MA Urban Studies Modules

Core modules

Introduction to Urban Political Economy
Module Leader: Prof. Jonathan Davies
This will be the introductory module for the MA in Urban Studies and essential preparation for subsequent modules. As the opening module, its purpose will be to provide a robust academic grounding in urban theory and urban questions upon which the rest of the programme will build. It will begin by discussing the historical context of urbanisation and the importance of cities and city-regions as drivers of political, cultural and economic development down the ages. It will proceed to discuss theoretical perspectives influencing the field, and major issues in contemporary urban political economy, viewed in an international and comparative context. The latter part of the module will explore how urbanists work with and against prevalent influential concepts, such as austerity, crisis and neoliberalism. It will prepare students for later modules by introducing address unsustainable and iniquitous forms of urban development currently rife across the planet

Governing and Managing Cities
Module Leader: Dr Valeria Guarneros-Meza
The module aims to present the complexity of governing arrangements to which cities are subject. The content covers different theories and perspectives on coordination, collaboration and management of territory, services and public policy across different scales of action. The module focuses on British debates and their applicability to other world regions and as a result of globalisation

Participatory Research in Action 
Module Leader: Dr Mercè Cortina-Oriol

The module is organised in two different blocks: The module will first focus on research methods training. It will introduce the students to the foundational aspects of social research and place action-research in the context of the methodological approaches in social science. The students will then be instructed on the main methods and techniques for Action-Research. Secondly, the students will design and develop a Participatory Action Research project putting in practice the use of different research techniques. Through the action-research project, the students will complement the theoretic and methodological knowledge with practical training that will allow them to use and contrast the concepts introduced within the master on the terrain.

Urban Challenges 
Module Leader: Dr Rachel Granger
The current period of human history can be viewed not only as a global but also urban era, in which resources, power, population are concentrated in urban areas. This module provides an overarching framework for considering the complex challenges facing urban areas in both the Global North and Global South. The module tracks the global pattern of urban change over the last century, using critical urban theory to examine challenges from different viewpoints; examining the accelerated growth of megacities, global triads, charter cities, and special zones within a broader doctrine of planetary urbanism, evolutionary growth, and/or sites of assemblage.  Drawing on the complexity of socio-spatial arrangements, the module then considers the factors affecting the rate of urbanisation, how change creates pressure points, which manifest as social, economic, and physical challenges at the local level, and creating unique features of contemporary urban living. The module examines how such problems require informed and nuanced policy design, which might potentially produce alternative urban futures.

Optional modules

Plus three options from the following*: 

Urban Infrastructure and Sustainable Cities
Module Leader: Prof Steven Griggs
This module investigates the politics of urban infrastructures, critically evaluating mainstream discourses of urban infrastructure in the context of the climate crisis and the development of sustainable cities. We first question the governance of urban infrastructure, foregrounding how urban infrastructure can be seen as complex socio-technical assemblages intrinsically linked to the exercise of urban power and the reproduction of economic, political and social boundaries across the city. We then turn to the study of contemporary campaigns in urban communities against (and in support of) infrastructure development, analysing the politics of such movements and what it tells us about the democratic governance of contemporary cities. Finally, taking our critical reading of infrastructure forward into the analysis of case studies from across the global North and South, we conclude by assessing how far new technologies and infrastructure investment, part of the discourse of ecological modernisation, can inform (or not) the development of sustainable cities.

Difference, Inequality and Conflict in the City
Module Leader: Dr Ben Whitham
This module introduces students to histories, theories, debates and case studies relating to difference, intersecting inequalities and social conflict in urban environments. Part 1 explores diversity, difference and intersecting inequalities among those who live in, or pass through, cities; race, migration, gender, sexuality, disability and class are all explored as key, imbricated factors shaping social difference in urban environments. Part 2 develops the module’s focus to incorporate strategies and institutions for governing social difference and conflict in cities, including securitisation and policing. Part 3 explores a range of modes and movements of resistance to such governmental power and interventions into urban difference, including riots, urban labour movements and musical cultures of resistance.

Comparative Territorial Governance
Module Leader: Dr Arianna Giovannini
This module analyses the impact of territoriality on political structures, process and outcomes. Although most of the mainstream literature still tends to focus on nation-states as the key units of analysis, since the post-war period many countries across Europe have had to adapt – although to varying degrees – to demands for the ‘territorialisation’ of politics. Within this context, most nation-states have opened up to and/or have been affected by processes of decentralisation, devolution, regionalisation or federalism. This is particularly true in the contemporary context: far from disappearing, the territorial dimension is becoming increasingly important in understanding how politics functions in western liberal democracies. Thus, the module will explore the complex dynamics of territorial politics and the challenges it poses with a specific focus on the impact of territoriality on state structures, party politics and public policy, adopting a comparative European perspective. As such, the module will provide a theoretical exploration of the key concepts and issues underpinning contemporary debates on territorial politics. This will be complemented with an analysis of the challenges and opportunities related to the ‘territorialisation of politics’, based on an examination of specific case studies across Europe. 

Alternative Urban Futures
Module Leader: Dr Adam Fishwick
With over half of the world’s population currently residing in urban areas, human futures are urban futures. But what might these look like? And are they sources of hope for the future or warning signs from the present? Academics, policymakers and activists across the globe today are envisioning and mapping out different ways in which cities can be organised, providing glimpses of possible futures to come. This module sets out to critically examine lived and imagined alternative futures for the city, drawing on a combination of academic and practitioner expertise. Structured around six different visions of cities being enacted today, students will have the opportunity to interrogate their inner workings by analysing case studies from around the globe and engaging with those looking to put them into practice. Possible topics include (but not limited to): the Smart City; the Networked City; the Sustainable City; the Cooperative City; the Autonomous City; the Dystopian City. Starting from these theoretical frameworks, they will assess each week these different and often-competing visions of future cities, evaluate policy and practice in action, and propose solutions that emerge from their in-depth analyses of our possible urban futures.

Metropolis and Economic and Socio-political Innovation (Module offered in Barcelona)
Module Leader: Dr Ismael Blanco
The module is proposed as a workshop to analyse and debate the main types of socio-political and economic innovation practices in the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona. Initiatives to respond to the crisis will be discussed, as well as the creation of alternatives and the satisfaction of needs from personal and collective empowerment. The networks of cooperative economy in the metropolis will be studied.

Module leader: Ros Lishman
You must also undertake a dissertation, providing an invaluable opportunity to work in depth on a particular aspect of interest. The dissertation enables students to complete a project entailing independent study and the use of appropriate research techniques and source materials.  It may consist of a critical evaluation of literature, of a reassessment of evidence, of an evaluation of particular approaches or techniques, or of a limited piece of original or applied research. It will build on the foundation provided by the taught modules on the MA programmes for which it is the dissertation module and may involve either the fuller development of subject matter and techniques encountered in the taught programme or the exploration of new areas and techniques appropriate to the overall programme of study. Students will be encouraged to identify and use appropriate research methods and skills. A major aim of the dissertation is to encourage students to relate concepts and frameworks to empirical evidence and to encourage the critical appreciation of both techniques and evidence.

*The running of certain modules will be subject to student demand. 

Note: All modules are subject to change in order to keep content current.