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Master of Urban Studies in Urban Politics and Governance

Cities – where most of the world’s population now lives – are increasingly a focus of research, of public debate, and of changing public policy. The MUS (UPG) develops a multi-disciplinary, theoretical and practical understanding of cities of the South. It focuses more specifically on issues of urban governance, local democracy and politics.

Students are offered the unique opportunity to engage with urban issues from a multi-disciplinary, international perspective. The coursework covers theoretical, conceptual, social, managerial, political and planning aspects of city studies and includes electives that deepen the engagement in specialised areas.

Through the substantial research component, students are able to critically explore a particular aspect of their interest in urban studies, urban politics and governance. Students are taught and supervised by a multi-disciplinary team of scholars, primarily located in Urban Planning and Political Studies, and also drawn from a multiplicity of social sciences disciplines such as Sociology, Geography, History, Anthropology. All of the academic staff involved in this field of study have both an excellent research record, and experience in various cities as professionals and/or as activists.

The Master of Urban Studies in the field of Urban Politics and Governance (MUS (UPG)) has five core courses which include a course offered by the Politics Department. This means that the general MUS timetable approach, which is fully tailored to part time and full time study, is adjusted where weekly attendance is required.

The degree is aimed principally at candidates interested in a research or academic career. It will also assist those who look to working with all kinds of local, national or international agencies concerned with urban affairs.


The MUS (UPG) consists of coursework and research. The coursework, which has the same credit weighting as the research component, is designed to complement the research enquiry. The elective course allows for individual specialisation beyond the essential urban management competencies taught in the compulsory courses. The degree is structured as follows (from 2023):

  • 5 compulsory Category A courses (at least 90 points)
  • Research Report (90 points)

Students who lack particular skills are asked to take an additional course: ARPL7052A Technologies and Techniques of the Built Environment (20 points)

ARPL 7010A Understanding Cities of the South (20)

Understanding the many forces that shape cities of the south. These include development processes (legal, economic (formal and informal), governance issues, environmental issues, transport, land use, infrastructure, services etc.), power and politics (macroeconomics, structural adjustment, questions of sovereignty, gender, poverty, inequality etc.) as well as the discourses of modernity, globalisation and post-colonialism. 

ARPL7044A Community Participation in Urban Governance: Theories, Discourses and Practices (20)

Development and planning theories as well as 'good governance' discourses emphasize the need for community participation in urban governance, as a way to deepen and to broaden the culture and practice of democracy amongst citizens, as well as to render urban policies and their implementation more legitimate and/or more efficient.

Community participation is therefore often understood as a panacea for urban governability and for democratisation - both by a body of theories and a set of political actors (from the local to the global levels).

The course aims at critically engaging with this academic as well as political literature, and questions them in particular through the study of the practices of community participation and the various types of challenges these practices entail. Students will be exposed to arbitration, conflict resolution and negotiation skills. It is also focused particularly at empowering students to communicate their findings to different audiences, using different methodologies and in particular graphic devices. 

ARPL7074A Theory Politics and Governance of Extended Urbanisation (20)

This course supports candidates in actively building conceptual insights relevant to the diversity of urban contexts across the globe. It will involve candidates in theoretical critique and concept development focusing on extended urbanisation, city regions and the diverse, fragmented and dispersed form of urban settlements on city edges, and the implications of this for urban governance. The course will develop skills in linking empirical evidence and research to evolving concepts.

It will also include a focus on a particular context, examining the complex ways in which actors and organisations involved in urban development operate there. It will build core skills in the ethics of urban development policy and practice through pedagogy and practice which supports the engaged and collaborative production of urban knowledge, policy and interventions.

ARPL7048A (Politics) Democratic Theory (or, if ARPL 7048A does not run in any particular year, then POLS7036A) (20)

This course examines key issues in democratic theory. Democratic theory is concerned with understanding democracy as a concept and ideal. It poses questions such as: what is democracy? What forms does it take? Is it desirable? What are its limitations? How can it be improved? The course examines both the theory and practice of democracy and proposals for extending and deepening democracy.  

The first block looks at basic questions about democracy: its definition, rival traditions and approaches, justification and key problems. This is the more theoretical block. Topics covered here include liberal versus radical and African democracy, deliberative democracy, theories of representation and the relationship between democracy and rights. 

The second block focuses on institutional details and examples. It examines democratic models and techniques, especially those that are said to constitute new or more advanced forms of democracy compared to standard representative democracy. Some newer and/or ostensibly more advanced forms include direct democracy (referendum, popular initiative), participatory democracy (assembly democracy), functional and proletarian democracy (soviets, workers’ councils, guild socialism, syndicalism), eco-anarchist communes, sortition and citizen juries.  

ARPL7040A Research methods (10)

The course has three distinct aims: Firstly, the course hopes to create enthusiasm for research. Secondly, the course familiarises students with research in the urban/built environment field, various approaches and techniques, pitfalls etc. The course equips students with the workplace skills of preparing appropriate research briefs for others, of engaging in a wide range of research types, and of judging appropriateness and soundness of research carried out by themselves and others. Thirdly, the course prepares students for the process of research proposal writing and carrying out of a substantial research piece that meets the standards required of the degree.

ARPL7052A Technologies and Techniques of the Built Environment (where deemed necessary)

The course introduces procedural and analytical techniques used in planning and involves the practical application of appropriate technologies, including Geographic Information Systems (GIS), computer based mapping and computer packages for data analysis and the presentation of graphics.

With special permission a student may be allowed to replace some of the above prescribed courses, provided that at least one course comes from the following list:

ARPL7049A Politics, Governance and the city

This course provides theoretical as well as practical responses to questions on governance, policy implementation decisions, the role of business on urban settings and the power of residents associations in urban governance. In addition, theories of urban regimes, urban governance, participation, social movements and political mobilisation will be presented and their relevance for African cities debated through different case studies.

ARPL7030A Governance and Municipal Planning

This course focusses on municipal planning within the context of ‘developmental local governance’ and includes municipal powers, structure and functions, municipal finances, the international experience with municipal planning, the history and theory of integrated development planning, planning process, sectoral plans and integration of these plans, the planning and delivery of municipal infrastructure, project packaging, performance management and is linked to a project, and may include a service learning component.


ARPL 7037A Theory and Practice of Housing and Human Settlements (20)

From 2023

ARPL7050A (History) The Making of Urban SA

The course explores through a series of questions, the social, political and economic history of urbanization in South Africa from the late 19th to the late 20th centuries, and considers the consequences of these processes on the contemporary state of cities and towns with a central focus is the Witwatersrand, but it also examines parallel and especially divergent processes in Cape Town, Durban, East London, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth and Pretoria.

ARPL7051A (Sociology) The State, Violence and Social Movements (20)

This course explores the relationship between the form of the state, violence, and collective forms of action (in particular social movements), as well as forms of resistance through the experience of South Africa, contextualising and relating this to changing patterns of collective action, resistance and violence globally. Theoretical questions and debates about power, resistance, forms of political engagement, struggle and organising, and strategies for effecting change (inter alia) will be engaged through relevant case studies. 

POLS7036A (Politics/Wiser) The State in Africa: Democratisation and Crisis (30)

This unit will take as its starting point debates about the genesis and the development of the African state. It has been variously viewed as the main vehicle of modernization, as the instrument of a new ruling class, as underdeveloped, overdeveloped, kleptocratic, patriarchal, predatory, collapsed and ineffectual. Most views about the state are unflattering - yet it is this poorly regarded phenomenon which in recent years has been the focus of attempts at democratization.

This unit will explore the tensions which exist between those views of the state in Africa that perceive it to be inherently authoritarian and moreover disengaged from society and those arguments whichsupport the adoption by African countries of liberal democratic constitutions derived from advanced industrial societies. Our theoretical explorations will be routed in the investigation of particular national case studies which are to be decided upon.

ECON 7046A (TBC) / SOSS7044A Political Economy of Development (25)

This course focuses on different approaches to economic growth and their implications for conceptions of development and underdevelopment, the nature of poverty and the role of the state in the development process. The syllabus is designed to provide an overview of the elements of theory and policy that are especially relevant to the study and practice of development. The first part of the course covers essential theoretical and historical debates in economic thinking about development through the examination of different theoretical approaches and the policy outcomes which follow. The second part of the course focuses upon specific issues currently debated in the field of development using examples from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Issues covered include industrialisation, agriculture, labour markets, development aid, the East Asian ‘Developmental State’ and so-called ‘failed’ states in Africa.

ARPL7053A Research Report (90)

Each student is individually guided in their search of a relevant research topic, and supervised throughout the proposal writing, research and report-writing process. The 18 000 – 22 000 word research report is externally examined.