Bas van Heur

Academic and teaching staff

  • Current position Professor of Urban Studies / Director of the Cosmopolis Centre for Urban Research / Director of the Brussels Centre for Urban Studies
  • Contact Vrije Universiteit Brussel
    Department of Geography
    Faculty of Sciences
    Building F – Room 4.64
    Pleinlaan 2
    BE-1050 Brussels
  • Phone +32 (0)2 629 3377
  • E-mail

Office hours for students: Thursdays 14-15h during term time. Outside of term time, please send an e-mail to set an appointment.

I am currently associate professor of human geography and urban studies, head of the research unit Cosmopolis Centre for Urban Research, director of the university-wide urban studies network Brussels Centre for Urban Studies, and programme director of the Erasmus Mundus MSc 4Cities as well as the VUB-ULB MSc in Urban Studies.

Research profile and interests

My overarching interest is in the politics of urban development, focusing in particular on the ways in which state institutions at various scales (try to) regulate and govern social relations through the mobilization of different kinds of knowledge and expertise. Underlying this interest is a more normative concern with state-society relations and the capacity of civic actors to develop public knowledge about the city and democratic forms of collective organization.

My current research interests focus on three topics: 

  • Learning (in) the city: expertise and public knowledge

Learning is an important practice through which we gain experience and knowledge about the city, and is closely tied to the wider debate on the knowledge economy and society: we learn, both in formal and informal ways – and as citizens, students, policy makers, entrepreneurs, or activists – to navigate the city, to perceive the city and to transform the city. I am particularly interested in the ways in which more ‘institutionalized’ sites of expertise and knowledge relate to the urban environment and its citizens and what this means for the construction of public knowledge about the city.

  • Arts and culture: ownership and labour organization

The arts and cultural industries constitute key sites for the production of critical and public knowledge and are substantive economic sectors in their own right, but are also part of wider dynamics of gentrification, urban development projects, the cultural branding of cities and city districts and are populated by a polarized mix of high-earning ‘stars’ but also precarious workers. Within this topic, my current research primarily focuses on: i) ownership of cultural spaces, focusing on government strategies (subsidies for rentals below market price, lease-to-buy policies, cultural land trust initiatives), private initiatives (philanthropy, tax deduction schemes) or private-public-partnerships; and ii) collective modes of labour organization, ranging from labour unions’ engagement with artists and cultural workers to worker co-operatives in the creative and cultural industries, focusing in particular on the urban dimensions of labour struggle.

  • Public service provisioning: Collective consumption, work and the state

In the late 1970s, the concept of ‘collective consumption’ was introduced into urban studies to refer to services such as housing, education, transport, healthcare or environmental management that are collectively and not individually consumed. Although the neoliberalization of urban governance and the resulting privatization and contracting out of public services since the 1980s has pushed citizens towards individualized strategies of consumption, a focus on public services and the extent to which these services are accessible to all remains key to the project of urban studies. Within this topic, I mainly focus on: i) working conditions within specific urban public service administrations, focusing on contract and other types of precarious work, and the effects of outsourcing public services on work conditions; and ii) experiments in ‘co-producing’ public services in ways that contribute to more democratic forms of collective consumption, focusing on the strategies used by social movements or urban communities to engage and transform the state, to access key public services or even to develop public service alternatives outside of the state.

Current teaching

Geographies of a Globalizing Europe (6 ECTS, MSc Geography, MSc Urban Studies, MSc 4Cities)

Urban (Social) Geography (6 ECTS, MSc Urban Studies, MSc 4Cities, MSc Stedenbouw en Ruimtelijke Planning)

Knowledge Economy and the City (3 ECTS, MSc Geography, MSc Urban Studies, MSc Stedenbouw en Ruimtelijke Planning)

Internship (15 ECTS, MSc Urban Studies)

StadsSalonsUrbains (3 ECTS, MSc Urban Studies)

Previous education

2008: PhD in Geography (magna cum laude), Department of Earth Sciences, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

2004: MA in Cultural History (cum laude), Faculty of Arts, Utrecht University, the Netherlands

2001: BA in Liberal Arts, Faculty of Arts, Utrecht University, the Netherlands

Previous positions

2008-2011: Postdoctoral researcher, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Maastricht University, the Netherlands

2007: Research fellow, Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technische Universität Berlin, Germany

2005-2006: Adjunct lecturer, Department of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths College, University of London, United Kingdom

2004-2005: Adjunct lecturer, Institute of Media and Representation, Faculty of Arts, Utrecht University, the Netherlands