Global Development Institute Blog

In this episode of the GDI podcast, Tom Goodfellow and Pritish Behuria discuss Tom’s career and his new book, Politics and the Urban Frontier: Transformation and Divergence in Late Urbanizing East Africa.

Despite the rise of global technocratic ideals of city-making, cities around the world are not merging into indistinguishable duplicates of one another. In fact, as the world urbanizes, urban formations remain diverse in their socioeconomic and spatial characteristics, with varying potential to foster economic development and social justice. In his book, Tom Goodfellow argues that these differences are primarily rooted in politics, and if we continue to view cities as economic and technological projects to be managed rather than terrains of political bargaining and contestation, the quest for better urban futures is doomed to fail. Dominant critical approaches to urban development tend to explain difference with reference to the variegated impacts of neoliberal regulatory institutions. This, however, neglects the multiple ways in which the wider politics of capital accumulation and distribution drive divergent forms of transformation in different urban places.

Tom Goodfellow is Professor of Urban Studies & International Development at the University of Sheffield.  His research focuses on the political economy of urban development and change in Africa, particularly the politics of urban land and transportation, conflicts around infrastructure and housing, and urban institutional change.
More about Tom Goodfellow

Pritish Behuria is Senior Lecturer in Politics, Governance & Development at the Global Development Institute. His research operates at the intersection of development studies, comparative politics and international political economy. He is a political economist, taking an interdisciplinary approach to studying the challenges associated with late development under 21st Century Globalisation.

More about Pritish Behuria


Intro  Welcome to the Global Development Institute podcast based at the University of Manchester, we’re Europe’s largest research and teaching institute is addressing poverty and inequality. Each episode will bring you the latest thinking, insights and debates in development studies.

Pritish Behuria Okay, great. So welcome to the Global Development Institute podcast. My name is Pritish Behuria. I’m a senior lecturer in politics and development here and with me today is Professor Tom Goodfellow. We’re here to celebrate Tom’s publication of a new book with OUP called Politics and the Urban Frontier. If we had video we’d show it to you as well, but not this time. So, [we’re] very lucky and big congratulations to Tom. So thanks for coming in and joining us.

Tom Goodfellow You’re welcome. I’m very pleased to be here. Also, I should say it’s the first time, I’m now realising as we talk, I think this is the first time I’ve done a podcast in person.

Pritish Behuria Yeah, me too. It’s actually the first time I’ve interviewed anyone, actually. So no. So I’ve known Tom for ten, eleven years now. When he was finishing PhD student and I was about to start my PhD in London. So it’s really great to see all of this coming together, really a life’s work. [Laughter]. A young life’s work. So I guess let’s just start with talking about the journey in terms of starting to study cities in East Africa. How did you get there?

Tom Goodfellow Yeah, so it’s a good question. And Pritish and I, we met in London, but then we also met quite a lot in Kigali, one of the cities on which my book is focussed. And yeah, I guess this goes back to a while before my PhD. I never had an intention really of doing a PhD after university. I did a Master’s, but then I didn’t plan to do a PhD, and I was in London doing various odd jobs and temp jobs, not knowing what I wanted to do. But I was also playing in a band and a singer in my band, who was friend from university and school, his mother was an academic at the London School of Economics. And I got to know her a bit and she asked if I wanted to help with some work she was doing just stuff like reading and copyediting some publications she had coming out and then doing bits of background research. Because she knew I had a Master’s. And so I started reading her work and, you know, doing little bits of help with it and I just got really interested in it, right.

And this work was about cities primarily South Africa. So she was working on a collection about like ten years after the transition from apartheid and what that meant to the stability and inclusivity of South African cities, amongst other things. And I just got more and more drawn in to this work. And she was also involved in a research centre at the LSE. This was in the Department of International Development called the Crisis States Research Centre, which was about conflicts, civil war and state building. I mean, this is at a time when state fragility, even state failures, were discourses that they were quite current and the government of the UK was very interested in supporting fragile states. And so Jo Beall, this was the woman who became my supervisor, my friend’s mum, she ran a theme of work within the Crisis State Centre on cities and their relationship to these processes of state breakdown and state building. And so I got, I kind of came in through that. Eventually I applied for some funding and yeah, did the PhD. Supervised by her and by James Putzle, who was director of the Crisis States Research Centre.

Pritish Behuria I wonder what would have happened if you, IF Jo Beall was studying rural areas in Southeast Asia?

Tom Goodfellow Yeah, well, I mean maybe I would have got equally, actually James Putzel, who was my other supervisor was studying rural areas in Southeast Asia. So yeah, it’s a good question because it was a really unpredicted thing. So like, I now find myself in an urban studies and planning department, which is very different from where I did my PhD in international development. At that time, so this is kind of between like 2008-2012 that kind of time, Jo was more or less the only person in the International Development Department looking at urban areas, right? It was more, people were focussed on national issues and political economy and rural areas and conflict. She was working on cities. And we didn’t, I had no background in geography or thinking about cities, and now I’m surrounded by people who are geographers and planners. But you know, your life goes in unexpected directions sometimes. And yeah, I had great fun.

So I decided to work in Uganda and Rwanda, where those two countries were part of this research centre, so they had partnerships with institutions in Uganda particularly. And I started reading about these two cities and I found that there are all kinds of differences between them just on paper which were quite interesting. Similarities and differences. Not least because Kigali had just come out with this big masterplan that got a lot of attention from 2007. And so I just booked some flights and went to the two cities really, and hung around, and started to develop from there my idea of what the research questions would be and what the project would be for my PhD.

Pritish Behuria Can you talk a little bit? I mean, of course, we met in Kigali as well, but why you chose Uganda and Rwanda in particular?

Tom Goodfellow Yeah. So it’s interesting because in a sense it was about, I have never you know, I’m not one of these people who – many of the people I supervise now, many PhD students, have a background in the place where they go to study, right. They’ve worked there or they’re from there. I was really, you know, pretty ignorant, but I knew I was really interested in cities and I found this research centre I was involved in very exciting. So I wanted to work in countries where they had some connections, because it was really about having a bit of a soft landing rather than arriving in a city where I didn’t know anybody, you know. So I had some networks. I knew a few people in those countries through that centre, and that was part of the reason. But also I was interested in civil war and the aftermath, you know, post-conflict reconstruction, the role of cities within that. And these were obviously countries that had been through a lot of conflict. Interestingly, in my first research proposal, which, you know, didn’t get through and I changed my mind, was about Ethiopia.

Pritish Behuria Oh wow.

Tom Goodfellow Yeah, which I subsequently went back to do some research in because I was always interested in [Ethiopia]. This was because it was the years after the 2005 election in Ethiopia where there was this huge urban uprising, a lot of protest and a lot of violence in the city. And I’d heard about this, but in the end I, you know, I left that aside, but I’ve come back to it in some ways in parts of the book and more recent projects. Yeah.

Pritish Behuria So, yeah, I remember also, like when you completed your PhD, you had quite a crazy week I remember. It was something like, you passed your Viva, Tess your first baby was born, and also you got a job in Sheffield.

Tom Goodfellow It was a really crazy week. I wish I could remember the exact dates and the order in which…I know that the baby hadn’t been born, Tess that is, she had not been born by the time I had my viva, or the job interview, but she was due very soon. I had my viva, and then the next day I had a job interview in Sussex at the Institute of Development Studies, the next day, which I didn’t get. And I had an interview in Sheffield a couple of days after that. So I had these two things coming up, and yeah it was crazy. I think I got the job in Sheffield and then the baby came and it was a mad week.

Pritish Behuria So you moved from a city to, well, something less small city. I mean, in India, this would not maybe be a city.

Tom Goodfellow No, it would be a village.

Pritish Behuria It’s very rural, Sheffield.

Tom Goodfellow It’s very rural. It feels more rural than it is. The interesting thing about Sheffield, I mean we could get derailed here, my book is not about Sheffield it’s about East Africa, but no, it it’s interesting. I was looking at the census data actually, which just came through, the kind of ethnicity data just going through and I wanted to look at that. But Sheffield is still officially the fourth biggest city in the UK, which is ridiculous. Because it doesn’t, that’s because of where the boundaries are set. So it’s not ridiculous, I mean, it’s true, but it doesn’t feel that way because the centre is small and it has this very green rural fringe and it’s more like villages and neighbourhoods than a big city feel. Yeah. But anyway, I was quite up for that because I’d lived in London my whole life and just had a kid and, you know, a different kind of place suited us quite well.

Pritish Behuria So yeah. And so anyway, towards the end of your PhD, I guess you had already written about six or seven articles on a variety of different topics in relation to Rwanda, Ethiopia, including motorcycle taxis.

Tom Goodfellow Yeah, I mean, I hadn’t written all those before the end of my PhD. I don’t want to put off any PhD students who think I need 7. I did have one or two things come out, but in the years shortly after.

Pritish Behuria But I mean, like many people like me, for example, you hadn’t had the chance to kind of develop your thoughts into a large monograph. What you did do, though, was you got involved with at least one other large research centre, the Effective States and Inclusive Development Research Centre, which was based here. How did you see your research kind of developed from something really focussed on cities to perhaps connecting to cities in relation to other kind of things like structural transformation, for example?

Tom Goodfellow Yeah, that’s a good question because in some ways it was a bit more like of a coming, not exactly full circle, but as I say I never actually studied cities before my PhD. So my undergrad was in more or less politics and sociology really. And then my Master’s was in international relations, which was a bit of a misstep in terms of I realised it wasn’t quite where I wanted to go. But I was looking at these much bigger scales, right, the national and international politics and conflict and war stuff in that way. And then after the PhD in some ways I came back to some of those themes. And in the book you know, I talk a lot about the different scales of analysis. The focus is on changes within cities, but I’m also thinking about these kind of national and regional dynamics. But yeah, the ESID (Effective States and Inclusive Development) centre was something I came to. There was another one in between the International Centre for Tax, which I did some research funded by. And that was interesting because going back to the LSE times, that relationship between taxation and state building, which has been written about a lot, and how significant that is for building sort of state-citizen relations. But in cities it’s also, you have different kinds of taxes, particularly around property and land that get into a lot of the politics. So I found that as an interesting route into both urban and national political economy, I guess.

But yeah, to your broader question, I mean, it’s a really wonderful thing. It’s so hard to write and finish a book, I have to say. Like, particularly if you’re an academic, you know, in a normal academic job where you have to teach and do admin and other things. But it just does enable you to make the bigger argument that links things together. Because in my mind, there was always a thread between a lot of these articles that I knew wouldn’t be visible. They might just look like a slightly random selection of articles, often on quite different things. But there was some narrative in the background that I wanted to tell, and that’s really what motivated me through writing this book. Even though, you know, it’s a hard slog and you don’t always get much rewarded for writing a book, really, in contemporary academia, in this country, in certain disciplines anyway. So that’s what kind of pushed me through.

Pritish Behuria Okay, so let’s get to the book now. So it was around the pandemic, I guess, when you finally said, ‘Okay, I can put together a narrative to drive forward my motivation to finish the book’. So what is the book about? And what made you motivated to finally write it?

Tom Goodfellow Yeah, in a weird way, this is going to be the hardest question. Oh my gosh. Yeah, well maybe I’ll go in reverse. So to continue from my previous point about what made me motivated. There was a bigger story in my head and it was partly about Eastern Africa in the sense that I had worked in several cities, primarily Kampala, Kigali and Addis Ababa, all in Eastern Africa, and there were lots of similarities and lots of things that you would have discussions about. The clear trends about, whether it’s about aid or Chinese investment or the pace of urbanisation, or some of the relationships between city and countryside, the history of conflict, the governments that had come out of rebel movements. You know, lots of regional stories that thread together. But also I was mainly observing these really significant differences between the cities and trying to understand them. Differences around like, you know, whether or not the government build massive amounts of public housing, for example. Very significant differences. Or what kinds of things get prioritised? Foreign investment. If there are real efforts to stimulate industry. I was trying to understand why we see these things in some places and not others when it doesn’t seem to just be about having resources or anything more institutional. There was something there that was about the politics, about the priorities, the power relations that would drive governments in one place to prioritise one thing over another, and to be able to actually drive through their priorities. So I wanted to tell this big story about, yeah, the politics of these different kinds of urban transformation. And that’s really what the book is about.

So one of the things I wanted to do, and again I had to kick back a little bit against the reviewers here, who one of whom at least when I sent in a proposal and some sample material, wanted to see a bit more of a conventional structure in the sense that like, here’s a chapter on Kampala and here’s a chapter on Kigali. Whereas I wanted to thread the comparison through all the chapters, which is quite hard, particularly because I don’t have a balanced kind of portfolio of research or data on all those cities. I’ve done some kinds of research in Addis and other kinds of research in Kigali. There’s some overlap. But I really wanted to weave the three way comparison into all of the empirical chapters. And it was partly about challenging myself because in my PhD I’d just been like, explain the difference between Kampala and Kigali in a way that was quite binary. And by having three cities in the mix that really challenged me to get away from simplistic distinctions in a way.

So yeah, I kind of argue that in the three cities there are different dynamics of political power, of, you know, pursuing legitimacy for the governing regime. Of legacies, of infrastructural power, to use Michael Mann’s term, about how much capacity the state has to actually roll out its projects to acquire land, to push through and resist opposition. You know, these kinds of elements of politics differed between the three countries, and they explain why we might see very different kinds of investment, very different kinds of spatial transformation in the three cities. Hmm.

Pritish Behuria No, that’s great. So I think like just to pick up on something you said. You talk about, in your book as well, how a lot of academic literature tends to subsume these kind of variations, these differences. Now, one aspect of your research career is also your long term commitment to doing research in these three countries and these three cities in particular. So trying to explain this variation through kind of thick description, as you mention in your book. Can you talk a little bit more, a bit more, about why this difference occurred or exists between Kampala, between Kigali and Addis Ababa?

Tom Goodfellow Yeah. And I mean, maybe it’s helpful to the listener who may not have seen the book or whatever, just to say the kinds of things I look at, the kinds of differences. So there’s four kind of empirical chapters. There’s a bunch of other chapters before, including a theoretical framework and then two historical chapters where I look at how, you know, ideas about land have evolved, basically, and then again, how urban economies have been evolved through colonialism and so on. But then the four main chapters, they look, on the one hand at basically urban visions like big plans and visions for the city and what they look like, and the role of different kinds of infrastructure in those visions. That’s one chapter. Then I look at basically property. Like landed property, real estate, housing and the very different what I call urban properties scapes. So what gets built, for whom, in those kinds of cities, and why does it differ? And then there’s a chapter where I look at basically market places and trading as a kind of manifestation of what it’s like to try and work in the city of ordinary people. The kind of street economy in a way, and how that is treated very differently in the three cities. And then the final empirical chapter loops back to politics itself, by looking at the ways in which people protest, or resist, or try and engage government if they are unhappy with the changes to the city or they want to have a voice. Which again looks very different, what I call the urban political registers, look very different in the three cities.

So that’s what I look at . In terms of explaining why those differences exist. It kind of comes down to this framework I developed in Chapter two with these four elements of, I guess, politics and political economy that strike me as mattering. Some of that draws on, and maybe we’ll talk about this because it’s a current debate, some of that draws on the political settlements framing; particularly the bit of it that looks at the distribution of power amongst groups and organisations. But it also draws on other ideas around, you know, the ideologies and discourses that some governments have, and mobilise, to legitimise themselves. As well as the social norms that have evolved, which are often conditioned by sometimes by long histories, colonial histories and dynamics of conflict in those societies. So that’s a bit of a complicated answer, but essentially I’ve got a kind of a framework through which I explore those differences.

But what I really I, the main thing I wanted to do just to speak to, you know, why I do this or what what in a way I’m speaking against in academic debates. It’s partly from the Urban Studies side, in the sense that there’s a lot of literature that talks about neoliberal urbanism and how, you know, everything is pervaded with similar neoliberal dynamics, which might land differently on the ground. But the explanations of why those things land differently tend to be about institutions, regulatory regimes; rather than like the politics actually being different, like the political agendas, the people who are powerful. These vary. So, you know, for example, in Kigali, and Kampala, you’ve had the same kinds of influences, as you’ve written about, you know. Kigali is is doing, I mean I love your article on incoherent emulation of how the government of Rwanda brings together these different ideas from East Asia, but also from Western donors, and it creates a strange mix of policies that doesn’t always make sense. Now, that’s partly to do with the politics of that regime and what it’s trying to do. You can’t reduce that to some kind of global force of neoliberalism. So it’s exploring those differences in that way and trying to yeah, to be comparative, quite rigorously, by constantly looking at all three cities in relation to one another.

Pritish Behuria No, that’s really interesting. And also I think what’s crucial also to highlight is in Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia often, say parts of the political science literature, would characterise these as very similar regimes, or types of government, but also with similar ideologies in relation to developmentalism. I think what your book does do is talk about that actually the politics in these countries is quite distinct, though they do share some similarities. And the types of cities that they chose to encourage and growth in are quite different. From Ethiopia, which they focus on some kind of affordable housing. From Rwanda, which went to high end luxury housing, and Uganda, which was much less regulated.

Tom Goodfellow Yeah. And I mean it’s really, it’s very striking that if you look at the priority investments in infrastructure, somewhere like Kigali, they are, in a sense, very outward facing. In terms of like, it’s very much about being this regional hub, an international hub, appealing to an investment community, appealing to an aid community. And it’s very strategic in many ways. And, you know, we’ve written about this. It’s like a service economy. Whereas these big, huge infrastructure projects in Ethiopia. they were much more inward facing. They had an outward facing element. So the light rail, you know, they wanted to be the first in Africa to do a certain kind of light rail. But also this was really about needing to provide something to the urban, poorer groups and middle class, whatever you want to call them. But the housing programme and the infrastructure investments, you can’t understand those without you know, this 2005 election in Ethiopia, which was so pivotal, they needed to win support of a large chunk of the urban population in the way that the government in Rwanda just doesn’t need to in the same way. So it results in a very different kind of investments. And these have long term effects. It transformed the built environment. It’s it has a long tail, a long legacy, in terms of who that city is kind of for. So, yeah, that’s why I think these differences are quite important and need to be explained. Yeah.

Pritish Behuria And I thought one of the interesting points to make also is about the reasons why we should think about studying East Africa as a region. Can you talk a little bit more about the reasons why we should think of [studying this region].

Tom Goodfellow Yeah. Yeah, it’s a good question. And I was conscious as well that, particularly coming from a now a kind of urban studies environment, there’s a lot of, when people talk about region they normally mean a sort of city region, or like the Greater Manchester, or something would be a region; rather than a more IR, international relations type of region, a cluster of states. And so I wanted to bring, it was partly again bringing that question of the broader region, like as a set of countries, into an urban studies debate, which normally is absent you know. Nobody would be thinking about, well, why is that relevant? But I thought, well it seems relevant to me because East Africa, I mean, you know, I term it the sort of global urban frontier in the book, which you know in retrospect using the term urban frontier, I might not have done that now in the same way, because so many people are writing about urban frontiers in different ways since I wrote my book Proposal in 2017 or something. And lots of really interesting work that looks at the peri-urban frontier, so it’s all about that the edge of the city and how that expands into the rural area. That’s not what I mean. What I mean is, as a region, this is kind of the last, this is the least urbanised region of the world, actually. And that’s changing incredibly fast, which means it’s got a very particular type of investment that it attracts and is associated with. If you read reports from like some of those big consultancies that look at kinds of investment and break it down by region, you will see that in Eastern Africa there is a disproportionate amount of investment into property and real estate because the industrial productive base isn’t really there. So that, again, has important implications. So I think, you know, all this stuff around property and land and real estate, as a proportion of the economy as a whole, is a bit somehow distorted there in a way. Plus, of course you have, that is the route into Africa for the Belt and Road. So that really is quite unique about East Africa. And it’s marketing itself as well. You know, the East African investment Forum, the East African Real Estate Conference. So I think there’s something going on regionally, which is bringing in resources and bringing in ideas about this place as a kind of frontier of investment. But at the same time, there are these huge differences within that, in terms of how those resources are stewarded or directed within the countries and cities.

Pritish Behuria As you mentioned, you talked about being in an urban studies environment. Also, in terms of your focus, a lot of East African remains quite rural as well.

Tom Goodfellow Yeah.

Pritish Behuria What do you think? I mean, I think there’s, we get out of analysing development, or development outcomes, through the city. The city as a distinct geographical location.

Tom Goodfellow So what do we get out of that? I mean, that’s a very good question because actually it’s one which people in my field, and I guess you know, I very much see myself at that intersection of development and urban, which is partly why that’s my job title I gave myself and I, you know, situate the book like that. But people who are from Urban Studies or even like me kind of the joint of the two. We don’t often ask that question. Lke what do we learn about broader development from cities? What are we missing? And there was a period, I had some really interesting conversations earlier this week about this when I was talking about the book inLSE, because there was a period 10,15 years ago when I started my PhD where noone is really talking about the urban that much. And my supervisor, Jo Beall who was really saying, you know, we’ve got to get this on the agenda because poverty is becoming more urban. It’s much harder to address in many ways. And someone said, well that it’s not recognised and there are different challenges. And she also said you know, in ten years everyone’s going to be talking about this. And she was she was right. Because you look at the themes around conferences and so on. But still the people in the policy world will say,’Oh, the urban is completely neglected. There’s no one in government who cares about this. Like the advisors, even in DFID or whatever, who worked on urban have often gone. So it’s this odd thing where there’s a lot of attention on it, but no one quite knows what to do with it. Because there’s still a sense that that’s where all the money and privilege goes anyway. So when we’re dealing with development challenges and poverty, we should be focussing on the rural. I mean, I’m not directly answering your question, but I think there’s something about how, you know, to study exclusion and inequality, you need to look at wealth and you need to look at elites as well, right. And what they’re doing. And particularly in large cities, there’s so much of that. That when actually you’re looking at political settlements and you’re looking at those fundamental deals, and how things are distributed, you know, you can get right to the heart of that in many ways when looking at cities. So there’s that. And also I think it’s just that there is a sense that you can grapple with some of the challenges going forward. So it’s partly just like the momentum, right, of population movement towards cities that makes it quite appealing right now. I think to a lot of researchers anyway. But yeah, I don’t know. I’m not…

Pritish Behuria Yeah. Just to pick up on that, what you just said about, you know, the importance of studying capital in a way, in order to understand inequality. In your book you do study, you do talk a lot about the value of urban land increasing and about how that relates to the increase of wealth amongst some domestic elites as well. And in previous work, you’ve also talked about the variations in property tax collection. Do you see that, especially in the three cases you studied, can you talk a little bit more perhaps about the variation there and what that means in relation to inequality?

Tom Goodfellow Yeah, thank you. You’ve helped me to answer your previous question, which in a sense, obviously that’s one of the things that studying cities helps you to shed light on about development more broadly, which is the sucking of resources away from other things because of speculation over land and property and so on. And obviously there are people, like Tom Gillespie here, working on that kind of thing as well. Now, I didn’t, there is stuff about land historically in the book and the stuff about real estate investment. But the property tax work is interesting because that, again, you can see the different kinds of resistance and the kind of political, bureaucratic, local versus national level to reforms that would effectively tax more of that well. But, I expected to have a chapter on that when I started out, but then I realised I just didn’t have, I had hardly any data on Kampala, it’s very old; whereas I had much more on Kigali and Addis. And I just think you need to have a lot of data to talk about that stuff convincingly in all three cities. But yeah, I mean differences are…Of course in Addis you have a fundamentally different regime around land because of the communist revolution that led to the nationalisation of land, and extra houses like second houses of any kind. And that is something that subsequent regimes have maintained. So the thing that’s interesting in Addis is a lot of money is mobilised for the government through land, leasing land. But, you know, that’s not very sustainable because it basically requires constant expansion. So you can lease more land for a hundred years or whatever and take the money from that. Whereas property tax, in theory, you can get more resources for, without constantly expanding into farmland. And that has been the most, you know, one of the most contentious things in Ethiopia. So yeah, that’s veering a bit from your question. But there are, in all of the cases and this is true of course across much of the world, frankly, you see huge resistance to, including in the UK, you know, huge resistance to increasing tax on property. But look at exactly how that plays out and how effective that resistance is can also be revealing.

Pritish Behuria Mm hmm. And just related to that, I mean, I find, you know, reading a lot of the, say, development studies literature from 30 to 40 years ago, you do see that governments were very scared of rural revolution in a way. Agrarian revolution. Jeoffrey Page writes about agrarian revolution etc…Of course, the East Asian development was very concerned with this, James Putzel, one of your supervisors wrote about that as well. In, at least in Kigali, there’s a lot of worry, anxiety about urban protests. You talk about resistance in your book about, say, different forms of resistance in Kigali, Kampala, of course, and Addis, where protests have been quite strong recently. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Tom Goodfellow Mm hmm. Yeah, it’s interesting. So one of the things that, again, hooked me into academia, into working on cities, was the work that Jo Beall was doing around, in some senses, the urbanisation of conflict. And the idea which is still not, you know, is contested and debateable in some ways, that these kind of peasant wars of the 20th century to use the title of a book by Eric Wolff from I can’t remember exactly when, had become more urban wars and comflicts of the 21st century with huge amounts of gang violence in some countries, but also a sense that war itself was increasingly being fought out over urban areas and in them. And so, yeah, I had an interest in, in these kind of forms of kind of particularly kind of violent protest and resistance and how they played out in cities. So, I mean, I actually really enjoyed writing that chapter, the eighth chapter, which again, that my own primary research in that it’s fairly old and is mainly in Kampala and Kigali rather than Addis, but I drew a lot on secondary sources. So, you know, I’m very open about this. Not all the chapters are, you know, heavily about my own research. I also really benefit from these great anthropological studies, detailed work that people have done in those cities, to explore the different kinds of protest and resistance. And yeah, I think I reach a point in that chapter saying that actually the term resistance is not very helpful, it’s a bit meaningless because it can take so many different forms. So you know in Addis you’ve seen, certainly in 2005 and other periods of history, this total mobilisation almost of the population to actually be able to threaten to overthrow a regime. And indeed they did overthrow a regime back in ’70s. That was like very much a student urban movement. That’s quite different from the kind of almost like negotiating protest you see in Kampala, where it’s like people make a huge fuss and rise up, but sometimes there’s not really a sense that they can, or even necessarily want to achieve, the regime overthrow. Sometimes it’s about getting a small gain. It’s almost like bargaining through violent protest and getting some concession from government, which is a very different kind of mobilisation. And then in Kigali, clearly that kind of mobilisation or protest is not going to benefit anyone because the masses of people simply don’t have that much collective power. So people judge that ways of kind of refusing to comply or showing their resistance more quietly or silently have more validity and more meaning to them. They have more agency in some ways through that than through trying to organise a protest which is completely crushed. So it’s interesting to explore that and how that also could be read through my analytical framework.

Pritish Behuria You know, it’s really interesting and I think it’s important. I mean, you have done a lot of fieldwork in these cities and you’ve managed to engage with a lot of the existing literature out there, developing partnerships with scholars in all of these different cities and beyond of course. Your research today now continues with the African Cities Research Centre here.

Tom Goodfellow Yeah, it’s got much more complex.

Pritish Behuria Can you talk a little bit about how this is extending?

Tom Goodfellow Yes. So this is great because it has enabled, I mean, there has been a lot of funding for development related research, and urban, in recent years in the UK. And what that has enabled has been the building of incredible networks and large partnership based projects with brilliant researchers from the countries concerned. And this this has been personally for me, wonderful to meet all these researchers and work with them. So, the African Cities Research Consortium, and I’m not going to talk to the whole structure of that because we could be here all day and some listeners might know, others can find it online, so that’s a big consortium headed here in Manchester. But I lead a sort of package of work, a domain of work, around urban land and connectivity that’s looking at how urban land becomes valuable through different forms of infrastructure connections and how that value might be captured by the state, and what the challenges are around the land sector when so much wealth and political authority is embedded within it. And we’re doing that in Harare, in Mogadishu, in Maiduguri in northern Nigeria, in Accra, now also in Kampala and Bukavu in the eastern Congo. So it’s, so one of the things that’s nice about this to me is obviously the breadth of people and expertise and comparative thinking that enables beyond the cities that I personally have done research in, as I haven’t even been to one of these cities, at least not yet. But also to work in secondary cities, smaller cities. And another project I’m involved in, funded by the GCRF, Global Challenges Research Fund, we’re looking at urban, rural-urban migration and different forms of conflict over land and resources in cities receiving a lot of migrants. And we’re doing that in smaller cities, in conflict areas or secondary industrialising cities in Uganda, Nigeria, Ethiopia. So to move beyond the big cities is very interesting, but also challenging, because I’m used to the cities being kind of the centre of national power as well as, you know, having economic resources and being cities with political identities. And so when you start to move to smaller cities, that relationship between the national and the city becomes very different. But it’s fascinating because those are also the areas that are seeing the most growth and sometimes, you know, the most transformation if there’s an industrial park nearby or something, you know. So yeah, so that’s some of the other things I’m doing now.

Pritish Behuria Yeah. I guess like one of the things that immediately comes to me is, you know, you started as a developmental studies person, but very much doing work on the politics and political economy of development. And now you’re working in an urban studies department and your work is very much about cities, but related to development. So it’s become much more front and centre, would you say that? I don’t know. So basically my question is more about how you’re straddling between the different spheres and how do you feel like that’s shaping your capacity to make contributions to these debates and these different kinds of questions.

Tom Goodfellow Yeah, it’s a good question. There is a lot of straddling going on. And what’s really interesting for me is that I went from a development studies department at LSE, where Urban was very much in the margin, as I said, and not many people were looking at those things. To going to an Urban Studies department where, at least when I arrived in Sheffield in 2013, looking at development or global south countries was very much in the margin. There weren’t many people doing that. So it was like a total change. It was very productive, I think, in terms of, you know, being exposed to a whole lot of different debates and literature. And you’d have a conversation with somebody who studies, you know, land or real estate or planning or housing in the UK or in somewhere else. And they would have a completely different response, obviously, to if you’re presenting that at an African Studies or Development Studies Conference. So I kind of enjoyed that, although it was challenging. But, and I like being at the kind of awkward perhaps, sometimes a little awkward, boundaries of these disciplines and connections between them, because in some ways it’s where I’ve always been. So my undergraduate was in like social and political sciences, it was very interdisciplinary. Development studies is inter-disciplinary, so is urban studies. So I’m not, you know you talk to people who feel strongly, and there’s definitely room for this. It’s important that that one should be rooted in a discipline and the disciplines have incredible value. And I think this is something you’re also interested in, the kind of the disciplinary space. But I think that tension between the disciplinary people and the people who are more interdisciplinary is really important as well. It’s one that I reflected on a lot when, as I already mentioned, the work of ethnographers, right. The depth of an anthropological study of a city is something I could never do. I mean, you know, not without retraining myself and spending years somewhere. And yet, you know I guess the comparative thinking and the bringing together different scales and ways of thinking is something that I do, that they don’t do. So I think that yeah, that can be quite productive, that straddling. But I mean if I were more, I suppose I could be worried about it kind of weakening my contribution in either field. And I do feel, you know, when I come here and I see all the development studies people and I realise I’m not up to date on all these debates, and I do feel a little like I want to catch up. But it’s actually made worse by the pandemic in a way, because I used to regularly go to development studies and African studies conferences, and being on an online conference isn’t the same, in terms of really getting that, but hopefully that that’s coming back. So yeah, it’s nice. I’m in an urban studies department, but my external engagements are actually primarily in other fields.

Pritish Behuria Now related to that, I think you make an interesting point about this ontological turn in the social sciences.

Tom Goodfellow Hmmm.

Pritish Behuria Prioritising thicker description, ethnography like you say, and you do learn so much from ethnographies and long standing fieldwork. Now, of course, at the same time there are many barriers and questions about doing fieldwork in general in development studies. What is your take on that and how is it affecting your kind of research going forward?

Tom Goodfellow Yeah, so it’s a good question. I mean, so I’ve mentioned the kind of positives of being involved in these bigger projects with lots of partners in African countries where I’m involved at a more arm’s length way. Again, it’s been exacerbated by the pandemic. It’s also, you know, having a family and having kids not be able to longer to do it. But it’s also what’s happening in academia and they’re very appropriate. I don’t want to say decolonisation in this context because it’s it’s not that’s a much bigger issue. But the fact that there’s more resource and more support and more international exposure for people doing research in their own countries. Right. And for the expertise that is rooted in these countries. And it’s something like the African Cities Research Consortium is very revealing about the kind of extraordinary range of expertise that exists, let’s say, you know, secondary city in Nigeria, which outsiders might not just realise is there without having to work very hard to learn about individual researchers and because they don’t necessarily publish in the same spaces, they don’t have the same access to the same resources. So but the downside of that is that, you know, you, you know, I the person who is in the north who has maybe helped get the funding, who is coordinating a work package or something, you become sort of an administrator or kind of manager in some way that you never really intended to begin. And actually it doesn’t feel that decolonial because if you are somebody who’s mobilising the resources and managing a team, so you have a position of seniority, in a way it almost feels quite colonial. You’re like the administrator of something happening elsewhere in the South, but you actually have some power by virtue of your position. And yeah, so it’s not something I’m fully comfortable with for a number of reasons, and nor is it as much fun as doing your own research. I mean that. But these are things we have to navigate. And I think, you know, I think being open and talking about this and not not pretending that academia hasn’t changed isn’t changing rapidly in mostly very positive ways to bring out far wider diversity of voices and authorship and research cultures and knowledge. Yeah, yeah.

Pritish Behuria Yeah. I think that’s really important. I think it’s important also because it allows us to reflect on how to make things better. And just partnering with different universities in the Global South is not necessarily enough in terms of shifting power relations.

Tom Goodfellow Yeah, absolutely.

Pritish Behuria Yeah. But of course, the conversation this way continues. I mean, I’m guessing now, as.

Tom Goodfellow I should say, just before moving on, because I think it’s important, like the on the graph project I’m involved in was funded by the UK Government, but through something called the African Research Universities Alliance, which was funded again by the UK government through its kind of AIDS research funding. But the project is led. There’s a series of projects they funded on different issues in Africa led by African institutions. So on that project in the PI Islamic areas and back in Ethiopia and he, you know, he is very much a PR, he makes the decisions and he’s an, you know, under him. So there are things that are quite let’s put a radical format by, you know, ten, 20 years ago, you wouldn’t have seen that. But even that itself is not it’s not enough because there’s still the way in which we have to report to the UK government. Yeah. Yeah. And, and the challenges are oh my gosh, you know, dealing with the finance, the bureaucracy, the visas that still create so many obstacles for people in those countries.

Pritish Behuria Absolutely. Yeah. And I think I guess both of us in a way, we’ve done research funded by the UK Government. Yeah. And I’m wondering like, I mean, you know, we are in development studies of course that funded research is also shrinking. Do you think being funded by UK Government has shifted your research in any way at any point? Because often we, you know, there is this criticism of the UK funded research centres that people are treated sceptically. Yeah. What do you think about that.

Tom Goodfellow Yeah, it’s interesting. I would say I don’t think it’s affected my research as much as people might think. Yeah, from the outside I think and certainly some of my colleagues or people who I kind of engage with who are not from a development sort of space, who are from geography or whose funding comes from very different kinds of sources, you know, research councils or foreign research councils and that sort of thing. Perhaps that a of research funded by what was tested, you know, is kind of going to be very developmental in a certain way and it’s going to be very compromised. But I haven’t found maybe it’s because I haven’t been really seen some of these big centres. You do have to report in a certain way, but like in terms of the actual research on the ground and the findings in the way you choose to analyse them. I’ve done projects funded by ISC, for example, as a kind of standard research council and funded by DFID, and I haven’t treated them fundamentally differently. Yeah. So I think, you know, it’s easy to over exaggerate those differences. They, they let people do. Yeah. They give people a lot of freedom. I don’t know what it’s like in ACRC so down a bit then somebody else salmon picking senior in that consortium might might be able to tell us you know how strict they’re going but that’s different actually, because there are some consortia like that one where they specify in advance quite a lot about how they want it. Friend. But when it comes to going out and doing the research, I think people have a lot of autonomy.

Pritish Behuria Yeah, I mean, I’ve also found that at least at Eton, which I was partially a part of, yeah, I had such quite a bit of autonomy, but I mean, of course, I don’t know if that’s always true.

Tom Goodfellow Yeah, I don’t know if it’s always true. And I think we probably benefited from not being so senior. Yeah. You know, I think the more senior you get, the more you feel the constraints. Yeah, certainly. When I was, you know, across the States, they, I suppose they just went off and did what I wanted. Yeah. But I do think that if it weren’t always that happy about not getting the kinds of messages they want is not in terms of like being on the message, but being what they saw as policy relevant in a particular way. And yeah, there’s a lot of being told you have to produce three bullet points in all of this, but in a way, I feel like they’ve got more understanding about that in government agencies. It would be an interesting conversation to have with I have colleagues who do a lot of work funded, for example, by the Department of what’s it now called levelling up housing communities, local government in the UK to see what their experience is like in that part of government.

Pritish Behuria Now that the book is over and it is a fantastic book, extremely well read. And Tom is one of the people I found in ten years time across three institutions, students are always coming up to me and saying, This is such a well-written article. Oh, thank you. And it’s also true. And it’s also true that the. Book is extremely well written, and I found it incredibly interesting to read. I mean, I engaged a lot theoretically with similar kinds of frameworks like political settlements. So I may be a bit biased in this, but I think it will be one of the key books for us. Understanding East Africa if East Africa’s Urban Transformation. Really?

Tom Goodfellow Thank you very much. Yeah.

Pritish Behuria I mean, it’s very inspiring. Well, it’s not to say after all these years, the book finally come together.

Tom Goodfellow I know. I know. And it’s not easy, I mean, particularly when juggling commitments and family and stuff. But I do think I have to say it is worth doing. If you have something that you think is a book size story, you instead because you can’t do it any other way. And in the end, even if it takes years and years, which it did and it does for many people.

Pritish Behuria So is there a message that you would like people like to leave people with after reading the book or after the podcast? Yeah. Now, you.

Tom Goodfellow Know, I mean, what’s really hard is that when you are talking about, let’s say, three countries, three cities, and you’ve done a lot of comparative work as well, sometimes people want. To come out thinking, okay, this one is better, or like this is the way to go. So the purpose of this comparison is to say this one did it right, this one did it wrong, and the book doesn’t really do that. And maybe that’s a disappointment to some people know to say, you know, follow the path of Rwanda and then everything be right or Ethiopia, whatever it might be. But I just couldn’t that wasn’t what I set out to do. And it doesn’t. I also had a question from somebody who works more in the policy world when I was doing, and I say, you know, what do we do with this? Like if you were talking to a policymaker now, can they do anything useful with this knowledge sort of thing? I mean, I would hope that they can, because partly it’s about you. There is still a sense of you have an idea. And at city level, this is very prevalent. So whether it’s like the idea of the smart city or a particular kind of world class city and branding of your self investment in a certain way. But if you get that right, then it will be good for development and growth without the adequate attention to the differences in context where these ideas are taken from and this kind of, you know, emulation of other places without understanding in depth why things happened there in a certain way and what they might not. So I do think it is hopefully useful for policymakers in that way. But the other thing is, yeah, I just I would hope that people take away from it something about perhaps the value of being at those intersections between disciplines of, you know, forcing conversations that often happen quite separately together. And in a sense, yeah, challenging yourself and your own discipline to, to think a little bit beyond its normal scales and boundaries. I hope I’ve done a bit of that because I know it’s not you know, it doesn’t have a depth of contribution about one place that, you know, you read books, you think, Oh, it’s amazing. It’s like it captures one issue or one place in such depth. And it’s not that it’s something else, which I hope, you know, can inspire conversations in a different way.

Pritish Behuria And also, I mean, I guess so then I’ll leave you with what’s next. Yeah. What? After the city. What’s the next gears of space?

Tom Goodfellow What’s going to do the deep sea frontier? Oh, yeah. Really? Yeah. You know, I haven’t got anything. You know, I’m just. I’m. I’m waiting to hear on a few things. A lot of this, as you well know and, you know, depends on what gets funded. Yeah. So I could, again, going quite radically different directions depending on whether one thing is funded or not, you know, but also like it’s taking my I think what’s next for me is taking my ability to collaborate and co-author and co-produce, if you like, research and scholarship to another level working. You know, I’ve got all these projects where the publications and things coming out are going to be hugely collaborative and that’s going to be challenging, but I think it’s going to be fruitful. The fruit of a lot of partnership building I’ve been doing really in the last five years. And what I will learn from that, hopefully, while others will learn from that about Blow My Mind, completely changed my understanding of even the cities by just seeing it through all these different eyes.

Pritish Behuria Thanks, Tom. It’s been a huge pleasure. And congratulations again on the book. Thank you. It is amazing.

Tom Goodfellow Thank you very.

Pritish Behuria Much to everyone else to read it as well.

Tom Goodfellow Thank you. Yeah. Yeah. And it is expensive at the moment in hardback, but if you have access to a library, please ask your library to buy it. And it can obviously be available as an e-book as well.

Pritish Behuria Yeah. And we’ll have details on that on the website alongside the podcast. Excellent. Thank you. Thanks.

Tom Goodfellow The pleasure. Right.


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Note: This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of the Global Development Institute as a whole