Joshua Daniel Kirshner


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Personal profile


I have research interests in urban geography, political economy of development, and social theory in geography and planning. Much of my research explores relationships between resource governance, urban and environmental change, and the economic and political geographies of low-carbon transition. I have researched these questions in various sectors, working at international levels and with colleagues in several countries across the world. Before coming to York, I held posts at Durham University (UK), and Rhodes University and University of Johannesburg, in South Africa.

I am co-investigator on the CESET project (Community Energy and the Sustainable Energy Transition in Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozambique), and I co-directed a UK DFID funded project on improving electricity grid access and reliability in urban Mozambique. These projects aim to have academic and practical relevance through their focus on multi-scale development processes, environmental regulation, and on governance and politics.

My recent work has focused on energy geographies and low-carbon transitions in the global South, including fossil fuel extractivism, resource frontiers and ensuing urbanization, and the decline of high-carbon energy systems. This work has also included consideration of the challenges and opportunities of post-carbon transition, including locally-managed renewable energy systems, social processes surrounding energy access, energy and climate justice, and power relations within ‘resilient’ development.

Other research interests include landscape, memory, water and transport infrastructure, urban history, migration, and disaster risk reduction, particularly in southern Africa and Latin America. My research and teaching combine critical theory (uneven development, critical geopolitics, discourse analysis) with participatory methods for social learning and change. I have received project funding from a range of funders, including research councils (ESRC, NERC, AHRC), government agencies (UK Aid, Fulbright Commission), and foundations (British Academy, Atlantic Philanthropies, and Tinker Foundation).

My work has been published in international journals across the planning, geography, energy and environmental policy fields. I am a member of the editorial board for Energy Research & Social Science. I have a PhD from Cornell University in City and Regional Planning, an MA from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in Urban Planning, and a BA (magna cum laude) from Harvard University in Social Anthropology.



Recently funded research has included:

I am a Co-investigator in ‘Community Energy Systems and the Sustainable Energy Transition in Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozambique (CESET),’ a UKRI-GCRF project (2021-2024), led by Vanesa Castán Broto (Sheffield), which explores the potential of community energy to support inclusive and clean energy transitions in multiple contexts. The project focuses on diversity of community energy models and unpacks the notion of community through the lens of intersectionality.

I was PI for the project ‘A Political-Economic Analysis of Electricity Grid Access Histories and Futures in Mozambique’ (2019-2021), co-led with Teesside University and supported by DfID/FCDO. Working with local partners, the research demonstrated how energy access in Mozambique is shaped by the country’s colonial and post-colonial histories. 

I was a Co-I in ‘Integrating Ecological and Cultural Histories to Inform Sustainable and Equitable Futures for the Colombian Páramos,’ a NERC and Colombia Bio programme project (2018-2021), with collaborators at Universidad de Los Andes, Humboldt Institute and the Nature Conservancy in Colombia, and Cambridge University (UK).

Previously, I was Co-I in ‘Sustainable Energy Access in Mozambique: Socio-political factors in conflict-laden urban areas,’ developed in collaboration with Vanesa Castán Broto (PI, Sheffield) and Idalina Baptista (Co-I, Oxford) and funded by the British Academy/GCRF Sustainable Development Programme (2016-2018). I led the project’s Work Package 2, “Political Economy of the Energy Sector,” which examined how conflict around resource wealth between the ruling and opposition parties has created instability in Mozambique’s insertion in global trade circuits.

I was Co-I in STRIPES (‘Social Transformative Research Informing Processes of Environmental Science’), a British Academy-funded Knowledge Frontiers project that examined knowledge production, innovation and socio-environmental implications of advanced bioethanol generation in Alagoas, northeast Brazil, using enzymes. The project included an interdisciplinary team, spanning the social and natural sciences, with collaborators at University of São Paulo.

I have also contributed to developing a partnership between academics at York and University of Ghana to study the management of sustainable mining, exploring its socio-environmental impacts in the past, present and future while enhancing research capacity.


Impact and Engagement

I have contributed to the CESET project’s Regional Energy Learning Alliance, which fosters knowledge exchange and capacity building to support community energy in the region. This has included hosting an international conference on territorial strategies for delivering off-grid energy, preparing briefing papers, and hosting a webinar series. We are involved in setting up a Community Energy Lab in Maputo with community members, researchers, local authorities, and the social enterprise SCENE to co-design/produce a micro-grid for sustainable energy supply that meets the needs of those using it. It will serve as a demonstration site to explore and test what works for off-grid energy services in peri-urban communities. This includes needs assessment and evaluation.

Previously, I convened a two-day workshop, ‘Learning from Cyclone Idai: Response, Recovery and Future Risk’ held in York to explore post-disaster recovery in coastal southern and East Africa, with participants from the national electricity provider and municipal governments in Mozambique, along with researchers from University of York.

I have been involved in planning a street lighting project in peri-urban Maputo, together with local community leaders, a social enterprise (Kaya Clínica), and urban planners at University of Eduardo Mondlane. We prepared an evidence note to share findings with municipal councillors, planners and the power utility. The public utility has referred to our research on decentralized energy for its 2018-2028 strategy. Mozambique’s National Energy Fund has also engaged with our work for its insights on supporting and financing off-grid systems, including in peri-urban areas.

I contributed to staging a public exhibit, ‘Living with the Network: Experiences of energy access in Maputo,’ for British Academy’s Summer Showcase in London in 2019. We depicted everyday domestic practices with energy, using an installation with objects and soundscape.

I consulted on the filmmaker Sean Lovell’s short animation on charcoal and cooking, Life of a Cookstove,’ and another short film on off-grid energy in Malawi, Community Energy in Malawi: On the Ground Experiences.’



Education/Academic qualification

PhD, Cornell University

1 Sept 20041 Jul 2009

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

Recent external collaboration on country/territory level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots or