Urbanization and International Development

This course interrogates the relationship between urbanization and development. One of the main objectives of the course is to move beyond seeing cities in the global south as either exotic or dystopic places, but instead to develop a nuanced understanding of the complexities, hopes and challenges of urbanization and development in these diverse country contexts.

The course is organized into three parts:

Part 1 is a (very) brief historical trajectory of the dominant currents and countercurrents within development theory, and the role of cities and urbanization within these development discourses and practices. Just as urban theory in the West can be periodized into some key eras such as the urban utopias and the comprehensive ideal, advocacy planning, and the communicative turn, we will engage with some key moments in the urban history of non-Western countries, including colonial cities (pre 1940s), Third World cities (from the 1950s to 1970s, a critical juncture for Asian and African countries emerging out of colonialism), and global cities (post-1980s, characterized by the end of the Cold War, and the wave of economic liberalization and electoral democratization reforms in formerly socialist, communist or authoritarian regimes).

Part 2 focuses on prominent institutional actors – the public sector, market actors, civil society, international organizations – that have played a key role in shaping urbanization and development from the 1940s to the present. We will examine the roles of these actors in the development process and how these roles have changed during different historical periods. We will pay attention to institutional conflicts amongst these actors, namely on tensions between states and markets, between top-down and bottom-up planning, and on the changing geopolitics of international organizations with China and other non-Western countries now emerging as key development actors in the global south. Of particular importance is institutional combinations that have produced more democratic processes and/or just outcomes, and interrogating the conditions that made these possible.

Part 3 is structured around a series of key debates in development theory. Each class will engage with a pair of seminal viewpoints – often oppositional – that frame the background context. These readings will be complemented with more recent theories that draw these earlier debates into contemporary context. Debates explored will include the urban/rural bias, informality (problem or solution), infrastructural development (guiding urban expansion or splintering urbanism?), private property rights (enabling growth or exclusionary growth?), environmental crises (sustainability or political ecology?), and the role of technology in development (producing sensored or censored cities?).