Everyday meanings of "the urban" in South Africa: Observations and implications for research

Joseph Pierce, Mary Lawhon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The everyday meanings of key words about urban topics in South Africa differ markedly from their received definitions in much of the international geographic literature. Terms such as urban, city, rural, modern, and developed are used in everyday settings to represent concepts that are sometimes subtly and in other cases markedly in contrast with Global North norms, and embody problematic racialized values and histories. This article briefly describes the authors' experiences of the everyday meanings of these key terms through engagement with students and research participants in South Africa. We suggest that better understandings of implicit urban concepts used in South Africa and elsewhere, particularly in the Global South, will contribute to more rigourous research practice. Awareness of this linguistic disjuncture is particularly important for understanding urban participants' reactions to and narratives about rapidly evolving patterns of development in postcolonial contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)284-289
Number of pages6
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


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