Call for applications

Master of Arts in Critical Urbanisms

University of Basel, Switzerland
Deadline: 30 April 2017

Photo: Manuel Herz.

Photo: Manuel Herz.

In our rapidly changing and contested global environment, cities are becoming increasingly important: they house a majority of the world’s inhabitants and act as catalysts of social, economic, cultural, and ecological change.

Urban Studies at the University of Basel starts from the premise that the world’s most pressing urban and environmental challenges call not only for new ways of doing but for new ways of thinking. Imagining alternative futures means rethinking the present and the past, and the ways in which it is made sensible. Instead of seeking to solve problems as they appear, we interrogate their historical making, their political unfolding, and the ways in which they are represented. We do so by approaching scientific expertise, intellectual constructs, and professional practices through the study of lived experience, in all its complexity and contradictions.

The transformation of cities and territories has long escaped treatment as a topic exclusive to any one discipline or profession. To tackle this century’s urban and ecological crises, we need more than the practical application of specialized knowledge. Against the abstraction of the bird’s-eye view and the limits of problem-solving expertise, we are committed to critical, interdisciplinary interrogation as the foundation for imagining alternative futures. With this in mind, we harness methods drawn from the humanities, social sciences, and design disciplines in order to address contemporary conditions ranging from land degradation and the spatial violence of modernization to ever-increasing flows of global migration. We deploy in-depth fieldwork and archival research but also include visual media and creative intervention as forms of research integral to everyday processes of knowledge acquisition.

Key themes for teaching and research are:

– Legacies of empire and comparative colonial after-lives
– Spatial and architectural practices of mobility and migration
– Territorial dimensions of resource economies
– Urban cultures, creativity, and the production of imaginaries
– Urban governance, politics, and spatial violence

Drawing explicitly on the research and teaching experience of the faculty, these thematic focus points bring specific interdisciplinary perspectives to bear on fundamental questions of contemporary global urbanization. They open the way to original analyses grounded in the concreteness of everyday life and provide platforms for faculty and students to transcend problematic geographic divides of North versus South and centre versus periphery.

Central to this intellectual project is a move away from looking at cities as discrete and self-contained entities toward thinking of them as embedded in complex and overlapping territories shaped by political and material processes that connect distant and even disparate spaces across the globe. Migration and remittance flows are transforming not only global cities but rural landscapes across the developing world. Material waste travels from rich cities to poor countries, radically impacting lives and livelihoods across vast distances. Global agribusiness reconfigures large sections of rural Africa to become the breadbaskets of new megacities in Asia and elsewhere. A perspective attuned to such translocal processes allows for analyses capable of capturing the complex dynamics of contemporary globalization. Specifically, it opens paths for thinking beyond parochial definitions of space, place, and environment, as well as the limiting framework of identity politics and area studies. The foregoing informs debates in multiple fields, including urban studies, anthropology, architecture and planning, art and architectural history, geography, and sociology.

Starting in fall 2017, the University of Basel’s Master in Critical Urbanisms is an English-taught four-semester program that will train a new generation of graduates to think beyond divisions of urban versus rural and North versus South in order to address the complexity of urban lifeworlds in the 21st century. The program is founded by an internationally recognized faculty who work on and with cities and territories from a global perspective. The curriculum is structured around an interdisciplinary research studio where students work together combining humanities and social-scientific methods with visual and spatial analysis, and a semester of study and fieldwork in Cape Town, at the African Centre for Cities of the University of Cape Town

Core program faculty: Prof. Dr. Kenny Cupers, Prof. Manuel Herz, Prof. Dr. Sophie Oldfield, Dr. Marie-Laure Allain Bonilla, Dr. Ginger Nolan

How to apply
The application is a two-tier process. Applications have to be submitted online to the Student Administration Office by April 30, 2017. Additionally, by this date applicants are required to send the following materials to Michelle Killenberger ( a motivation letter (maximum two pages), a curriculum vitae, an academic transcript, and a writing sample of your academic work from your Bachelor thesis or other. Collate your application into a single PDF file; other formats will not be accepted.


Application deadline: April 30, 2017

University of Basel
Department of Social Sciences, Urban Studies
Spalenvorstadt 2
CH–4051 Basel

T +41 61 207 58 37



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