Division for Research Development
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SA Research Chair in the Sociology of Land, Environment and Sustainable Development

The central concern of this Chair, currently held by Prof Steven Robins and situated in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, is to deepen our understanding of the complex web of social and environmental dynamics within which commitments to sustainable development must be grounded, through an investigation of these issues in and through the Karoo region of South Africa. The Karoo is a compelling research site in itself, given its specific history as a site of human settlement over millennia, as well as its arid yet biodiversity-rich environment, especially in the Succulent Karoo biome. It is of particular interest in the current conjuncture because of several cross-cutting, globally networked developments that are promising major social and economic benefits both locally and nationally, and in the process recalibrating relationships to land, environment, and place at different scales (local, regional, national, and global). Once a significant frontier zone in the colonisation of southern Africa, today the Karoo can be seen as a new 'resource frontier'.


Prominent among the new developments are the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope installation north of Carnarvon, shifts towards commercial game farming, investment in renewable energy, and renewed interest in both shale-gas and uranium mining in the central and eastern Karoo, despite the environmental threats they pose. These developments speak to very different constituencies within and beyond the Karoo as well as to different understandings of the public good. They are being laid down on top of ongoing concerns around deeply embedded social inequalities, land reform and agrarian change, small-town development, bio-diversity conservation and the recognition and protection of variously understood forms of cultural heritage.

Against this background the broad research objectives of the Research Chair are:

  1. To explore the social-ecological dynamics within which commitments to sustainability, inclusive development and social justice must operate
  2. To examine the development impacts of the new investments in the Karoo region, with particular attention to local impacts and concerns
  3. To probe shifting meanings around land, place, nature, development, and identity, among different constituencies, in selected sites
  4. Through its research programme to contribute to national and international debates in social theory around the meaning(s) of sustainable development and the relationship between the local and the global in social and environmental change
  5. Through its research programme, to contribute to appropriate national and provincial policy development and to assist community development initiatives in selected sites.

The focus of the Chair is on local understandings of development priorities and needs in a region that has long been marginalised politically and economically. Local research sites are, however, understood as socially heterogenous and located within social-ecological networks that are both historically shaped and operate across different spatial and temporal scales. The commitment is to research that is empirically grounded, theoretically informed and alert to the importance of  both inter-disciplinary perspectives and comparative work. More information on the Chair's research projects, publications and regular activities is available on its website: cosmopolitankaroo.co.za

user.pngProf Steven Robins