Sophie Oldfield: High Stakes, High Hopes: Creating Collaborative Urban Theory

A small group of people stands around a shopping cart by a wooden building.

Sophie Oldfield and a research team. photo / provided

Sophie Oldfield is internationally recognized as an urban and human geographer for research on cities in the Global South, through her theoretical and primary research and as coeditor of the Routledge Handbook on Cities of the Global South (Routledge, 2014). Her research is grounded in empirical and epistemological questions central to urban theory. Focusing on housing, informality and governance, mobilization and social movement organizing, and urban politics, her work pays close attention to political practice and everyday urban geographies, analyzing the ways in which citizens and organized movements craft agency to engage and contest the state. She has a track record of excellence in collaborative research practice, challenging how academics work in and between "university" and "community." Trained in the U.S. (Ph.D., University of Minnesota), Oldfield holds the University of Basel–University of Cape Town professorship in urban studies, based at the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town.


"High Stakes, High Hopes" creates urban theory in the political and physical realities of everyday southern city life. This work examines the high stakes at play in a decade-long research and teaching partnership, which has brought this university and the neighborhood's civic organization in Cape Town to research the city together to collaboratively build urban theory. In narrating the project and partnership, this lecture will explore collaborative forms of urban theory, immersed in the registers, inspirations, and meanings of everyday struggles and learning across the city. This approach brings together multiple voices, registers, and accounts, shaping urban theory in shared spaces across the city. In this context of extreme urban inequality, this approach to theorizing infuses the personal, political, and public struggles through which urban theory is generated, expertise opened up, and solidarity and commitment built.

Sponsored by the Institute for African Development.
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