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Siân Butcher

Profile picture for Siân Butcher

Contact Information

2030 Natural History Building
1301 W. Green St.
Urbana, IL 61801
Assistant Professor

Research Interests

state-capital-society relations around land, housing & real estate
post-apartheid & settler colonial urbanism
Southern Africa
provincializing global urbanism
urban geographical political economy
critical development studies

Research Description

My research explores the mundane forms of urbanization through private development that shape our built environments and their politics, particularly in the spaces between elite gated communities and informal settlements in cities of the Global South. My recent and current research focuses on developer-driven housing for a growing Black middle class on the edges of Johannesburg, South Africa. I am interested in what these suburban, middle-class-in-the-making spaces can teach us about post-apartheid socio-spatial change; about race, space and inequality, and about urban political economy and urban politics.

Globally, housing for a growing middle class in emerging markets has become a new asset class for investors. Yet despite its apparent financialization, producing these assets requires confronting locally-embedded developers, financial institutions, state agencies, planners, residents and land itself, in all their political and material complexity. My research unpacks the making of greater Johannesburg's greenfield 'affordable' suburbs through qualitative research methods and a heterodox set of theoretical tools, including geographical political economy of housing and land, critical development studies and theorizing on practices of the state, planning, land and race in cities of the Global South. Rather than a natural function of supply and demand, or a repetition of subprime housing experiences elsewhere, this approach helps to understand how urban development is made and legitimated in place, through particular grammars of inclusion and exclusion.


Ph.D., University of Minnesota
M.A., University of Cape Town
B.Soc.Sci., University of Cape Town

Additional Campus Affiliations

Affiliate, Center for African Studies

Affiliate, Global Studies

Recent Publications

Butcher, S. (2023). Making Land ‘Developable’ for Market-Driven Affordable Housing in Gauteng, South Africa. In GeoJournal Library (pp. 65-84). (GeoJournal Library; Vol. Part F1806). Springer.

Butcher, S. (2022). The Economy: Metaphors and Models of Social Change: Metaphors and models of social change. In R. Ballard, & C. Barnett (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Social Change (pp. 219-231). Routledge.

Ballard, R., Parker, A., Butcher, S. C., de Kadt, J., Hamann, C., Joseph, K., Mapukata, S., Mkhize, T., Mosiane, N., & Spiropoulos, L. (2021). Scale of Belonging: Gauteng 30 Years After the Repeal of the Group Areas Act. Urban Forum, 32(2), 131-139.

Butcher, S. C. (2021). New Ward for a New Johannesburg? Reformatting Belonging and Boundaries in the City’s South. Urban Forum, 32(2), 183-204.

Ballard, R., & Butcher, S. (2020). Comparing the relational work of developers. Environment and Planning A, 52(2), 266-276.

View all publications on Illinois Experts