(Re)theorizing cities from the global south: looking beyond neoliberalism

Parnell, S., & Robinson, J. (2012). (Re)theorizing Cities from the Global South: Looking Beyond Neoliberalism. Urban Geography, 33(4), 593–617. doi:10.2747/0272-3638.33.4.593

Cape Town
Publication type
Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
Contributing to Urban Debates in South Africa
DOI Title
(Re)theorizing Cities from the Global South: Looking Beyond Neoliberalism
Urban Geography
0272-3638 1938-2847
Susan Parnell Jennifer Robinson
Published year
Geography, Planning and Development Urban Studies
right to the city urban poverty post-neoliberalism state/civil society interface development state global south good city South African city



The demographic transition of the late 20th and early 21st centuries has shifted the locus of urbanizing populations from the global North to the global South. As the theoretical epicenter of urban scholars and policymakers adjusts to accommodate this transition, some realignment in how ideas are weighted and applied is inevitable. This recalibration, while not necessarily comfortable for those in established positions of intellectual power, is desirable and maybe even overdue. The overarching argument presented here is that recent work on neoliberalism, despite its quality and relevance for many places, will need to be "provincialized" in order to create intellectual space for alternative ideas that may be more relevant to cities where the majority of the world's urban population now resides. To this end, we explore the limits to the critique of neoliberalism—a perspective that has assumed hegemonic dimensions in the progressive geographical literature. In seeking post-neoliberal insights, we highlight two bodies of work that also address issues of urban injustice. The first is the largely practice-generated literature on poverty and its amalgamation into a resurgent literature focused on the right to the city. The second theoretical framework we explore as a counterpoint to the neoliberal crtitique is the nascent debate about the size and shape of the subnational state, arguing that it is time to bring to the fore the difficult question concerning the most appropriate form of urban government. Finally, we suggest that if the state is to be an important component in the urban developmental landscape, all sorts of initiatives in research and capacity-building will be needed, giving substantially greater attention to documenting urban change on hitherto under-researched cities, and learning from practice how to transform the theoretical canon to ensure 21st-century relevance.

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