Transforming Cities: Urbanization and International Development Policies in the Global South in the Twentieth Century

Europäische Akademie, Berlin
Prof. Dr. Marc Frey, Historisches Institut, Universität der Bundeswehr München; Prof. Dr. Sönke Kunkel, John F. Kennedy Institut, Freie Universität Berlin
11.10.2018 - 12.10.2018
Kunkel, Sönke

Over the last years, the rise and global role of cities has become one of the most vibrant fields in global history, with studies now also increasingly focusing on processes of urbanization in the context of decolonization and the post-1945 world. In those years, the dramatic growth of postcolonial metropoles and the emergence of Megacities fundamentally changed the living conditions of millions of people, raised hopes and anxieties, and confronted urban administrations with immense social, economic, ecological, and infrastructural challenges. In response, global development institutions increasingly shifted their focus to cities from the 1950s onwards, raising global awareness for the challenges of postcolonial cities and formulating new urban development policies. However, we still know very little about the trajectories, effects, and local contexts of those policies. Histories of global development typically address ideas, motivations, aims, and interests of Western donors, but they only rarely take an interest in the actual spaces of development policies and their local ramifications. Meanwhile, even though urban history has opened up to transnational and global approaches in recent years, ideas and practices of international development in the cities of the global South have not played a significant role. There are only few histories of urban development. For the most part, the field continues to be dominated by social scientists, geographers, city planners, architects, and urban anthropologists.

Connecting global urban history to the history of development, humanitarian aid, international organizations, and INGOs, the conference therefore seeks to bring in a decidedly historical perspective on one of the defining processes of the twentieth century. Our aim is to explore how and why urban development policy established itself as a global policy field, what transformations it engineered on the ground, and how concepts and practices changed over time. We also seek to understand how urban development policies in the global South linked up with transnational urban movements such as the “Urban International” (Pierre-Yves Saunier) and what role urban administrations played. Instead of focusing on single cities, we aim at tracking global and transnational connections, thus comparing differing experiences. And instead of investigating single governments or national contexts, we aim to explore international networks of actors and their efforts to orchestrate the social, economic and ecological changes of cities in the global South. Exploring those issues, we believe, adds new insights and fresh perspectives not only to global urban and development history, but also to global histories of the environment, global knowledge regimes, global governance, international organizations, and INGOs.

We therefore invite papers that address, but must not necessarily be limited to, the following issues:
-- Urban development policies and the “Urban International” in the global South,
-- ‘urban metabolism’, resource systems, and waste management,
-- housing and the social challenge of slums,
-- the remaking of urban infrastructures,
-- sustainability, resilience, and climate change,
-- energy systems,
-- ‘good governance’ in the city,
-- transnational knowledge exchanges and the transformation of the urban,
-- case studies of individual projects, architects, engineers, experts, or institutions.

The conference will take place in Berlin. Participants will be reimbursed for travel expenses and accommodation. We are planning to publish select conference proceedings with a well-established university press.

Scholars interested in participating in the conference are asked to send an abstract (200 to 400 words, in English) and a short curriculum vitae to and before March 18, 2018.

In order to facilitate scholarly interchange, participants will circulate their papers before the conference, and will give only very brief oral summaries. Final papers (7000 to 8000 words, fully footnoted) are due October 1 and will be available to conference participants only.

Inquiries can be made to the conveners via the following e-mail addresses:;;


Sönke Kunkel

John F. Kennedy-Institut, Freie Universität Berlin
Lansstr. 7-9, 14 195 Berlin

Transforming Cities: Urbanization and International Development Policies in the Global South in the Twentieth Century, 11.10.2018 – 12.10.2018 Berlin, in: H-Soz-Kult, 26.01.2018, <>.