phil Harrison, with support from Prof Wilbard Kombe).

    Funded ESRC Research (2015-18) on "Governing the Future City", looking at large-scale urban developments in London, Johannesburg (with Phil Harrison) and Shanghai (With Fulong Wu) is now complete and a number of papers are in progress and in press. I led the London case study research in Old Oak Park Royal, in close collaboration with Sharon Hayward of the London Tenants' Federation, Robin Brown of Just Space, and the Grand Union Alliance network (see We made numerous contributions through our research to support community engagements in planning policy development in Old Oak Park Royal (OPDC local plan) and in relation to the London Plan through Just Space.

    Other recent empirical research explored questions of the geopolitics of policy mobility; international theorisation of global city-regions; and activist research on London’s city strategies. All of these projects have sought to take forward methodological experiments for global urban theory. Earlier research centred on South African urban history and 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.

    Recent PhD graduates (completed) working with me:

    • 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
    • ThienVinh Nguyenn (2012): Urban development politics in Sekondi-Takoradi
    • Rita Lambert (2013): Comparative study of community mapping in Lima and Addis Ababa.
    • Frances Brill (2014): Developers in Johannesburg and London
    • Shaun Teo (2015): Community based politics in Shenzhen and London
    • Hui-CHun Liu (2016): The geopolitics of urban development, Taiwanese-Chinese links in SEZs in Fuzhou, Pingtan and Xiamen.
    Current Students:
    • Gumec Karamuk (2014): Legal challenges in the planning system (Istanbul and London)
    • Ana McMillin (2016): 3-D Printing and economic transition in London
    • Lubaina Mirza (2019): Small sites housing development and policy in London
    • Varvara Karipidou (2021): Urban development politics in Bucharest
    • Armine Bagiyan (2019, Dept of Geography, OSLO): Urban politics and critical political junctures in Armenia and Ukraine
    I welcome applications from students eager to take forward international and comparative approaches in urban studies, the politics of urban development in London, and also in South African studies.