Geographies of a a Globalizing Europe

1st semester, 6 ECTS

The course develops a number of theoretical and thematic perspectives on the geographies of globalisation through a particular focus on Europe and its cities and regions. Focusing on processes of de- and reterritorialisation as intrinsic to globalisation, analytical and empirical attention is paid to the emergence of ‘Europe’ as an important scale for political, economic and social action. Within Europe, we can observe a restructuring of national states as well as subnational regions and cities, which has led and continues to lead to the development of various kinds of new territories, places, scales and networks. The position of cities and regions within this setting is central to a sophisticated understanding of the geographies of a globalizing Europe.

The course consists of a combination of two-hour lectures and seminars: the lectures (8 in total) are focused on ex-cathedra teaching by various lecturers with each lecture unpacking a different geography of Europe; the seminars (4 in total) are oriented towards interactive discussion. Student evaluation will be structured around the writing of an individual paper on one European city and the seminars will be used to support students in the writing process.

Urban Social Geography

1st semester, 6 ECTS

The course delivers an introduction to urban geography. It deals with the history of cities and the history of urban geography with a focus on human ecology and derived model-based developments, critical urban theory (Harvey, Friedmann, Sassen, Brenner) and postmodern/postcolonial urbanism (Massey, Robinson). The course studies both the internal sociospatial differentiation of cities as well as their insertion in (global) urban networks. Theories and methods are supported by examples taken from cities in the Global North and Global South. Students are expected to practice their skills by doing a social area analysis of Brussels. The course requires active involvement of the students, particularly in a reflecting on the reader seminar and a seminar dedicated to a discussion of position papers that reflect on a selected guest lecture.

Urban Economic Geography

1st semester, 5 ECTS

Broadly speaking, the course proposes a critical approach of contemporary changes in urban political economic landscapes. It specifically aims at challenging highly influential representations rooted in neoclassical economics claiming a “triumph of the city” in the present era of global networks and digital technologies. In contrast, the contours of the now-dominant configuration of capitalism (i.e. neoliberalism) and the role of the major drivers of urban change (i.a. rent-seeking investors, property developers, governments and related state agencies) are brought here centre-stage – rather than the economic rationality of atomized consumers of urban spaces (i.a. individual firms or professionals). Eventually, this approach to urban change aims at re-politicizing urban issues such as i.a. metropolitanisation, governance, urban regeneration and gentrification – hence never losing sight of questions such as “for whom ?” and “who decides?”

Urban Sociology

1st semester, 5 ECTS

The course consists in developing a sociological approach of the city in terms of interdependencies between society (social organization) and city (spatial organization). The city is both a social product – a physical and social space shaped by social, economical, political logics, etc. – and an invested environment of social representations and of meanings owing to the social activities that itself is unfold. This environment is presented as a set of resources and constraints for the actors and social groups. Part of the course is dedicated to theoretical approaches that, historically situated, illustrate both the evolution of the principal mains of interest of urban research and the different paradigms used by researchers. The second part focuses on the sociological factors that accompany the process of metropolisation.

Urban Sustainability and Circular Economy

1st semester, 5 ECTS

This module aims at analysing and assessing the sustainability of urban systems with an emphasis on circular economy perspectives and sustainable urbanism approaches. By the end of the module, the student should be able to: understand the functioning of urban systems at different scale levels;  analyse the interaction between urban systems and resource flows; analyse and assess the sustainability of urban systems using state-of-the-art methods, indexes and tools;  assess the different initiatives and plans aimed at sustainable urban development; develop strategies and solutions to improve the urban sustainability in terms of urban design, spatial planning and policy; present the analysis and assessment of urban sustainability in the form of a scientific paper.

Global City-Region Brussels

2nd semester, 6 ECTS

The course is structured around three interconnected packages. The first package goes more deeply into the context of the language policy conflict in Brussels and its historical background. This looks at subjects such as the theories of municipal politics, the politics of scale and the Belgian model of conflict management together with the demographic and socio-economic factors that have made Brussels a globally significant city. The second package addresses specific points of conflict that have emerged to be essential parts of the political conflict in Brussels, linked to 'structural problem zones'. More concretely, this involves language surveys, language use and linguistic identity, the politico-institutional system, the municipal administration and the issue of metropolitan education. The theoretical perspective is linked to a field trip to the Parliament of the Brussels-Capital Region to emphasise the transfer to its functioning in practice. The third and final package provides two points at which the current socio-political debates in Brussels can be studied in more depth, as well as looking at a foreign case to place the situation in Brussels into perspective.

Research Design and Methodology in Urban Studies

2nd semester, 3 ECTS

The aim of this course is to prepare the student for the Master thesis through a discussion of research design and methodology in urban studies. Together with the teachers, students will reflect on the development of a research question and problem, the development of a state of the art literature review, and the methodologies guiding the research process.

Urban Analysis I and II 

1st semester, 3 + 5 ECTS

The goal of Urban Analysis I is to familiarize the students with different research methods in the social sciences that are used to analyse the urban environment – its structures and processes. In particular, the students will get a taste of the following methods in class: secondary statistical analysis, urban semiotics and mental mapping, urban ethnography, and qualitative interviewing. In addition, the students will gain some practical research skills. Working in small groups, they will use the different methods learned in class to study a particular neighbourhood of Brussels in depth. At the end of UA I, the students will present their preliminary research findings to their fellow students and teaching staff. 

Urban Analysis II is designed as a follow-up of UA I, as two elements in a chain. Whereas the focus in UA I was on inhabitants’ and users’ views, perceptions and experiences of the neighbourhood, the focus in UA II will be on institutional actors – aka stakeholders –, their visions, projects and power. Accordingly, planning regulations, main actors and existing projects will be added to the initial neighbourhood analysis realised for UA1. The expected final product of UA2 is a development proposal, a master plan based on the students’ neighbourhood diagnosis. The course is articulated around four workshops and a final presentation which takes place at the end of January and involves colleagues from both ULB and VUB.

Excursion I and II

2nd semester, 3 + 3 ECTS

Excursions are a crucial element of an urban studies programme. Students will visit important cities and urban projects in Europe and gain hands-on experience of urban issues discussed during the lectures and seminars of the other courses in the programme. Each excursion includes a preparation seminar and preparatory reading, followed by empirical work (observations, interviews, text and visual analyis, ...) during the excursion.