Joshua Daniel Kirshner

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Type of addressPostal address
Postal codeYO10 5DD
CountryUnited Kingdom
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  • Environment and Geography
    University of York
    Heslington
    York
    YO10 5DD

Phone: (01904) 324277

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Dr. Joshua Daniel Kirshner

Senior Lecturer

Biography

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 interests lie in urban development and planning, energy, climate disruption and sustainable societies. I also work on planning and infrastructural histories, extractive economies, migration and displacement, and the social and spatial components of urban regions. I’ve carried out extensive fieldwork in Africa and Latin America, particularly in Mozambique, South Africa, Brazil and Bolivia. Currently, I co-lead (with Matthew Cotton, Teesside) a two-year project on electricity grid access histories and futures in Mozambique, examining governance of energy provision in urban and peri-urban regions, supported by UK DFID. I am also co-investigator 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 newly developing project explores connections between energy transition and response, recovery and future risks of cyclones in coastal southern and eastern Africa.

My work has appeared in peer-reviewed journals including Nature Energy, Geoforum, Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, Antipode, Cities, Applied Energy, Latin American Perspectives, Bolivian Studies Journal, and edited volumes. It has been funded by research councils (ESRC and NERC), British Academy, DFID and Fulbright-Hays. I have a PhD from Cornell University, USA, in City and Regional Planning, an MA from University of California, Los Angeles in Urban Planning, and a BA from Harvard University in Social Anthropology.

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

Research

I am a development planner and geographer with a growing record of collaboration with interdisciplinary groups that span the social and environmental sciences, and the global North and South. Apart from my research intersts listed above, I am also interested in the intellectual history of anti-colonial and radical geographical thought from the Global South, including, for example, the work of Milton Santos and Walter Rodney.

My research draws conceptually on political economy and ecology, urban planning, urban and political geography, and studies of sustainability transitions. Much of my current work involves applying political economy and ecology perspectives to understand and address entrenched problems of energy access and poverty, energy sector reform, social exclusion and socio-environmental injustices at different scales. I am pursuing several grant-funded empirical projects, which I outline below.


Current projects

I currently co-lead (with Matthew Cotton, Teesside) a two-year project (2019-21) on electricity grid access histories and futures in Mozambique, examining governance of energy provision in urban and peri-urban regions, supported by UK DFID through its Energy and Economic Growth programme. Working with the Energy Research Centre at Eduardo Mondlane University and other local partners, our research is demonstrating how energy access in Mozambique is shaped by the country’s colonial and post-colonial histories. Focusing on four major cities of Maputo, Matola, Beira and Nampula, the research has shown how past decisions, institutional frameworks and norms have generated a pattern of exclusion and inequality for some groups.

Building on this and other work on energy in Mozambique and the southern African region, I am a co-investigator in ‘Community Energy Systems for Just Energy Transitions (CESET),’ a three-year UKRI-GCRF-funded project (2020-23), led by Vanesa Castán Broto (Sheffield), which explores the potential of community energy to accelerate inclusive and clean energy transitions in Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozambique. The project focuses on diversity: diversity of models of community energy and diversity of communities that engage in renewable energy projects. The project seeks to put such diversity and adaptability at the centre of our analysis of community energy systems and the deployment of off-grid energy technologies (solar, wind, hydro, biogas) in a variety of social and geographical contexts.

Additionally, I am a co-investigator in ‘Integrating Ecological and Cultural Histories to inform sustainable and equitable futures for the Colombian páramos,’ a project supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Ministry of Science and Technology of Colombia (led by Piran White, York, 2018-2021), in partnership with several Colombian organizations. Here, I am engaged in work on the evolution of water infrastructures, urban growth and connections with páramo landscapes.

A new project explores connections between energy transition and risk and recovery from cyclones in coastal southern and eastern Africa. I was PI for 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. We examined energy and planning around post-disaster reconstruction through participatory discussions and are studying ongoing effects in the city of Beira.

Previously, I was co-investigator on ‘Sustainable Energy Access in Mozambique: Socio-political factors in conflict-laden urban areas,’ a project 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 Working Package 2, “Political Economy of the Energy Sector” which focused on how conflict around access to resource wealth between the ruling and opposition parties has created instability in Mozambique’s insertion in global trade circuits. We examined these dynamics and their implications for energy-generation projects and energy access challenges.

I was also co-investigator in STRIPES (‘Social transformative research informing processes of Environmental Science’), a British Academy project that explored the production of knowledge and innovation in bioenergy generation in north-eastern Brazil. The project brought together an interdisciplinary team at Universities of York and São Paulo, led by Eleanor Brown (York) to examine the development of advanced bio-refineries in Alagoas state, using novel enzymes and bagasse. The team analysed the many assumptions underpinning the roll-out of this technology to consider how it could be developed in ways that address broader social and environmental justice goals. I have also been active in fostering a partnership between scholars at York and University of Ghana to study sustainable mining in Ghana, exploring its socio-environmental impacts in the past, present and future, while enhancing research capacity.

My work has appeared in major international peer-reviewed journals in my field of study. I led an article in a special issue on “New energy spaces: Towards a geographical political economy of energy transition” in Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, which uses landscape interpretation in cultural geography to examine extractive energy landscapes at the sub-national scale and their links with political economy and power relations. A co-authored paper, “Energy justice and sustainability transitions in Mozambique” in Applied Energy re-examines energy justice through dialogue with postcolonial critiques of development. I also led an article in Geoforum on solar PV’s role in providing energy for development with varying configurations in southern Africa. It critiques some assumptions in innovation studies on the diffusion and uptake of technology over time and space, including the relations between ‘niche’ and ‘regime’ actors within energy and socio-technical transitions. This work is distinctive in linking concepts in critical geography and planning with wider audiences in energy and development studies.

 

Earlier work

Underpinning this activity is my earlier work on migration, migrant labour, and social inclusion. My doctoral research explored urban migration to 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 spatial and ethnic identities, and how these developed in Santa Cruz’s changing economy and urbanization. This research probed the relationships between the material landscape, socio-economic change and migrant integration.

I have also researched migrants’ trajectories in South African townships in a former mining area of Greater Johannesburg in a project supported by the Atlantic Philanthropies that examined civil society responses to outbreaks of xenophobic violence in major cities and townships. I have published articles on this work in Antipode, Cities, Bolivian Studies Journal South African Labour Bulletin and Latin American Perspectives.

 

Impact and engagement

I have recently taken part in neighbourhood planning of street lighting provision in peri-urban Maputo, together with local community leaders, Kaya Clínica (a social enterprise), and planning academics 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 Energy Fund, charged with off-grid energy, has also engaged with our work for its insights on supporting and financing off-grid systems in multiple contexts, including in peri-urban areas.

I’ve also joined in staging an exhibit, ‘Living with the Network: Experiences of energy access in Maputo,’ for British Academy’s ‘Summer Showcase’ event in London, in 2019. We depicted everyday practices with energy, using an installation representing a domestic space with objects and sound. I have consulted on the filmmaker Sean Lovell’s film on charcoal and cooking, ‘Life of a Cookstove.’