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Joanna Watterson

PhD student

Infrastructural entrepreneurship in the off-grid city: energy transitions in the Gauteng City-Region



  • 2021: MPhil Geographical Research, University of Cambridge.
  • 2020: BA(Hons) International Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL).


  • 2022: Lucy Cavendish College Travel, Research, and Conferences Award for Research.
  • 2022: Department of Geography Postgraduate Funds in Support of Fieldwork.
  • 2020-2024: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Doctoral Training Programme Scholarship.
  • 2020: Rumford Prize for top performing student in PIR, RHUL.
  • 2020: Best undergraduate dissertation, RHUL.


This PhD investigates off-grid energy transitions in the Gauteng City-Region (GCR) through the lens of entrepreneurship. It has two main aims.

First, to contribute to emergent off-grid cities research by conceiving of ‘off-gridding’ as a practice/process involving diverse actors and agents. This is significant in viewing off-grid transitions as a key part of urban metabolisms broadly, and the GCR specifically. The project uses the analytical lens of entrepreneurship to critically examine off-grid energy transitions of both high- and low-income households. Entrepreneurship provides an entry point for understanding urban energy landscapes due to the increasing scale of involvement of private sector actors and businesses in transitioning to alternative energy sources.

Through bringing the fields of infrastructure and entrepreneurship into conversation, the project’s second aim is to develop the conceptual framework of infrastructural entrepreneurship. This interdisciplinary framework is significant for two reasons.

First, infrastructure represents the materialisation of citizen-state relations, particularly in South Africa, where the political transition to democracy is materialised through citizen expectations surrounding access to services.

Second, contemporary secession from municipal electricity grids is operating within an increasingly market-oriented energy landscape. Simultaneously, neoliberal economic reforms have encouraged a culture of entrepreneurial development strategies based on self-sufficiency across the urban environment, from peripheral townships to the increasing role of the private sector in urban development and service provision. Together, infrastructure and entrepreneurship serve as critical entry points, rarely used in tandem, to understand off-grid energy transitions in the GCR.


  • 2022: Undergraduate supervision, Citizenship, Cities and Civil Society.
  • 2022: Undergraduate supervision, The Geographies of Global Urbanism.

External activities

  • 2022: Convenor of postgraduate student group, Gender in Academic Space.
  • 2021 – present: Postgraduate representative for the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee, Department of Geography.
  • 2021 – present: Member of Off-Grid Cities interdisciplinary research group, working with colleagues from the University of Cambridge, the Gauteng City-Region Observatory, the University of the Western Cape, and the University of Witwatersrand.
  • 2020 – present: Member of the Global Energy Nexus in Urban Settlements (GENUS) interdisciplinary research group, University of Cambridge.