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Joshua Kirshner
Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Human Geography

Profile

Biography

Joshua Kirshner joined the Department of Environment and Geography in 2015 as Lecturer in Human Geography and is now a Senior Lecturer, having previously held appointments at Durham University and Rhodes University in South Africa. My research and teaching interests lie in urban development and planning, energy, climate disruption and sustainable societies. I also work on planning and infrastructural histories, extractive economies, migration and displacement, and the social and spatial components of urban regions. I’ve carried out extensive fieldwork in Africa and Latin America, particularly in Mozambique, South Africa, Brazil and Bolivia. Currently, I co-lead (with Matthew Cotton, Teesside) a two-year project on electricity grid access histories and futures in Mozambique, examining governance of energy provision in urban and peri-urban regions, supported by UK DFID. I am also co-investigator in ‘Community Energy and the Sustainable Energy Transition in Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozambique (CESET),’ a UKRI-GCRF-funded project, led by Vanesa Castán Broto (Sheffield). A new project explores connections between energy transition and response, recovery and future risks of cyclones in coastal southern and eastern Africa.

My work has appeared in journals including Nature Energy, Geoforum, Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, Antipode, Cities, Applied Energy, Latin American Perspectives, Bolivian Studies Journal, as well as book chapters, working papers and policy reports. It has been funded by research councils (ESRC, NERC), the British Academy, DFID, and Fulbright-Hays. I have a PhD from Cornell University, USA, in City and Regional Planning, an MA from University of California, Los Angeles in Urban Planning, and a BA from Harvard University in Social Anthropology.

PhD opportunities I welcome prospective PhD students with complementary research interests.

Career

Lecturer Department of Environment and Geography
University of York
Research Associate

Durham University
UK

Lecturer Rhodes University
South Africa
Postdoctoral Fellow University of Johannesburg
South Africa
PhD
City and Regional Planning
Cornell University
USA
MA
Urban Planning
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA),
USA
BA
Social Anthropology
Harvard University
USA

Teaching

Undergraduate

At its heart, my approach to teaching involves encouraging students to build up their own critical views and understandings, and to ‘problematize’ the information they receive rather than amassing a collection of facts. I draw on ideas in research-based teaching, problem-based learning and non-directive pedagogies for inspiration. The fields of geography and urban studies and planning are highly engaged disciplines, offering students and scholars alike the opportunity to develop grounded and critical views of the world from early stages of study, rather than to merely acquire technical skills. Teaching in this area enables a focus not only on entrenched problems and deficiencies, but the prospect to consider and advocate for solutions for 21st Century challenges, including transforming towards more sustainable, equitable and regenerative futures.

The importance of varying cultural perspectives and viewpoints in shaping and creating knowledge is central to my teaching. Enhancing students’ own interpretation and questioning of readings, rather than their simple digestion, underpins my teaching philosophy. I strongly support the value of internationalization in teaching, and this ranges from welcoming students from abroad to drawing on alternative sources, including those from outside the English-speaking world.

I joined the University of York in 2015 for the launch of the Human Geography and Environment BA program in the department. Being involved in this endeavour has offered me the opportunity to bring together the different disciplinary approaches I have worked with (geography, planning, development studies, environmental humanities) into my teaching. During this period, I was nominated for YUSU Excellence Awards 2019 for ‘Teacher of the Year.’ The program is attracting an engaged and diverse group of students who have been a pleasure to work with. While in the department, I have developed and contributed to the following modules:

Undergraduate

1st year

Global Geographies (convener)
Qualitative Approaches to Social Science Research (contributor)
Introduction to Human Geography (contributor)
Frontiers in Sustainability Studies (contributor)

2nd year

Megacities & Urbanisation (convener)
Tenerife Field Course – Human Geography and Environment (convener)
Energy and the Environment (contributor)

Masters

Current Research in Human Geography & Environment (contributor)

Research

Overview

I am a development planner and geographer with a growing record of collaboration with interdisciplinary groups that span the social and environmental sciences, and the global North and South. Apart from the research focus outlined in my profile, I am also interested in intellectual histories of anti-colonial and radical geographical thought from the Global South, including, for example, the work of Milton Santos and Walter Rodney.

My research draws on traditions in political economy and ecology, urban planning, urban and political geography, and studies of sustainability transitions. Much of my current work involves applying political economy and ecology perspectives to enhance understanding and address entrenched challenges of energy access and poverty, energy sector reform, social exclusion and xenophobia, and socio-environmental injustices at different scales. I am pursuing several grant-funded empirical projects, which I outline below.

Projects

I currently co-lead (with Matthew Cotton, Teesside) a two-year project (2019-21), A Political-Economic Analysis of electricity grid access histories and futures in Mozambique, examining governance of energy provision in urban and peri-urban regions, supported by UK DFID through its Energy and Economic Growth programme. Working with the Energy Research Centre at Eduardo Mondlane University and other local partners, our research is demonstrating how energy access in Mozambique is shaped by the country’s colonial and post-colonial histories. Focusing on four major cities of Maputo, Matola, Beira and Nampula, the research has shown how past decisions, institutional frameworks and norms have generated a pattern of exclusion and inequality for some groups.

Building on this and other work on energy in Mozambique and the southern African region, I am a co-investigator in ‘Community Energy Systems for Just Energy Transitions (CESET),’ a three-year UKRI-GCRF-funded project (2020-23), led by Vanesa Castán Broto (Sheffield), which explores the potential of community energy to accelerate inclusive and clean energy transitions in Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozambique. The project focuses on diversity: diversity of models of community energy and diversity of communities that engage in renewable energy projects. The project seeks to put such diversity and adaptability at the centre of our analysis of community energy systems and the deployment of off-grid energy technologies (solar, wind, hydro, biogas) in different social and geographical contexts. I am involved in studying how community energy systems fit within wider political economies of energy in the region.

Additionally, I am a co-investigator in ‘Integrating Ecological and Cultural Histories to inform sustainable and equitable futures for the Colombian páramos,’ a project supported by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Ministry of Science and Technology of Colombia (led by Piran White, York, 2018-2021), in partnership with several Colombian organizations. Here, I am engaged in work on the evolution of water infrastructures, urban growth and connections with páramo landscapes. 

A new project explores connections between energy transition and risk and recovery from cyclones in coastal southern and eastern Africa. I was PI in ‘Learning from Cyclone Idai: Response, recovery and future risk,’ a pilot project with partners from York, Eduardo Mondlane University, the Mozambican electricity utility, and Beira and Quelimane municipalities. We examined energy and planning for post-disaster reconstruction, and are studying ongoing effects of displacement and infrastructural disruption in the city of Beira.

I have published research papers in major international peer-reviewed journals in my field of study, as well as book chapters, working papers, book reviews and policy reports. I led an article in a special issue on “New energy spaces: Towards a geographical political economy of energy transition” in Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, which uses landscape interpretation in cultural geography to examine extractive energy landscapes at the sub-national scale and their links with political economy and power relations. A co-authored article, “Energy justice and sustainability transitions in Mozambique” in Applied Energy re-examines energy justice through dialogue with postcolonial critiques of development. I also led an article in Geoforum on solar PV’s role in providing energy for development with varying configurations in southern Africa. It critiques some assumptions in innovation studies on the diffusion and uptake of technology over time and space, including the relations between ‘niche’ and ‘regime’ actors within energy and socio-technical transitions. This work is distinctive in linking concepts in critical geography and planning with wider audiences in energy and development studies.

Recently completed and earlier work

Previously, I was co-investigator on ‘Sustainable Energy Access in Mozambique: Socio-political factors in conflict-laden urban areas,’ a project developed in collaboration with Vanesa Castán Broto (PI) and Idalina Baptista (Co-I) and funded by the British Academy Sustainable Development Programme. I led the project's Work Package 2, “Political economy of the energy sector,” which focused on how conflict around access to resource wealth shaped investments in energy generation projects and resulting energy access challenges.

I was also co-investigator in STRIPES (‘Social transformative research informing processes of Environmental Science’), a British Academy project that explored the production of knowledge and innovation in bioenergy generation in north-eastern Brazil. The project brought together an interdisciplinary team at Universities of York and São Paulo, led by Eleanor Brown (York), to examine the development of advanced bio-refineries in Alagoas state, using novel enzymes and bagasse. The team analysed the many assumptions underpinning the roll-out of this technology to consider how it could be developed in ways that address broader social and environmental justice goals. 

I have been active in fostering a partnership between scholars at York’s IGDC and University of Ghana to study sustainable approaches to small-scale mining in Ghana, exploring its socio-environmental impacts in the past, present and future, while enhancing research capacity.

Underpinning this activity is my earlier work on migration, migrant labour, and social inclusion within development and urbanization processes. My doctoral research explored urban migration to the rapidly growing and energy-rich city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, in Bolivia’s sub-tropical eastern lowlands, and the ensuing politics of integration. This research developed into a Fulbright Hays Fellowship, which supported my fieldwork. Contributing to its rapid expansion, Santa Cruz has become the epicentre of natural gas extraction, along with claims for regional autonomy for greater control over gas revenues and local economies. I viewed migration in relation to shared identities, and how these developed in Santa Cruz’s changing economy and urban spaces. My research probed the relationships between the material landscape, socio-economic change and migrant integration. 

I have also researched migrants’ trajectories in South African townships in a mining area of Greater Johannesburg in a project supported by the Atlantic Philanthropies. The project examined civil society responses to outbreaks of xenophobic violence in major cities and townships. I have published articles on this work in Antipode, Cities, Bolivian Studies Journal South African Labour Bulletin, and Latin American Perspectives.

Impact and engagement

I have recently contributed to a process of neighbourhood planning of street lighting provision in peri-urban Maputo, together with local community leaders, Kaya Clínica (a social enterprise), and planning academics at Eduardo Mondlane University. We prepared an evidence note to share findings with local councillors and the power utility. Our research has been used by the utility, EDM, in its assessment of decentralized energy for its 2018-2028 strategy. Mozambique’s Energy Fund, responsible for off-grid energy, has also engaged with our work for its insights on supporting and financing off-grid systems in multiple contexts, including in peri-urban areas. 

I’ve also joined in staging an exhibit, ‘Living with the Network: Experiences of energy access in Maputo,’ for British Academy’s ‘Summer Showcase’ event in London, in 2019. We depicted everyday practices with energy, using an installation representing a domestic space with objects and sound. I have consulted on the filmmaker Sean Lovell’s film on charcoal and cooking, ‘Life of a Cookstove.’

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Contact details

Dr Joshua Kirshner
Senior Lecturer in Human Geography
Department of Environment and Geography
University of York
Heslington
York
YO10 5NG

Tel: 01904 324277