PhD programme in Urban Studies, GSSI, Italy



Research and post-graduate study at the GSSI’s Urban Studies Unit focus on the long-term development trajectories of ‘territorial systems’, and ‘urban systems’ in particular (cities, metropolitan areas, metropolitan regions). The methodological perspective in research and teaching is genuinely trans-disciplinary. By supplying resources and an instrumental relational context, the GSSI fosters research projects and learning paths trespassing the boundaries of the single disciplines.The evolution of the European urban system and territory is the main subject matter at  GSSI Cities. Yet urban and territorial issues in other regions of the world will be also addressed.

Scholars and researchers with a background in economics, anthropology,  urban planning, architecture, sociology, political science and demography will find at the GSSI a relational context to work together in an attempt to enhance our understanding of the factors determining  the  long-term development trajectories of ‘territorial systems’ (cities, regions, macro-regions).

Post-graduate students at GSSI Cities will also have a diverse scientific background, and are expected to engage in interdisciplinary research in an international context. Research and learning at GSSI Cities is policy-oriented, with a strong emphasis on empirical inquiry. The first focal point of the activity is on the knowledge and analytical tools needed to perform exercise of explanatory forecasting of the development trajectories of urban systems in particular, and territorial systems in general. The second focal point is on evaluating the expected development trajectories, and on designing and implementing appropriate regulation policies.Research and learning at the GSSI are grounded on firm epistemological and methodological bases. Through a day-to-day collaboration and interaction, researchers and doctoral students of the three areas of the GSSI – physics, mathematics and informatics and social science – will have the opportunity of building a sound knowledge of the methods of scientific research, and to acquire a familiarity with the history of science.


The doctoral programme in Urban Studies focuses on the interdisciplinary analysis of the long-term structural changes of European cities. The planned learning path aims at building a sound and broad theoretical and methodological knowledge, yet the doctoral programme in ‘Urban Studies’ at the GSSI is policy-oriented. Students will be trained to conduct high-level applied research and to be earnestly involved in the policy-making process so as in preparation of complex policy reports.

Committed and regular attendance will be required to students of the doctoral programme.

The teaching activity will consist of a number of ‘master classes’ and short-courses on epistemological, methodological and theoretical issues relevant in the understanding of cities development trajectories. As an important part of the planned learning process, students will be asked to read, and to discuss in the context of the class, a number of key books in the field of urban studies.  Training courses, imparted to the whole class or tailored on the needs of specific groups of students, will make students acquire the required skills to use appropriate research tools in the field of urban studies.

As an important step in the learning process, field studies will be also conducted by the class, which will act as a “research team” under the supervision of the GSSI research fellows.

A key feature of this doctoral programme is to make students acquire solid epistemological and methodological bases. Lectures and seminars will be offered focusing on the history and methods of scientific research.

According to what is required to develop their own research projects, students will be strongly encouraged to attend courses and perform research activities in other universities or research centres (not longer than one term per year).


Giovanni Barbieri (ISTAT), Nicola Bellini (Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa), Antonio Calafati (Chair, GSSI), Marco Cremaschi (University of Roma Tre, Roma), Gilberto Seravalli (formerly University of Parma)


Concepts and why-questions 

Lectures series will be organized introducing students to the key categories and most fundamental why-questions informing the scientific and policy discourse on European cities. The learning path will be strongly interdisciplinary. 

Master classes

Invited scholars will present to the class their most relevant research works and policy analyses. Each master classes will focus on the relevance of the why-questions addressed, the theoretical background, the empirical evidence used, the difficulties encountered in the process of discovery, the tools employed, etc. By looking into other scientists’ laboratory students will learn how to carry out their own research and prepare their policy reports.

Master classes will last from 1 to 5 days depending on the research material presented.

Critical reading

Students will be asked to write short-texts and make presentations to the class on key books in the field of urban studies – and related subject matter – published in the past decades.

Research tools

Short courses will make students familiar with the research tools needed in the field of urban studies. Courses on acquisition and management of datasets, statistical methods, ethnographic methods, spatial analysis of city and on many other issues will be organised during the first year and beyond. Courses tailored on the needs of students’ research interests will be also arranged.

 Field studies

During the third term of the first year the class, supported by the GSSI’s research staff, will jointly conduct a field study on a European city. Independent field studies implemented by students will be also encouraged.

 Thematic workshops

A number of thematic workshops will be organised addressing questions of theoretical and policy relevance concerning European

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