Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Urban and Public Affairs

Degree Program

Urban and Public Affairs, PhD

Committee Chair

Walker, Margath

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Ruther, Matthew

Committee Member

Ruther, Matthew

Committee Member

Kelly, Janet

Committee Member

Gray, Tricia

Author's Keywords

Land tenure; urban sustainability; institutional politics; global South; comparative urbanism; legal pluralism


Sustainability is not simply a moral concept but is essential for human survival, and the tensions inherent in sustainable development bear repercussions that are increasingly placed onto the poor and powerless (Redclift 1987). While sustainability has become a relevant concept for urban knowledge and research especially in the global South, much of our urban sustainability knowledge is shaped by research and typologies from the global North (Nagendra et al. 2018; Parnell & Robinson 2017; Roy 2005). This dissertation considers the spatial transferability of sustainability knowledge from a relational perspective (Massey 2002). Sustainable development can be understood from this perspective as a set of multiple and differing relations - social, environmental, economic - that encounter one another in coexistence, conflict, and cooperation to shape urban form. The first paper offers a theoretical contribution which brings the concept of nomotropism into conversation with institutional bricolage in the context of land tenure and urban sustainability. Where urban sustainability is best captured through institutional processes, institutional bricolage and nomotropism are complementary venues for capturing these relationships with normative implications in the arenas of planning and policy. The second and third papers offer empirical contributions. In the second paper, I offer a comparative urban account where I track neoliberal processes of planning, land tenure reform, and the production of statistical knowledge as they relate to the institutional politics of sustainability in the Nicaraguan and Dominican contexts. The third paper presents findings on how varied forms of land are mediated through the urban institutional politics of sustainability. Through critical discourse analysis of documents from non-governmental organizations in two Latin American contexts, I demonstrate the important roles of discourse in activist land tenure reforms.