Phillip Garjay Innis

Research themes
  • Governance and conflict
  • Migration, mobility and urbanization
Research countries
  • Liberia
Working groups

"ZEF in the City" - ZEF-A research group on everyday urbanity, creativity and the governance of informality in the Global South


M.A in Disasters, Adaptation & Development, Department of Geography, King´s College London, United Kingdom, 2017

M.Sc in Environmental Management and Policy, International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE), Lund University, Sweden, 2016 

MBA in Oil & Gas Management, Coventry University, United Kingdom, 2012

B.Sc in Economics (minor in Political Science), University of Liberia, Liberia, 2007

Thesis title

Riskscapes of Everyday Risks: Urban Challenges, Adaptive Governance and Practices in Monrovia, Liberia

Thesis abstract

Monrovia, Liberia, grapples with a complex web of intricate and interconnected risks and challenges. These encompass not only topographical vulnerabilities such as flooding and sea erosion but also social risks like political polarisation and elevated crime rates, as well as infrastructural inadequacies such as restricted access to clean drinking water and reliable electricity. These challenges are further exacerbated by the pervasive poverty prevalent in unplanned communities, significantly amplifying the hardships endured by the urban poor.

This dissertation emanates from an exhaustive five-year ethnographic study in Monrovia, employing a blend of qualitative methods to delve into urban risks and challenges, adaptive practices, and the evolving structures of governance. Utilising concepts like riskscapes and everyday risks, the study provides a comprehensive view of the challenges confronting these communities. It illuminates spatial concentrations of risk, where seemingly everyday issues such as insufficient lighting and compromised water sources collectively contribute to the overall risk environment. Moreover, it delves into the nuanced understanding of urban challenges in resource-constrained contexts, emphasising the interplay between geographical and infrastructural risks.

Furthermore, the study integrates evolutionary governance theories, such as object and subject formation, to elucidate how actors characterise a phenomenon as a risk object. This characterisation often hinges on their perceptions, experiences, and the context and governance responsibilities within which they operate. This dynamic process implies that changes in one domain, like a shift in governance responsibilities or a change in risk perception, can lead to adjustments in how risk objects are defined in other domains. This underscores the complex and evolving nature of risk governance dimensions and practices, influenced by a myriad of factors and subject to change over time, fostering a dynamic and interconnected evolution of risk governance dimensions and practices.

The dissertation provides an intricate examination of the interplay between everyday risks and urban complexity, focusing on two pivotal aspects: the intricate nature of urban landscapes, encompassing both risks and opportunities, and the pivotal role of governance as a framework for managing these dynamics. It underscores that understanding risks in Monrovia also entails recognising opportunities, which can act as catalysts for development and progress. Various facets of risks, opportunities, and governance are scrutinised to underscore their intricate nature. Additionally, the dissertation explores how historical, geographical, and cultural factors influence these dynamics, challenging the notion of a universal governance model.

The study first establishes a foundational understanding of riskscapes within the unplanned coastal communities of Monrovia, highlighting the disparity between official risk assessments and the daily realities faced by residents. Second, it explores the emergence of space and practice as risk objects, and the subsequent emergence of governance tools, examining how tangible or discursive elements contribute to the dynamics of risk governance in unplanned urban areas. Third, the study navigates the challenges of traversing landscapes of risks and possibilities, examining infrastructural scarcity and adaptive strategies employed to access vital infrastructure, emphasising the need for developmental strategies to evolve with the city's changing needs. Finally, the study examines the symbiotic interrelationship and co-evolution of practices, governance, and infrastructure, illustrating the necessity of an integrated approach to governance and infrastructure planning that blend searching and planning with a significant element of experimentation.

Monrovia serves as a microcosm of global south urban challenges stemming from rapid urbanisation, resource constraints, and evolving risks. The research advocates for an integrated approach to urban resilience, linking risk reduction, infrastructure development, and adaptive governance. The insights from Monrovia offer crucial lessons for urban planners, policymakers, and researchers, underscoring the importance of responsive governance tailored to community needs in fostering sustainable, resilient cities that prioritise community well-being.


Doctoral research funded by

BMZ (Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development) via DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst)

Supervisors of
doctoral work

Prof. Dr. Detlef Müller-Mahn, Professor, Department of Geography, University of Bonn

Prof. Dr. Kristof Van Assche, Professor, Planning, Governance & Development, University of Alberta


Innis, P. G. & Van Assche, K..  2023.  Permanent incompleteness: Slow electricity roll-out, infrastructure practices and strategy formation in Monrovia, Liberia.  Energy Research & Social Science, 99   . Further Information


Innis, P. G..  2022.  Official Risks and Everyday Disasters: the Interplay of Riskscapes in Two Unplanned Settlements in Monrovia.  Urban Forum, 34   : 53–77   . (Open Access)   Further Information
Innis, P. G.; van Assche, K.  2022.  The interplay of riskscapes and risk objects in unplanned settlements in Monrovia.  Geoforum, 136   : 1-10   . Further Information

Additionals, Curriculum Vitae
and Downloads

Phillip Garjay Innis

Junior Researcher

Cultural and Political Change


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