I couldn’t quite figure it out. The entire project of housing provision in South African cities seemed to be marked by an almost obsessive sense of calculation, of rational town planning. Most notoriously there is the waiting list. After apartheid, the South African government embarked on a mass formal housing delivery program. In order to qualify for a home, residents in need must register at a local office and enter the demand database. Then there is the process of enumeration. Local governments don’t like shacklands to be unintelligible, and so they render them legible by assigning de facto addresses to every structure. In both of these processes, we can see at work what the German sociologist Max Weber famously called formal rationality. Yet exceptions abounded. Enumeration rarely kept pace with in-migration from elsewhere in the city, and small land occupations seemed to become large informal settlements in a matter of weeks. And everyone seemed to be on the waiting list for decades, whereas I’d also encounter people who received a house after a matter of years. Residents who slipped through the cracks of formal rationality began to challenge the state, ultimately in the courtroom, pointing to the post-apartheid constitutional guarantee […]
Jakarta is marked by a paradox: the city suffers from both too much and too little water. During monsoon season, heavy precipitation strains the network of canals and waterways that weave through Jakarta’s urban fabric, threatening to overwhelm the city. Rivers swell, sometimes inundating housing constructed along their banks. Water collects in roads, bringing the city’s traffic to a halt. During the dry season, meanwhile, the city struggles to provide surface water to its residents. In the absence of a sufficient piped water supply, residents purchase water from vendors or bottled water at inflated prices, and extract shallow groundwater using wells. Public buildings, hotels, and industries meanwhile often pump deep groundwater. This is where water supply connects to flooding: groundwater extraction has contributed to rapid rates of subsidence making Jakarta one of the fastest sinking cities in the world. This has exacerbated the risk of flooding from the sea. The city’s sea wall now sits only inches above the current water level. Subsidence also makes it increasingly challenging to channel floodwaters through canals and into the sea, necessitating the use of pumping stations. The sea wall at Pluit, North Jakarta in October 2015 Flooding and flood mitigation have become highly […]
Imagine that you just alighted at Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, only 25 minutes from Nairobi’s Central Business District. Obviously, the first thing that you will want to do is get connected. At the airport, there are often a handful of enthusiastic mobile telecommunications agents and personnel that are readily on standby, more than willing to introduce you to their product, service or offers. It is at this point that you are often led to a counter or compartment for an authorized agent within the vicinity of the arrival hall. Buying one of the Subscriber Identity Module (or SIM) cards will involve registration and subscription not only for communication services that include calling and Short Message Service (or SMS) texting, but also for moving money through the encrypted SMS and Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (or USSD) platforms. These services provide the baseline infrastructure for a wide range of different services that offer unique and innovative mobile-phone based applications and systems. They rely on text and short code and often – in some ways – fall within different categories including M-Pesa, Airtel Money, Orange Money – the most popular of which is Safaricom’s (Lipa Na) M-pesa. For all the systems, registration processes […]
I’m walking through Guet Ndar, a neighbourhood in Saint-Louis, Senegal. We can hear the waves of the nearby Atlantic Ocean. During my last visit, a number of years ago, they seemed perhaps more distant, whereas now they seem almost upon us. We turn a corner near a mosque and look out. What were once streets are now the ocean, the elementary school has become a ruin of collapsed concrete and a new line of buildings stand facing the fierce Atlantic. The fishing settlement of Guet Ndar lays across from the historical centre of Saint-Louis. It operates as a crucial space for the fishing trade across the region, with distribution stretching into the Sahel and as far as Mali. With over 30,000 residents housed in this dense, popular neighbourhood, a strip of sand no more than one kilometre long, and nowadays 200 meters wide, a precarious future has become a lived present. The effects of rising sea-levels from climate change are being experienced in Saint-Louis in ways that foretell urban futures for millions of people living in coastal settlements across the continent. Here, the Atlantic Ocean in Guet Ndar is a paradox. It gives life through the incomes of the fishermen […]
Following Donald Trump’s announcement that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Accord, a number of US cities signaled their intention to symbolically join the agreement and demonstrate their commitment to avoiding more than 1.5 C warming. Cities have a unique relationship to global climate change as the historical locus of greenhouse gas emissions due to their central role in the global economy. The relationship between cities and greenhouse gases is a result of both industrial production as well as contemporary post-industrial economies driven by consumption. The relationship is scalar too: many cities are representative of both low carbon infrastructure as well as the displacement of GHG emissions ‘elsewhere.’ Cities are linked through chains of finance, the movement of goods, and the circulation of discourses. All these relationships matter for thinking about climate change through the city. Amidst these overlapping networks, the unifying factor is the sheer densities and connections present in cities: of people, of money, and of the infrastructures that, in part, form the city as a functioning assemblage. We are already locked into a significantly warmer future, and the physical impacts of that warming consistently outpace even the most severe projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on […]
Together with Greek and Swedish theatre practitioners and researchers, The Situated Ecologies Platform has been involved in constructing a theatre workshop in the Softex Camp in Thessaloniki in Greece for 10 days. Working with Syrian refugees living at Softex, a co-constructed “theatre in action” will be performed in the Vassiliko Theatre on May 29, 2017 in Thessaloniki as a result of this workshop. Read more from the full blog-post here.
The Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies (WOK-UE) project started in 2011 and finished in December 2016. Amongst other activities, the project proved instrumental in helping to build the Situated UPE Collective from its early days in 2013. Here PI Henrik Ernstson reflects on this now finished research project to exemplify how projects can act as crucial venues for critical social scientists in building collaborations, projects and constellations beyond the peer-reviewed publication. Looking beyond peer-reviewed publications The Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies Project has been incredibly productive as can be witnessed by its publication list. This includes one PhD thesis, an upcoming edited volume with MIT Press, and a row of high-calibre theoretical and empirical contributions in top-journals based on extensive empirical work in Cape Town and Stockholm, including New Orleans (the latter mainly through the associated MOVE project). To this, the core WOK-UE team—Jane Battersby, Marnie Graham, Anna Storm, Joshua Lewis, Mary Lawhon, Jessica Rattle, Sue Parnell and Sverker Sörlin—also made regular contributions to wider popular science and media platforms. The WOK-UE project also created a lot of activities that were not mentioned in the short final report that I submitted to the Swedish funder Formas. In this post I would like to take the opportunity to list some of those activities since it shows how research projects can be viewed as […]
Call for Papers: African Centre for Cities International Urban Conference, 1-2 February 2018 Session: Working infrastructures in cities of the Global South Organisers: Kathleen Stokes (University of Manchester) and Nate Millington (University of Cape Town) Infrastructures contribute to the collective flows and metabolisms that produce urban space. From sanitation to transport, electricity to water, these socionatural configurations are essential to the organising and delivering of the resources that shape human livelihoods, economic markets, and urban environments. Urban inhabitants not only draw upon and contribute to infrastructural flows and processes – their environments and lives are influenced and informed by the nature of infrastructures themselves. According to Easterling, “far from hidden, infrastructure is now the overt point of contact and access between us all – the rules governing the space of everyday life” (2014, 11). Recent scholarship has theorised infrastructure as ‘splintering’ (Graham & Marvin, 2001), ‘lively’ (Amin, 2014), ‘incremental’ (Silver, 2014), and ‘vital’ (Fredericks, 2014). Meanwhile, efforts to situate and decolonise research concerning urban life in the global South have challenged conventional or universalist approaches to researching urban infrastructures, along with their associated actors and processes (Lawhon, Ernstson, & Silver, 2014; Roy, 2009; Simone, 2015). How can we continue to […]
On the 27th April, over fifty scholars met in Helsingborg, Sweden for a three-day workshop dedicated to waste research in the social sciences and humanities. Organised by Lund University, the ‘Opening the Bin’ workshop sought to critically investigate waste perceptions, materialities, politics, and practices. One of the first workshops of its kind, this gathering provided an unprecedented opportunity for scholars to share research and develop international transdiciplinary connections. Most participants were based in Europe, although several participants joined from further afield – including India, Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Over the course of the workshop, paper presentations reflected a variety of social science and humanities disciplines, including STS, history, philosophy, and anthropology. By examining different contexts, infrastructures and conditions surrounding waste, participants also connected waste scholarship to broader academic discussions surrounding urban governance, de-growth, and the circular economy. While diverse in subject matter and approach, these interventions highlighted several recurring themes and questions within contemporary waste research. Given concurrent sessions ran throughout the workshop, these themes were only drawn from sessions I had the privilege of attending. Nevertheless, I believe these themes and questions point to fruitful areas of investigation for contemporary waste scholarship. Themes and questions […]
SUPE contributor Nate Millington has a chapter in the recently released volume, Deconstructing the High Line: Postindustrial Urbanism and the Rise of the Elevated Park. The book considers the High Line from multiple perspectives, critically assessing its aesthetic, economic, ecological, symbolic, and social impacts. Millington’s chapter focuses on São Paulo’s Minhocão, an elevated highway that functions as an informal public space when closed to automobile traffic on nights and weekends. Assessing ongoing conversations about turning the space into São Paulo’s High Line, Millington argues that engaging with public space in São paulo demands a broader engagement with the contours of inequality that shape the city. He subsequently argues that efforts to construct public space that borrow from European and North American formulations run the risk of missing out on the complex, overlapping ways in which public space in São Paulo is often much more about the lack of regulation than the existence of formally regulated or codified public spaces. He draws inspiration from the many examples of collective occupation and appropriation happening in Brazil and around the world.