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Joanna Kusiak, PhD

Junior Research Fellow in Urban Studies at King’s College



  • 2018- present: Junior Research Fellow in Urban Studies, King’s College, Cambridge University.
  • 2019-present: Director of Studies in Geography, King’s College, Cambridge University.
  • 2019-present: Centre for Urban Science and Progress, King’s College London.
  • 2016 – 2018: Research Fellow (Post-doc), Department of Sociology, University of Vienna.
  • 2015 – 2016: Assistant Lecturer, Centre for the Culture of Place, Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts.
  • 2016: Visiting Researcher, Institute of Urban and Regional Development, University of California, Berkeley.
  • 2015: Visiting Researcher, Urban Laboratory/Department of Geography, University College of London.
  • 2013-2015:Visiting Researcher, Berlin Graduate School of Social Science, Humboldt University of Berlin.
  • 2011-2012: Fulbright Visiting Researcher, Department of Political Science / Department of Anthropology, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York.


  • 2016 PhD in Sociology (summa cum laude), Technische Universität Darmstadt. Dissertation title: Chaos Warsaw: A Cognitive Mapping of the City.
  • 2008 MA in Sociology (with distinction), University of Warsaw. Dissertation title: Walter Benjamin and Contemporary Metropolis

Awards and scholarships

  • IJURR 2019 Best Article Award ‘for the article that makes most original and outstanding contribution to our understanding of cities and urbanization,’ International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 2019.
  • Leadership grant for the participation in the Leadership Academy for Poland, Center for Leadership with Harvard Kennedy School, Warsaw, 2019.
  • Fieldwork grant of King’s College, Cambridge University, UK, 2019
  • Postdoctoral Research Grant of the Kosciuszko Foundation, UC Berkeley, USA, 2016.
  • Research Grant ‘Preludium’ of the National Science Centre, Poland, 2012-2015.
    START Excellency Award for the Young Scholars, Foundation for Polish Science, 2014, 2013 (two-time recipient).
  • Writer’s Grant from the Polish Ministry of Culture, 2013.
  • DAAD Graduate Research Fellowship, 2012-2013.
  • Fulbright Advanced Researcher Fellowship, US-Poland Fulbright Commission, 2011-2012.
  • Publishing Grant for the volume Chasing Warsaw: Socio-material Dynamics of Urban Change since 1990, Foundation for the Polish-German Cooperation, 2012.
  • Research Grant of the Polish-German Academic Association (PNTA), 2010.
  • Fellowship of the Studienkolleg zu Berlin, the Excellence Initiative of the German Academic Foundation (SSdV) and Hertie Foundation, 2008-2009.
  • DAAD Fellowship for Advanced Academic Studies, 2007.
  • Fellowship of the Collegium Invisibile, Poland, 2006-2010.
  • Excellence scholarship of the Polish Ministry of Science, 2004-2008.
  • 1st Prize in an Essay Contest ‘On Inequality’, Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna, Austria, 2006.
  • 2nd Prize and Silver Medal at the 12th International Philosophy Olympiad in Seoul, 2004.


1) Law, legal engineering and the transformation of urban property regimes

My research on post-socialist property restitution in Warsaw has led me to recognize the powerful role of legal and judicial frameworks in shaping urban transformation. My article titled ‘Legal technologies of primitive accumulation: Judicial robbery and dispossession-by-restitution in Warsaw,’ which analyses how legal engineering can neutralize political dissent, won the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research’s 2019 Best Article Prize. My emerging book-length project, provisionally titled Radically Legal: Critical Legal Engineering for the Right to the City, explores the strategic potential of exploiting legal technicalities for emancipatory urban endeavours. It analyses the strategies of several activist tenant initiatives which are seeking to redefine housing and property relations through law. I am currently doing fieldwork in Berlin on the Deutsche Wohnen & Co Enteignen initiative, which is attempting to leverage a constitutional clause to expropriate transnational corporate landlords, and in Warsaw on the strategic litigations initially brought against banks by people who took out Swiss-franc denominated mortgages and then lost their assets due to currency instability.

See also: Kusiak, J., ‘Rule of Law and Rules-Lawyering: Legal Corruption and Reprivatization Business in Warsaw’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 43.3, 589–96.

2) Thinking from the Global East: Epistemologies of Chaos and Semi-Alterity

My work seeks to destabilize the epistemological North/South axis with perspectives from the ‘Global East,’ which I understand as an epistemic space of semi-alterity, rather than as a fixed geographical location. I am working on a book manuscript based on my PhD, titled The Orders of Chaos: Law, Land and Neoliberal Globalization in Warsaw. The book analyses the accelerated urban change that ensued after Poland’s abrupt shift from socialism to capitalism. It argues that the popular notion of ‘[spatial] chaos,’ which has shaped expert narratives on architecture and urban planning in Poland, conceals the actual orders that operate on the space/power nexus. To map this apparent chaos, the book reworks Fredric Jameson’s theory of cognitive mapping and equips it with a range of empirical methods. For example, one chapter examines how interested actors operating on a variety of scales – including the World Bank with its privatisation push, the Polish government with its housing reforms, local ex-farmers in political alliance, and transnational banks promoting foreign currency mortgages – have shaped the urbanisation of Warsaw’s peripheral district of Białołęka and created idiosyncratic architectural formations and new social divisions. I have published this research in Polish as Chaos Warszawa.

I also engage in collaborative projects across global-east locations. For example, I am currently working on a video project and a journal paper that, bringing together the post-War destruction of Warsaw and the current urbicide in Syria, asks how the history of Warsaw’s reconstruction could help London’s diaspora of Syrian architects in their thinking about future rebuilding of Syrian cities.

See also: Kusiak, J., 2012. ‘The Cunning of Chaos and its Orders: A Taxonomy of Urban Chaos in Post- Socialist Warsaw and Beyond’, in M. Grubbauer and J. Kusiak (eds.), Chasing Warsaw: Socio-Material Dynamics of Urban Change since 1990, Frankfurt/New York: Campus.

3) Machiavellian Methodologies: Critical legal engineering and agonistic action research

Recognizing that critical urban studies have been very successful at describing the power dynamics of neoliberalism, and less successful at countering it, I am interested in the politics of progressive co-optation, that is of employing neoliberal power techniques for progressive purposes. One aspect of this work is my research on the potential for harnessing legal technicalities and the fictions produced by the legal system for progressive urban struggles: a strategy that I call critical legal engineering. More recently I have been also developing a methodological framework for what I call ‘agonistic action research,’ which could be seen as a combination of design thinking, vigorous discussion among stakeholders, a large-scale focus group, a peace-making workshop and group therapy. Based on large group methods borrowed from management study, this methodology leverages conflict between stakeholders to facilitate better solutions. This also responds to the UN-Habitat call in the 2016 World Cities Report for ‘agonistic debate’ to facilitate better policy solutions.

See also: Kusiak, J., 2018. ‘Learning from neoliberalism: a Machiavellian plea for reverse engineering’, in M. Grubbauer and K. Shaw (eds.) Urban research across the theory-practice divide: modes of dialogue and/or disengagement, Berlin: Jovis.


[Publications will load automatically from the University’s publications database…]


  • Director of Studies for Part II Geography at King’s College
  • Supervisions for Part IA Cultural Geography and Part II Global Urbanism

External activities

  • Corresponding Editor for The International Journal of Urban and Regional Research
  • Editorial board for Eurasian Geography and Economics and Miejsce