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. 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 our 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 our 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.