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Deborah Potts


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Personal profile

Research interests

Dr Potts works in the broad research field of urbanisation 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 urban migrancy and migrants within the Africanist literature. In terms of urbanization she is interested in the nature of urban growth, evaluating the ways in which changing economic patterns in most African countries have had profound effects on contemporary urbanization and rates of net in-migration.

An important research interest focuses on how structural adjustment policies in most sub-Saharan African countries have affected the livelihoods of the urban poor, as their real incomes have fallen and informalization of the economy has progressed. These two strands of her research have been followed through since 1985 with an ongoing longitudinal research project 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. She has published two co-edited volumes on development challenges in East and southern Africa, and on African urban economies and in 2010  published a new book on circular migration in sub-Saharan Africa which brings together her work both on general trends there in urbanization and internal migration and her longitudinal work on these issues in Zimbabwe. The linkage between land and migration has drawn her research also towards issues of land tenure and land reform in southern Africa, and the tensions between the approaches and policies towards environmental and agricultural issues designed by policy makers and economists, and the experience and perceptions of poor, rural people. Dr Potts also has a research interest in human fertility in Africa.

Research interests (short)

Sub-Saharan Africa; urbanisation; rural-urban migration; land tenure and reform; Southern Africa.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 2 - Zero Hunger
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action


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