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Dr Debby Potts

Dr Deborah Potts

Debby PottsEmeritus Reader

Tel: +44 (0)20 7848 1572 

Department of Geography
King's College London 
Strand Campus 



Deborah Potts has a Geography degree (B.Sc First Class) and PhD from University College London. She taught and researched in the Geography Department at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London from 1979-2001. She joined King’s College London in 2001 when SOAS’s Geography department merged with that at KCL. She is a senior lecturer in Geography at King’s. She has twice been an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Zimbabwe. She is on the editorial board of the Journal of Southern African Studies, Africa (Journal of the International African Institute) and the Canadian Journal of African Studies. She has published extensively on sub-Saharan and Southern Africa. 

Research interests
  • rural urban migration
  • urbanisation
  • structural adjustment and the urban poor
  • land tenure and reform – Southern Africa

Deborah Potts works in the broad research field of urbanization and migration in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly southern Africa. She also works on land and environmental issues in the region in the context of political ecology. Her research on rural-urban migration in sub-Saharan Africa examines migration rates and motivations, rural-urban linkages, urban-rural movements, migrants' land rights and analytical approaches to migrancy and migrants within the Africanist literature. In terms of urbanization she is interested in the nature of urban growth, and has done extensive research on demographic trends in urbanization across sub-Saharan Africa, arguing for a recognition of how the rates at which  societies are becoming more urban has waxed and waned in different countries in line with macro-economic changes, in opposition to the more usual assumptions about undifferentiated experiences of rapid urbanization.

An important research interest focuses on how the increasingly liberalised world economy has affected the livelihoods of the urban poor in sub-Saharan African countries whose real incomes fell in the 1980s and 1990s as urban economies informalized. This work includes longitudinal research on rural-urban migrants in Harare, Zimbabwe.  She also has a longstanding interest in the nature and provision of low-income housing in African cities. A further research interest relates to changes in human fertility in Africa.

She is also interested in land and environmental issues in the region in the context of political ecology which informs her work on the strong rural-urban linkages found in many African countries, and the nature of rural-urban and urban-rural migration. 

Her most recent book, on cities, urban livelihoods, migrants and rural-urban linkages in Africa, is entitled Circular Migration in Zimbabwe and Contemporary sub-Saharan Africa. Other books include a co-edited a volume on African Urban Economies with Deborah Bryceson and another on Eastern and Southern Africa: Development Challenges in a Volatile Region with Tanya Bowyer-Bower. Other recent publications cover migration and urban themes for Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi.

Research on these topics has been funded by Nuffield, DfID, Wellcome Trust and CICERO.




DFID grant for supervisory input on production of annotated bibliography on ‘Urban and rural change in sub-Saharan Africa’ (£1,200) 

CICERO GRANT [Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research, Oslo]: for collaborative research on ‘Climate adaptation as a livelihood struggle: Conflict and vulnerability among dryland populations in Kenya’ £8,000 Grant held collaboratively with Jeremy Lind. 

Click here to download the CICERO workshop report that took place on Sept 10th 2004. 

Click here for the report on proceedings of workshops in Nairobi in 2005. 

DFID scoping grant (in collaboration with Tanya Bowyer-Bower at KCL and Dr Gina Porter at Durham University). ‘Improving market institutions and urban food supplies for the urban poor: a comparative study of Nigeria and Zambia: scoping phase.’ 

Co-convenor (with Dr Deborah Bryceson) ‘International Workshop on African Urban Economies: Viability, Vitality or Vitiation of Major Cities in East and Southern Africa’ held at the Afrika-studiecentrum, Leiden University, The Netherlands, 9-11 November, 2001 (funded by Dutch government) 


‘Zimbabwe: migration surveys, impact of recent economic decline on perceptions of urban versus rural livelihoods’ Nuffield Foundation £4,977.

PhD topics
  • Land reform issues in southern Africa
  • Political ecology and natural resource management in southern and eastern Africa
  • Urban livelihoods issues in sub-Saharan Africa
  • Rural-urban linkages in sub-Sahara Africa
  • Urban livelihoods
  • Migration
PhD students

Current PhD students

Yang Song, (first supervisor): The impact of China's hukou reform on 2nd generation migrants' identity (2014-present)

Soledad Alvarez Velasco (2nd supervisor): Trespassing the visible: transit and deportation in the migratory spaces between Ecuador, Mexico and the U.S  2014- present

Fiorenza Picozza (2nd supervisor)  "Dubliners" on the Move: The Fragmented Mobility of Refugees within Europe's Geographies of Asylum 2014-present

Roberta Sakai (2nd supervisor)  South-South knowledge transfer in urban governance, housing and informal settlements : Brazil and Mozambique 2014-present

Giovanna Grandoni (joint supervision): Land access and food security. The role of female rural workers in Brazilian development. The case of Maranhão (2011 - )

Lottie Heales (joint supervision): Microfinance and Enabling Environments: A perspective from Malawi. 2011- ESRC-funded

Maryam Ibrahim: Analysing Development Policy Interventions for Informal Settlements through a Gendered Lens in Lahore, Pakistan (2012 - )

Jonathan Phillips (2nd supervisor): The Social Metabolism of Energy in Ghana (2012 - )


Completed PhDs


Dr Sabina Lawreniuk (2nd supervisor):Migration as Distinction? Class, consumption and rural-urban migration in contemporary Cambodia. (2011 -2016 )

Dr Diana Magalhaes (joint supervision):Women’s Activism, Gender, and Political Transformation in Mozambique: The Case of the Law against Domestic Violence  (2010 -2015 )

Dr Laurie Parsons (2nd supervisor): An Embedded Network Perspective on Risk, Opportunity, and Constraint in Contemporary Cambodia (2011 -2014 )

Ayanleh Aden: The political ecology of food security and actor-networks: a social-environmental explanation of vulnerability to drought in the Republic of Djibouti. 2014

Michelle Afrifah: Exploring the Socio-economic impact of African American tourists on Southern Ghana  2014

Jack Durrell: Retained Connections: The Transnational Potential of 1.5 and Second Generation Latino-Americans. (part-time) 2014

Raphael Aidoo: The impact of individual philanthropy on rural development in Ghana.  2013

Imogen Bellwood-Howard: Soil fertility and composting in Ghanaina villages 2013

Edward Bourque (2nd supervisor): Geographies of Water in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: Roles of Independent Water Providers 2010

Sarah-Louise Quinnell: Building Capacity in Biosafety in Africa: Networks of Science, Aid and Development in the Implementation of Multi-lateral Environmental Agreements. 2010. Recently Sarah has been working for Google developing e-learning

Wendy Willems (co-supervisor with Johan Pottier/Mark Hobart of SOAS) 2009 ‘Imagining the power of the media: global news, nationalism and popular culture in the context of the ‘Zimbabwe crisis’ (2000-2007)’  

Llewellyn Leonard (2nd supervisor): Environmental Justice and Civil Society Reflexiveness in a Technological Risk Society: The Case of Durban, South Africa 2008

Christopher Gibbons (2nd supervisor) Managing human-elephant conflict in the Chobe National Park, northern Botswana 2006

Jeremy Lind: Fortune and loss in a violent environment: living with insecurity in south Turkana 2006

Martin Evans: The Casamance, Senegal: ‘war economy’ or business as usual? 2003.

Mary Elizabeth Terry: The economic and social significance of the handicraft industry in Botswana, 1999.

Helen Clover: Migration and return: contrasting strategies in two northern Thai villages, 1999.

Bongi Muthwa: Economic survival strategies of female-headed households: the case of Soweto, South Africa, 1995

Impact, innovation and outreach

Launch of Africa Research Institute Counterpoint on 16 March 2012 on 

Whatever happened to Africa's rapid urbanisation? Download publication.  Audiocast available.

Podcast available

Read the responses:

Africa Arguments

Future Agricultures

Global Urbanist

University Chicago Urban Portal

Advisory Roles

Regular briefings for diplomatic staff in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office 

BBC World service programme advisor August 2003 

Supervisory input on production of annotated bibliography on Urban and rural change in sub-Saharan Africa for Department for International Development., 2004. 

CICERO [Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research, Oslo] collaborative research on 'Climate adaptation as a livelihood struggle: Conflict and vulnerability among dryland populations in Kenya' 

Workshop on 'Climate Change and rural livelihoods in Kenya', Nairobi, January 27 and 28.

Workshop on 'Adaptations in people's rural livelihoods as a result of climatic factors and stresses in African drylands' held on September 10, 2004 at King's College Geography Department.


For a full list of publications, please visit Dr Potts' research profile.


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