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BA Geography / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
Urban Rights and Policy

Unit code GEOG31032
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Geography
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course aims to offer students a conceptual and geographical grasp of debates over cities and the rights and responsibilities of the people who live in and govern them. Drawing on the concept of ‘the right to the city’, this course examines the theory, the policy, and the politics of social reproduction in a range of global urban contexts. Whilst discussions of urbanization often privilege the image of an increasingly dense, globalized, mobile, and ‘smart’ world, this course will question such accounts of city building and reflect on the uneven realities of urban life in the 21st century.

The course explores the relationship between urban governance and social reproduction, focusing on issues such as housing, food security, and climate politics, especially on uneven geographical development, intersections of race, gender, and inequality. In looking at how urbanization is managed, represented, debated and contested in a series of different cases, the course considers key discourses about how legal and moral rights to be in urban spaces connect with concepts of citizenship, belonging, and home. It questions how traditional notions of citizenship and belonging are changed in an urban and globalized context (whose rights? Whose City?). Emphasis is placed on different ways of thinking about cities and urbanization, from economic ideologies about cities as a key economic driver, to cosmopolitan outlooks towards embracing ‘smart’ technology, sustainable development and resilience. 

The course is divided into three themes focusing on urban theory, urban policy and law, and urban politics and protest. It asks students to critically reflect on how issues of urban development, social reproduction, and urban politics may impact their own lives and seminar sessions will focus on reading both academic and popular accounts of struggles over the right to the city and turning theory into practice. Case study examples will be drawn from a wide range of global contexts and engage both contemporary and historical accounts of the right to the city. 



  • To offer students a sustained and critical engagement with contemporary research on urban theory, urban law and politics and issues of rights in urban public and private space.
  • To develop an understanding of how issues of rights, urban development and planning interact in contemporary urban political geography and to consider how these issues shape everyday urban experiences.
  • To critically reflect upon how issues of rights and social reproduction in cities are represented, discussed and understood in public and policy arenas, and to explore how these issues affect the lives of us all.
  • To examine a series of international examples of the right to the city, along with how such measures are constructed, articulated, succeed and fail.


Learning outcomes



Teaching and learning methods

The course unit will be delivered through a combination of lectures and seminars. Each of the teaching weeks will involve both a two-hour lecture and a one-hour seminar. The lectures will introduce students to a variety of issues within contemporary urban and political geography and how geographers have thought about, and worked on, these political discussions. Each seminar will be based on student-led discussions of pre-circulated readings, policy documents, or media sources. Students will be expected to read documents in advance and present their thoughts and reflections on these papers at the weekly seminar. Reading throughout the course is a key component and will be assessed through student’s ability to incorporate it into their essay assignment and final exam responses. There may also be several walking tours or group exercises outside of the classroom.


Sessions will draw upon a range of resources, including links to relevant web resources, core readings and video clips. A comprehensive archive of sources and links will be compiled on Blackboard for student use. A high level of student participation, particularly discussion in seminar, will be required from all students throughout the course.


Knowledge and understanding

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the different theoretical perspectives through which the Right to the City is understood;
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the geographies of how urban development and social reproduction in global cities shape urban politics;
  • Demonstrate an ability to situate key political events within wider geographical debates on cities;

Intellectual skills

  • Illustrate your arguments with examples and case studies drawn from cities globally; 
  • Critically assess how understandings of rights and responsibilities are articulated in urban policy and political debates;
  • Critically reflect upon how issues of social reproduction and the right to the city impact your own life and the world around you.

Practical skills

  • an ability to write reflexively about how urban theory has been taken up in urban policy and politics.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • critical reading and thinking skills through an engagement with key texts and current research in the area of urban geography, political geography, and urban theory; 
  • an ability to interpret and comment on contemporary debates over urbanization, social reproduction (such as housing and food security), and rights, with a particular focus on considering how these debates relate to media representations of urban development and policy documents; 
  • an appreciation of how different theories of the right to the city relate to contemporary cases from across the globe;


Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 60%
Written assignment (inc essay) 40%

Feedback methods

Feedback will be provided in the following ways during this course unit:

  • During seminar discussion sessions verbal feedback will be provided on critical reading and understanding
  • Verbal feedback will be provided through Q&A, discussion and interactive activities within lectures, along with discussion of video clips and web resources
  • Written feedback will be provided on the midterm exam in week 5 and this will help to provide formative direction for the final essay.
  • Verbal feedback will be provided on the final essay through a dedicated seminar session to discuss course progress and research themes before the essay is due.
  • Verbal feedback will be provided on any course unit issue through consultation hours and in seminars.


Recommended reading

Alsayyad, N. and Roy, A., 2006. Medieval modernity: on citizenship and urbanism in a global era. Space & Polity, 10(1), pp.1-20.

Bastia, T., 2017. Transnational migration and the gendered right to the city in Buenos Aires. Cities.

Bénit-Gbaffou, C., 2016. Do street traders have the ‘right to the city’? The politics of street trader organisations in inner city Johannesburg, post-Operation Clean Sweep. Third World Quarterly, 37(6), pp.1102-1129.

Harvey, D., 2008. The right to the city. The City Reader, 6, pp.23-40.

Lefebvre, H., 1996. The right to the city. Writings on cities, 63181. (Required)

Mayer, M., 2009. The ‘Right to the City’ in the context of shifting mottos of urban social movements. City, 13(2-3), pp.362-374.

Middleton, J., 2016. The socialities of everyday urban walking and the ‘right to the city’. Urban Studies, p.0042098016649325.

Mitchell, D., 2003. The right to the city: Social justice and the fight for public space. Guilford Press.

Purcell, M., 2003. Citizenship and the right to the global city: reimagining the capitalist world order. International journal of urban and regional research, 27(3), pp.564-590.

Vasudevan, A., 2015. Metropolitan Preoccupations: The Spatial Politics of Squatting in Berlin Wiley-Blackwell.


Key Journals

Urban Geography

International Journal of Urban and Regional Research

Urban Studies


Gender, Place, and Culture

Political Geography


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 30
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Additional notes



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