Urban inequalities and social justice

Suggested supervisors and PhD projects to undertake within this research area.

A homeless man

Find out more about our research on urban inequalities and social justice.

Professor Rowland Atkinson: gated communities; segregation; crime and harm; gentrification; sound and noise

Rowland is an urban sociologist with wide-ranging interests around city life in relation to social inequalities. His work focused on the connections, disconnections and consequences of inequalities and has included research on gentrification and gated communities, as well as social housing and urban poverty. A key aim of his work is connect harms and social problems as being related to choices, policy programs and decisions made by affluent households and city systems (economic and political) and to find ways of addressing these connections. He is most interested in supervising students with similar aims and who are interested in developing their work to address urban social problems and questions of social injustice.

Suggested PhD projects:

  • The extension of gating – Gated communities have slowly grown in popularity in the UK, alongside the development of what have been called fortress homes. This general process of fortifying urban space, and domestic space in particular raises questions about the openness of previously public spaces as well as the consequences and experiences of wealthy urbanites living inside these homes and neighbourhoods. The geography, development and social/community formations and outcomes of these transitions could form the basis of a doctoral study.
  • Sterile urbanisms – What are the mobility, residential and employment strategies being used by affluent city residents in the co/post-covid context? This question raises interesting questions about where cities, urban life and questions of social proximity (across class, ethnic, gendered divisions) will move in the future. Processes of suburbanisation, colonisation of rural and high amenity areas
  • Necrotecture – Empty homes and dead read residential continue to present major challenges in many cities around the world, often as a result of global capital flows into residential markets constructed to appeal to international investors. Examples can be found in Africa, Latin America, US, Canada and UK among others. There is scope here to develop our knowledge of the drivers of empty residential space and homes, the consequences for their immediate localities (e.g. driving up prices, hollowing-out communities) and their link to criminal flows of money or money laundering and the need to police and challenge these deadening influences on city life.

Contact Professor Rowland Atkinson

Professor Tom Goodfellow: Africa, land, politics, infrastructure, conflict

My broad research interests centre on comparative processes of urban development and change in cities of the global South, and especially Africa. I focus particularly on the politics and political economy of urban change, for example with regard to urban land and transportation, infrastructure and housing – and I am interested both in the investment and governance dynamics in these sectors, and how city-dwellers experience and contest these changes. I also have a growing interest in the experiences of refugees and displaced people in cities, both within the global South and in the UK. I have conducted research in Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria, Tanzania and Kenya, but am open to supervising PhDs focusing on any national context (as well as comparative work). My recent and current research has focused on urban-rural migration in Africa and its impacts on conflict and peace-building, infrastructure and housing in African urban peripheries, and Chinese investments in Africa and the consequences for urban development and socioeconomic inclusion.

By way of example, I would welcome PhD proposals in the following broad areas (among others), for potential supervision:

  • Mega-infrastructure investments in African cities and their economic, social and political consequences
  • Land and/or housing policy reforms or experiments in African cities, and their potential to promote inclusive and sustainable forms of urban development
  • Refugee communities in UK cities and their experiences of exclusion, access to services and engagements with the state

Contact Professor Tom Goodfellow

Dr Philipp Horn: urban indigeneity, participatory planning, alternatives to development, knowledge co-production, Latin America

My research interests centre around inclusive urban development planning in the global South, with a regional focus on Latin America. My work is highly interdisciplinary and engages with debates in urban studies, planning, geography and global development. Within this broad agenda, my research focuses on urban indigeneity, territorial contestation, alternatives to development, and citizen-led and participatory planning. My current research documents emerging patterns of indigenous urbanisation in Bolivia and looks at the everyday lived experience of urban indigenous peoples, paying particular attention to intersectional differences around age and gender. Through direct engagement with indigenous youth activists and local authorities, my research examines opportunities and challenges around integrating specific interests, demands and alternatives to development promoted by indigenous peoples into urban planning policy and practice. Methodologically, I prefer making use of co-productive, decolonial and participatory approaches and deploying creative methods such as participatory filming, counter-mapping and photovoice.

I welcome enquiries from prospective PhD students who have interests in the following areas:

  • Indigenous urbanisation and promoting marginalised groups in urban policy and practice;
  • Participatory and citizen-led approaches to planning in cities of the global South;
  • Alternatives to (urban) development in practices;
  • Collaborative and co-productive urban studies research approaches

Contact Dr Philipp Horn

Dr Melanie Lombard: urban informality, housing, land, conflict, comparative urbanism

My research has focused on two core areas as follows:

Urban informality: This theme aims to examine different manifestations of informality in rapidly changing, diverse urban setting, with a focus on informal housing and neighbourhoods, and social processes that construct them, focusing on cities in Mexico, Colombia and the UK.

Land conflict in cities: The second area of my research explores urban land conflict in cities of the global South, through a focus on land tenure, contextual factors such as violence, and how communities and urban policy makers respond.

In both areas I am interested in comparing cases from diverse settings.

I am interested in supervising PhDs exploring aspects of urban informality, particularly relating to land and housing, and especially in ‘under-explored’ areas (eg Europe, US, MENA) as well as places where debates are more established (eg Latin America). I am particularly interested in comparative approaches to informality across the ‘global North and South’, e.g. in the context of austerity in Europe. Additionally, I welcome proposals focusing on aspects of land and territory in conflict-affected or violent contexts, particularly in Latin American cities. These could be ‘post-conflict’ contexts, or places which are not experiencing civil conflict but do have high levels of violence.

Contact Dr Melanie Lombard

Ryan Powell: urban marginality; housing; Roma; migrants; class; group stigmatisation

The central theme of my research is seeking to combine empiricism and theory in understanding the socio-dynamics of unequal power relations and their consequences in terms of urban marginalisation, both contemporary and historical. This includes access to housing and employment as well as wider questions of citizenship, class, race, urbanization, and the stigmatisation of "outsider" groups (e.g. Gypsy-Travellers, the Roma in Europe, migrant communities).My academic background and orientation is multidisciplinary and cuts across urban studies, sociology, geography, history and politics, but my research is focused on urban marginality. Presently I am working on two EU2020 projects, centred on advancing and critiquing our understanding of migrant “integration” within the EU, with Sheffield colleagues in Sociological Studies, MRG, the SMI and various European partners.

I currently supervise students in the broad areas of urban marginality, housing governance and financialisation, homelessness and migration studies. I welcome enquiries from research students but am particularly interested in supervising research in the following areas: 

  • Migrant youth, urban activisms and infrastructures of care
  • Urban Roma 
  • Housing and inequalities

Contact Ryan Powell

Dr Glyn Williams: participation, governance, Global South, the everyday state, marginalisation

My research looks at three interlocking themes: state power and political practices; social marginalisation and political participation; and urban governance and city-level development.Linking all three is a concern with the impacts that intentional plans to 'develop' the global South have for communities living there. My work critically engages with mainstream discourses of development and investigates the ways these selectively include individuals and groups within political processes. I’ve worked extensively on these issues in India, with some work in South Africa (and elsewhere through the PhD students I’ve supervised).

Suggested PhD projects:

1: How are formal institutional and democratic processes understood, reworked and practised as ‘actually existing governance’ in cities of the Global South? [This could be examined through evaluating a particular change in governance practices – whether this was a state-led effort of governance reform, or a ‘bottom up’ attempt to change urban governance or planning practices]

2: What informs ideas of desirable urban change in cities of the Global South, and in whose interests do these ideas work? [This could be examined through critical evaluation of a particular programme or intervention – I would be interested in exploring examples that engaged with transitions to sustainable urban development, that seek to ‘improve’ low-income neighbourhoods, or even that promote different urban futures (such as ‘Smart’ city initiatives).]

3: How do urban governance institutions define (or ignore) forms of social marginalisation, including poverty? [Here, I’m currently conducting work on the governance of Covid-19 on cities in India – where government responses to the pandemic have largely failed to recognising existing forms of social marginalisation, with impacts that have threatened livelihoods and exacerbated insecurity as a result.]

Contact Dr Glyn Williams