Alan Mabin: What Need for Southern Theory of Cities?

We are pleased to invite you to the next event of the Cities & Society seminar series: What Need for Southern Theory of Cities? by Alan Mabin.

professor alan mabin

Professor Alan Mabin. Photo:Flickr

About the lecture:

Cities are always incomplete and in transition. Do the same ideas, concepts and understandings help to comprehend what is going on in all cities; are cities completely individual; or are there distinct sets of cities, to which particular ways of thinking apply? As with most questions of theory, the generality of statements about cities inevitably arises. In conducting detailed work along some select comparative axes in São Paulo, Paris and Johannesburg, I confront the possibility of distinction between cities in apparently very different settings. It is through these routes that contemporary intrusions of ‘theory from the south’ into debate become significant for my work.  In researching and writing change in three cities on three continents, a single theory of cities, or as Rao (2006) suggests, a universal framing fails to explicate my chosen sites of enquiry.  I have confronted what to make of ‘southern theory’ (Connell 2007) in relation to cities in the south as well as the north of the world. Students of urban anthropology, architecture, geography, history, planning, politics and sociology find themselves bathed in the idea that southern cities cannot be understood through western or northern theory, and need something new. I consider the question here: what is ‘theory from the south’ or ‘urban theory beyond the west’ (to cite the titles of works from Comaroff and Comaroff 2011 and Edensor and Jayne 2012)?  In the light of debates provoked amongst others by Storper and Scott (2012, 2016), what need can be identified for southern city theory?

About the speaker:

Alan Mabin comes from Johannesburg, holds a doctorate from Simon Fraser University in Canada, and conducts city research particularly in his own country as well as Brasil, France and Tanzania. He is active in the community oriented NGO Planact which he helped to found in 1985, and is currently reflecting on problems in the construction of urban democracy in South Africa as well as conceptual debate on cities around the world.

About the seminar series Cities & Society:

As a growing majority of the planet's population live in urban landscapes, cities are increasingly identified by a wider variety of actors as the primary strategic ground for resolving some of the most pressing environmental, political, and social challenges of the 21st century. In this context, there is an urgent need to reexamine some of the basic categories and concepts used to define and decipher urban processes, and to more broadly pose the questions of what characterizes the urban today and what approaches that can help us to successfully generate new urban theory and knowledge. By inviting international expertise working at the frontiers of urban research, this seminar series seeks address these questions and support the development of a dynamic and robust research environment around contemporary urban issues at the University of Oslo.

For more information on the seminar series, please the website:

The seminar series is hosted by the Department of Sociology and Human Geography at the University of Oslo.

Published Sep. 13, 2017 12:24 PM - Last modified Sep. 13, 2017 12:24 PM