Joshua Daniel Kirshner

Joshua Daniel Kirshner


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Personal profile


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 focuses on sustainable urban development, exploring the connections between urban and regional planning and the economic and political geographies of low-carbon transitions. I combine critical social science insights with grounded, participatory methods for collective learning and social change.

Over the years, I have conducted extensive fieldwork and collaborative research in Mozambique, South Africa, Malawi, Ghana, Brazil, Bolivia, Mexico and the US. I co-directed a two-year project on improving electricity grid access and reliability in Mozambique, supported by UK Aid. I am Co-I 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 examines connections between energy transitions and disaster recovery in coastal East Africa.

My work has appeared in major international journals including Nature Energy, Geoforum, Climate Policy, Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, Antipode, Cities, Sustainability, Applied Energy, Energy Research & Social Science, Latin American Perspectives, along with policy briefings, reviews and edited collections. It has been funded by research councils (ESRC, NERC), government agencies (UK Aid/DFID, US Fulbright-Hays) and foundations (the British Academy, Atlantic Philanthropies). I have been based in the UK since 2013, having done all of my training in the US. 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.

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


I am a geographer and development planner with a growing track record of collaboration spanning the social and environmental sciences, and the global North and South. I take a multi-perspective approach, drawing insights from fields including urban studies, geography, political ecology, landscape interpretation, and science and technology studies. I am pursuing several grant-funded projects:

Current projects

I co-led (with Matthew Cotton, Teesside) a two-year project (2019-21) on improving electricity grid access and reliability in Mozambique, supported by UK Aid. Working with Eduardo Mondlane University and other local partners, the research has shown how past decisions, institutional frameworks and norms have generated a pattern of exclusion and inequality for some groups.

I am also a Co-investigator in ‘Community Energy Systems for Just Energy Transitions (CESET),’ a UKRI-GCRF-funded project (2021-24), led by Castán Broto (Sheffield), which explores the potential of community energy to support inclusive and clean energy transitions in Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozambique. The project focuses on diversity of models of community energy and diversity of communities that engage in RE projects. 

I was a Co-I in ‘Integrating Ecological and Cultural Histories to inform sustainable and equitable futures for the Colombian páramos,’ a project supported by UK NERC and the Colombia Bio programme (led by Piran White, York, 2018-2021), in partnership with several Colombian organizations. 

A new project explores connections between energy transition and risk and recovery from cyclones in southern Africa. I led a pilot project ‘Learning from Cyclone Idai: Response, recovery and future risk,’ with partners from York, Eduardo Mondlane University, the Mozambican electricity utility, and Beira and Quelimane municipalities. 

Previously, I was Co-I on ‘Sustainable Energy Access in Mozambique: Socio-political factors in conflict-laden urban areas,’ 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 examined how conflict around access to 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-Knowledge Frontiers project that explored the production of knowledge and innovation in bioethanol generation in north-eastern Brazil. The project brought together an interdisciplinary team at Universities of York and São Paulo, led by Eleanor Brown (York, Education) to examine the development of advanced bio-refineries in Alagoas state, using novel enzymes and bagasse. I have also contributed to fostering a partnership between academics at York and University of Ghana to study sustainable mining in Ghana, exploring its socio-environmental impacts while enhancing research capacity.


Earlier work

Underpinning this activity is my earlier work on migration, social inclusion and urban change. My doctoral research explored urban migration in the rapidly growing and energy-rich city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, in Bolivia’s 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, dynamics that shaped my study. I viewed migration in relation to shared regional and ethnic identities, and how these developed in Santa Cruz’s changing economy and urbanization. 

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, which examined civil society responses to xenophobic violence. 


Impact and engagement

I contributed to the planning of street lighting in peri-urban Maputo, together with local community leaders, Kaya Clínica (a social enterprise), and urban planners 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 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 was involved in 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 practices with energy, using an installation with domestic objects and sound.

I have consulted on the filmmaker Sean Lovell’s short animation on charcoal and cooking, ‘Life of a Cookstove.’



Education/Academic qualification

PhD, Cornell University

1 Sep 20041 Jul 2009


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