Steven Robins

Research Chair

Steven Robins is the Research Chair in the Sociology of Land, Environment, and Sustainable Development. The Chair was originally awarded to the currently retired Professor Cherryl Walker in January 2016; it was renewed at the end of 2020 for a second term (2021-2025). Steven Robins is also a Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Stellenbosch University, which he joined in January 2003. He serves on the editorial advisory boards of the Journal of Social Dynamics and is a Board member of the Institute for African Alternatives.

He has published on a wide range of topics including the politics of land and environment; issues of memory and identity and the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC); questions of citizenship, social movements, NGOs and community-based activism and governance after apartheid. His monographs include From Revolution to Rights in South Africa: Social Movements and Popular Politics (2008) and Letters of Stone: From Nazi Germany to South Africa (Penguin Random House, 2016). He also edited Limits to Liberation After Apartheid: Citizenship, Governance and Culture (David Philip, James Currey and Ohio University Press, 2005) and co-edited (with Nick Shepherd) New South African Keywords (Jacana and Ohio University Press, 2008).

His earlier research and publications focused on the role of NGOs and indigenous activism during the course of post-apartheid Nama and San cultural identity and land struggles in Namaqualand’s semi-arid communal areas in the Northern Cape Province. In recent years, he has become increasingly concerned with questions of ‘sustainable development’ and environmentally appropriate infrastructures in a time of climate change. Together with Professor Peter Redfield of the Department of Anthropology at University of Southern California, he has published extensively on questions of water and sanitation infrastructures in situations of water scarcity (Robins and Redfield, 2023; Redfield and Robins, 2016a; Robins and Redfield, 2016b; Robins, 2015; Robins 2014a, 2014b; Robins, 2014c). This research has included engaging with the implementation of the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation’s ‘Reinventing the Toilet’ programme in eThekwini Municipality, where 90,000 ‘ecologically appropriate’ water-less toilets were distributed to informal settlements on the urban periphery of Durban (see Redfield and Robins, 2024).

Recent publications have focused on socio-environmental concerns including questions of water scarcity, climate change and the politics of unequal access to water infrastructures that surfaced during Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’ crisis in 2018 (Robins, 2019; Robins and Katzschener, 2020). He has also published on Khoisan and environmental activist opposition to the Amazon Corporation mega-development at the Two Rivers Urban Park in Observatory, Cape Town (see Robins and Baumgardt 2024; Baumgardt and Robins 2024; Robins and Wingfield 2024).

His future research, as well as that of the SARChI research group, aims to examine concerns in relation to the habitability and socio-ecological resilience of Karoo towns in the context climate change and increasing temperatures, dryness and water-scarcity. This research will also involve investigating renewable and non-renewable energy infrastructures, mining, conservation and rewilding, sheep and game farming, livelihoods in small Karoo towns, and the local impacts of the ambitious community development programmes initiated in small towns adjacent to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio astronomy and renewable energy projects in the Northern Cape.