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School of Social and Political Science: Graduate school


Nicolas Zehner

Nicolas Zehner
Nicolas Zehner
Sociology School of Social and Political Science University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh UK
Research Interests
Cities, urban sociology, Economic Sociology, Imagination, expectations, Sociology of expectations and futures, Dynamics of capitalism, Urban Ethnography, political economy of urban design, economic sociology of imagination, data-driven innovation

PhD Title

Planning for Uncertain Futures: Materialising Urban Visions in Edinburgh (working title)

PhD Topic

The research problem of this ESRC-funded project is concerned with projective agency (Emirbayer and Mische, 1998) in an urban planning setting. Projective agency denotes “the imaginative generation by actors of possible future trajectories of action, in which received structures of thought and action may be creatively reconfigured in relation to actors’ hopes, fears, and desires for the future” (ibid.: 971). Taking the latter as the primary unit of analysis, this study examines the construction and diffusion of images of the future. In other words, I am investigating the ways in which urban planning agents imagine futures and the reasons why certain futures become sufficiently credible while others do not.

Tackling this problem, this PhD project presents a sociological intervention into the sociotechnical process by which urban planning agents construct futures. Doing so, it is theoretically and analytically rooted at the intersection of an emergent literature in the sociology of expectations (Borup et al., 2006; Beckert 2013, 2016; Beckert and Bronk, 2018) and an actor-network approach of the urban (Latour and Hermant, 1998; Law, 2002; Blok and Farias, 2016; Farias and Bender, 2010).

Examining projective agency in an urban planning setting, this study engages with the implementation of a contemporary urban redevelopment project, the Edinburgh and South-East Scotland City Region Deal. The latter represents a £1.3bn investment by the Scottish and UK governments and local partners over the next fifteen years, which is designed to accelerate inclusive growth through the funding of infrastructure, skills and data-driven innovation.


Dr. Nick Prior

Dr. Nathan Coombs


Master of Arts in International Political Economy                             2016-2017

University of Warwick

Dissertation: "Social Acceleration and the Imagination of Alternative Economic Futures"

Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, Politics & Economics                        2012-2016

Zeppelin University


Book reviews / essays

Zehner, N (2019) Double book review of Göran Therborn (2017) Cities of Power. The Urban, the National, the Popular, the Global and Michael Sorkin (2018) What goes up. The Right and Wrongs to the City in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space.


"Planning for an Uncertain Future - Storying Urban Visions in Edinburgh", New Directions Conference, Edinburgh, April 19, 2019.

Teaching experience

Sociology 1a: The Sociological Imagination: Individuals and Society (SCIL08004), tutorial, essay assessment and marking; 1st year UG main lecture, winter semester 2019; University of Edinburgh


ESRC Studentship                                                                                                         2019-2022

German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) PROMOS Scholarship                  2014