Comparing the relational work of developers (Environment and Planning A special issue)

The major output of the Building Gauteng project is a themed issue of the journal Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, published in March 2020 and guest edited by Richard Ballard and Sian Butcher. This collection of papers arose following a two day workshop from 25 to 27 July 2016, on the theme ‘Understanding the role of urban developers’. Four of the papers contained in the collection are of developers in Johannesburg and three were on cases in Toronto, Manila and London.

Excerpt from the editorial

The work of developers consists not only of the material production of space the material production of space, but also to social forms of production – relational work as we call it. The interests of developers in going ahead with a project at all exist alongside the interests of state actors, finance and civil society. As a comparison of the seven studies in this theme issue shows, state actors do not only set the broad market conditions to which developers respond, they are also direct instigators of projects, or indeed they can resist those embarking on projects. It would be incorrect to assume, on the basis of this evidence, a diminishing role of the state, although the interests of state actors have contradictory effects on the accumulation interests of developers. Moreover, the cases show the ways in which the private sector is sometimes motivated by more-than-accumulation imperatives.

To the extent that there is adequate agreement on the merits of a project to proceed in preparing and producing it, this work is undertaken not by a discrete actor but rather a variety of actors within the lead firm and beyond it. This point has been well developed in both economic geography and literature on developers. In our comparison of cases in this collection we note the differentiation between developers who vertically integrate functions within their firm and those who build relationships beyond their firms, either with more or less equal status consortium partners or outsourced specialisations and functions. There is no inevitability towards the ever greater division of labour; specialisation in some cases can exist alongside functional integration in others. The assemblage that constitutes and forms around the developer can reflect powerful actors’ calculus on the advantages they might gain. An exploded view of the developer can help to disaggregate the many actors involved, their different roles, the ways in which they are connected and how those actors, roles and connections shift over time. In turn, this can advance our understanding of how the production of space unfolds and the ways in which power relations in urban development politics are negotiated.


Ballard, Richard and Sian Butcher (2020) 'Comparing the relational work of developers' Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space. 52(2): 266-276

Mosselson, Aidan (2020) Habitus, spatial capital and making place: Housing developers and the spatial praxis of Johannesburg’s inner-city regeneration. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space. 52(2):277-296

Alison Todes and Jennifer Robinson (2020) Re-directing developers: New models of rental housing development to re-shape the post-apartheid city? Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space. 52(2): 297-317

Leffers, Donald and Gerda R Wekerle (2020) Land developers as institutional and postpolitical actors: Sites of power in land use policy and planning Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space. 52(2): 318-336

Butcher, Sian (2020) 'Appropriating rent from greenfield affordable housing: developer practices in Johannesburg. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space. 52(2): 337-361

Brill, Frances (2020) 'Complexity and coordination in London’s Silvertown Quays: How real estate developers (re)centred themselves in the planning process.' Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space. 52(2): 362-382

Ballard, Richard and Philip Harrison (2020) 'Transnational Urbanism Interrupted: A Chinese developer’s attempts to secure approval to build the ‘New York of Africa’ at Modderfontein, Johannesburg.' Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space. 52(2): 383-402

Mouton, Morgan and Gavin Shatkin (2020) Strategizing the for-profit city: The state, developers, and urban production in Mega Manila Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space. 52(2): 403-422


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