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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  People  /  Research Students  /  Frances Brill

Frances Brill



UCL Department of Geography
University College London
Pearson Building
Gower Street









2018 (expected) PhD Geography, UCL

2017 Visiting Fellow, University of Witwatersrand

2015 MSc Sociology, London School of Economics.

Thesis title: Who Rules London? An analysis of Power Structure during the CrossRail decision making process

2013 BA Land Economy, University of Cambridge

Non-PhD research

2017 - 2019 Frontline Europe, Research Co-oridnator

2015 - 2016 Early Career Researcher, Research = Teaching Project, UCL

2015 - 2017 Shelter England, Community Researcher, Volunteering Team

2013 – 2014 Town and Country Planning Association, Research Assistant ‘Planning out Poverty’ (Webb Trust funded)

PhD Research

The Developer in Question: A Comparative Analysis of the Role of Developers in London's Royal Docks and Modderfontein, Johannesburg

My PhD analyses how real estate developers navigate urban governance in London’s Royal Docks and Modderfontein, Johannesburg. The research draws on elite interviews, primarily with private sector actors, as well as document analysis and participant observation. Throughout, it employs a comparative approach which brings the two case studies into conversation, revealing instances of repetition, differences, and tracing connections which stretch across the two contexts. The thesis examines the way wider dimensions of globalized urban processes interact with highly specific practices of local governance. It begins by addressing the question, ‘what is the developer?’, juxtaposing media depictions with real estate professionals’ perceptions of developers and their practices. In doing so this thesis argues that the developer is best conceptualised in a way which moves between an understanding of them as assuming a role - as a set of contractualised responsibilities and functions - and as the outcome of a network of interactions within a wider consultant team. The research focuses on the role of developers during a plan development and application for planning permission, and reveals the extent to which developer agency is continually shaped through interactions with the state. Thus the state, given the legislative capacity and will, is able to shape developers’ actions. At the same time, meeting (and shaping) the state’s policy goals is shown to require a vast consultant team, who serve as experts to inform policy compliance, and constitute an important part of risk mitigation strategies. These teams require strong leadership by the developer. In mediating different understandings of the urban environment, this thesis argues that developers reveal the complexity of their motivations, demonstrating the importance of moving past conceptualisations of them as purely profit seeking agents. That said, profit remains important, necessitating risk management tactics, which when examined reveal developers’ relational and territorialised work: their work is dependent on relationships that enable them to leverage local knowledge. Such knowledge is shown to be particularly important in globalised projects, where developers must work with local firms or individuals and integrate into the ‘club’ of local real estate to be effective.

Papers and Presentations


Peer reviewed papers
  • Brill, F., (2018) ‘Playing the Game’: a comparison of international real estate development in Modderfontein, Johannesburg and London’s Royal Docks Geoforum
  • Brill, F. & Reboredo, R. (2018) ‘Failed Fantasises in a South African Context’ Urban Forum
  • Robin, E., and Brill, F., (2018) The global politics of an urban age: creating “cities for all” in the age of financialisation, Palgrave Communications


Book chapters

  • Brill, F. (2018) Learning from the Institute of Making Connecting Research and Teaching: Students as Partners in Shaping Higher Education, ed. Vincent Tong, Alex Standen and Mina Sotiriou.London: UCL Press



2018    'The risky business of real estate development' (with Enora Robin) London Seminar, Bartlett School of Planning, London, 23rd October

2018    'The risky business of real estate development' Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, New Orleans, 3rd-7th April

2018    'Towards a feminist analysis of real estate developers' REDUD National Science Grant forum, Uni. Lausanne, Switzerland, 8-12th October

2017    'Playing the Game'. RC21, Leeds 2017

2018    'Modelling the development process: a comparison of the Royal Docks and Modderfontein' Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, Boston

2016     'R = T', presented at the Insitute of Education’s Teaching and Learning Conference, London

2015     ‘Conceptualising the urban through difference in comparative studies’, Stadtlkolloqium Annual Conference, London

Other Writing

Global Urbanist – Pieces on urban policy, housing and gender – Pieces on British politics, housing and planning policy


Africa@LSE – Multiple pieces on Africa governance and cities

Brill, F. (2015) Comparative Urbanism, Skin Deep: Outside the Academy, vol.3


Qualifications and Training

2016 HEA Associate Fellow

2015 UCL Arena One Teaching Associate Programme (TAP) for the School of Laws, Arts & Humanities and Social & Historical Sciences

2014 Arena 1 PGTA Gateway course


PGTA Roles - UCL

Academic year 2018-19

  • Guest lecture, Economic Geography
  • Economic Geography seminar leader

    Academic year 2016-17:

    • MSc Gender and Sexualities
    • Paris Fieldtrip
    • Development Geography
    • Global Geographies

    Academic year 2015-16:

    • MSc Gender and Sexualities
    • Paris Fieldtrip
    • Development Geography
    • Global Geographies
    • Politics and Society (Geography)
    • Research Methods/Second Year Readings Groups

    Academic year 2014-2015

    • London: a Geographical Introduction
    • Research Methods/Second Year Readings Groups