Announcements News Uncategorized

Three year Situated UPE research on waste & sanitation in Uganda!

The Swedish Research Council decided on the 3rd of November to fund a multi-disciplinary team from Sweden, Uganda, South Africa, UK, and USA to develop crucial knowledge about urban infrastructure challenges in Africa and the developing world. The team—with Drs Henrik Ernstson, Mary Lawhon, Shuaib Lwasa, Jonathan Silver and David Nilsson—will focus on waste and sanitation and they bring together world-leading institutes and a North-South advisory team. The project will use a political ecological framework to understand sustainable transitions based on everyday experiences among the poor, while linking to higher-level policy levels and regional discussions.

Africa’s urban revolution

Cities in Africa are growing at unprecedented rates, and face historically unique constraints including poverty, VR-logotypresource scarcity and colonial legacies. The project Urban Infrastructure Challenges of the South will work in two Ugandan cities and focus on waste and sanitation, two factors that significantly impact    the health of residents and impact other development indicators, including school attendance, economic   development, and gender equity. The World Bank estimates  that Uganda loses a net 177 MUSD every year due to poor sanitation, which contributes to 23,000 annual deaths, including many youth and women and around 3,000 cases of cholera (World Bank WSP 2012). Only 40% of household receive solid waste services in Kampala creating hazardous human environments and leakages to ecosystems (KCC 2008). This situation demands urgent, grounded and theoretically informed research.

Not uniform, but diversity of infrastructures

The way we think about cities is still very much shaped by European and North American experiences. Uganda sanitationAfrican urbanisation is quite different and new policies and theories needs to be formed. Building on African urbanist literature, the project challenges the notion of the “infrastructure ideal”, the goal that service provision should be created through a uniform solution throughout the city. Instead, and by co-producing knowledge with slum dwellers and their organisations, the project focuses on understanding the existing range of options that poor urban dwellers have created and fought for to improve services. These experiences are crucial in thinking about the possibilities to transition towards universal services, but through a range of infrastructures, from networked to self-constructed.

Provoking a shift

The project works from the idea that there are lessons to be learnt from the street. Uganda wasteHowever, the work is also based on historical archival research to understand colonial and racist legacies of infrastructure provision. It analyses the contemporary political, economic and regional situation. And it will provide unique city-wide maps for formal/informal service delivery systems. A key practical implication is therefore to provoke a shift from seeking large-scale, uniform solutions, towards theory, planning and policies of implementing an array of infrastructures. Through a regional workshop, discussions will be held on how findings can translate to other African and global South cities.

The project combines a study of everyday practices and sociotechnical configurations. It seeks to develop a situated and political ecological framework that explains how infrastructure services are navigated, distributed and fought over, and how more just and sustainable cities can be achieved.


Full name: “Urban infrastructure challenges of the South: Waste and sanitation research in Ugandan cities to develop theory and methods for heterogenous infrastructure.”

Funded by: The Swedish Research Council (VR, Vetenskapsrådet) as a development research grant previously administered by Swedish foreign aid agency SIDA.

Project duration: Jan 1, 2016- Dec 31, 2018.

Research team:

PI: Dr. Henrik Ernstson, KTH Royal Institute of Technology (SWE) & University of Cape Town (SA)

Co-Is: Dr. Shuaib Lwasa, Makerere University (Uganda), Dr. Jonathan Silver, Durham University (UK), Dr. Mary Lawhon, The Florida State University, (USA), Dr. David Nilsson, KTH Royal Institute of Technology (SWE).

Advisory board: Professor Edgar Pieterse and Professor Susan Parnell (Univ of Cape Town), Professor Garth Myers (Trinity Univ), Dr. Colin McFarlane (Durham Univ), and Proferssor Awadhendra Sharan (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi).

For more information, please contact: Mary Lawhon or Henrik Ernstson and see website for more information about Situated UPE.

ACC Logo full text 2014Durham University Logo FSU_seal_logoKTH_logo   images-2 UCT_logocircless_high-res

Commentary News NEWS: Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies

“Somos Sur” :: The need to think, analyse and act from the South—and hip hop as radical democratic practice.

“Somos Sur” is a rap and hip-hop song by Chilean-French artist Ana Tijoux. To me it insists that this world needs thinking, analysis and action from the South. 

The song vibrantly also features Palestinian-British rapper Shadia Mansour and provides hip hop and rap at its best—constructively angry; ruthless in speaking back to power. But also in joining dots; rhythmically it enfolds and unfolds wider geographies of solidarity. So, in solidarity with the people of Gaza, listen to it!

Somos Sur, Hip Hop and Cape Flats

“Somos Sur” also speaks through its registers of rhythm and movement to our own academic project around situated urban political ecologies (SUPE)—and to southern urbanism; and in making use of experiences and intellectual traditions from ‘the elsewheres’ of this world in order to assemble departure points for critique and radical democratic practice.

The song links directly to what I have learnt from my meetings with Capeflatsian hip hoppers Emile YX? and Mixed Mense. Their hip hop and pedagogic work in Cape Town can certainly be described as a democratic practice in that it shifts how, and who can speak into the future of Cape Town.

Over the last couple of years I have reported on how their hip hop performs deep differences to call into being the possibility of agency and new imaginaries of democracy, in spite structural oppression. See for instance my texts on their performance at Princess Vlei, in the magazine Urban Wetlands: South Asia; and here in conversation with Emile at Stanford. Their hip hop has flowed into my critique of ‘ecosystem services’ and other technologies of de-politicisation that environmental discourse is often wrapped up in (listen to this argument in my webinar from Portland State University).

Hip hop as tool of critique and pedagogy: documentary from Cape Town

In regards of what hip hop can do, as a practice to critique and engage structural oppression, I can here mention a recent documentary film about the Cape Town hip hop scene created by US-based Kareem Alston.

The film features the many nationalities of hip hoppers in Cape Town that share their talent and devotion to hip hop as a tool of critique and pedagogy. It goes a long way to animate discussions how  democratic practices can be developed from the felt sense of equality, and not from handed down ideas of simply voting every fourth or fifth year. As such of course it revives the deep democratic experiment and tradition from Cape Flats of the 1980s when United Democratic Front and other collectivities developed street-based direct democratic practices in the height of onslaught and struggle (see for instance writings by Jeremy Seekings). Another contribution from the film is that it shows how Cape Town is worlded across the continent through these hip hoppers. (30 min long.)

In solidarity: Palestinians, Mapuche and Capeflatsians

So, listen to “Somos Sur” in solidarity with Palestinians, Mapuche, and Capeflatsians. As my friend Oddveig wrote to me in fighting spirit when recommending “Somos Sur”, herself latina living in Cape Town, “doesn’t this just make you happy!”

Commentary Uncategorized

Namuwongo: Key to Kampala’s Present and Future Development

Ahead of an exhibition celebrating the Kampala neighbourhood, Namuwongo, Joel Ongwec showcases the contribution this informal settlement and its inhabitants to Uganda’s capital city.


Kampala is the largest city of Uganda with over 1.5 million residents. Its rapid population growth has put pressure on the municipality to deliver basic services as up to 60 per cent of the population are living in informal settlements (Mukwaya et al. 2010). Informal areas such as the centrally located Namuwongo have experienced protests over evictions and lack of urban services, including administrative problems that link into wider resource conflicts across the city (Kareem and Lwasa 2011). The need to undertake research to better understand these areas is pressing and a group of researchers including myself have spent time in Namuwongo to consider the issues of urban spaces like this and others across the capital. We sought to address this with research that concludes with an exhibition at the Uganda National Museum.

Namuwongo is an informal settlement which separates two wealthier neighbourhoods of Bugolobi and Muyenga just outside the city centre. It spreads out along the main drainage channel (Nakivubo) that pours its water into Lake Victoria. The settlement has spilled over the railroad tracks as a result of people moving to the capital and currently has an estimated 15,000 inhabitants, several businesses, churches, and even large logistics warehouses. It is however a poorly understood neighborhood, but a vital one to the present and future of Kampala.

In the last few decades, the people living in Namuwongo have experienced significant threats from different stakeholders and policy makers in the city. In the late 1990’s they experienced threats from people who claimed to be the land owners of the area, threats that kept the people in fear of developing their community, after all, why develop when you might find your house demolished at any moment?

In the same period there were rumours spreading that National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) was seeking to control the adjacent wetland, leading to increased fears of demolition in Namuwongo. While the people of Namuwongo are resourceful and skilled, no-one wanted to risk improving any single thing in both the housing and the environment.

Namuwongo therefore became a temporary base for everyone who lived there: people not sure if they would be able to spend the next night in Namuwongo, even though most of the people work in the city including for the municipality, or on construction sites, road sweeping, restaurants, hotels, security, and so on. These positions might sound low or irrelevant but they are vital to the functioning of the city and without them there would be no urban development.

In research carried in Namuwongo including myself and researchers from the UK, we worked with six different people and followed them to find out how they navigate the city and what they do, how they cope with challenges and identify opportunities, and how they perceive Namuwongo and Kampala more generally. We quickly saw that these people are a vital presence in the city and its future.

We found that these people are responsible for the food distribution in the city, for example. We worked with one market vendor who has a vegetable store in Namuwongo market. He wakes up at 4am and hits the road to the main Nakasero market to buy vegetables and bring them to the Namuwongo market which serves a variety of people and restaurants in Namuwongo, Muyenga, Bukasa and Kibuli. Related to this we also worked with a lady who sell fruits in the city – she buys her fruits from the Clock-tower market and sells in the city centre.


There was one youth who works with his uncle in a small woodshop in Namuwongo after spending much of his youth collecting and recycling rubbish. To our surprise he was fitting boards in the five star Hilton hotel in the city. In these and in so many other ways, the people in Namuwongo are crucial to the life of the city.


However the neighbouring communities like Muyenga and Bugolobi often do not appreciate the fact that these people are important in the day-to-day operations of city life. They sometimes claim that the people are lazy, thieves, and possess just about any negative attitude you can imagine.

We also realised that the people in Namuwongo are dependent on NGOs because they have no service from the KCCA or the Government: no public toilets, playground for children and no proper drainage channels. The children have the chance to play in schools but they will never have any exposure to sports and games in their community. In return for their investment in Kampala and its future, then, the residents of Namuwongo receive little more than negative perceptions, demolition, and severely limited services. In time, with hope, attitudes towards this vibrant neighborhood will change for the better.

The exhibition has brought together the wider research project involving a number of partners from Namuwongo and further afield. Photographer, Josephine Namukisa spent time with each resident collaborator to document their everyday activities, to show how they create various networks and infrastructures to navigate the city and to not only get by but get on in the capital city. We wanted to celebrate the lives of people who are part of this great and important neighbourhood. We hope that this exhibition captures some of the beauty and life of Namuwongo but we also encourage you to take a visit down to the area. We’re sure you’ll receive a great welcome.


Celebrating Namuwongo will be at the Uganda National Museum 30 May to 28 June (

This exhibition has been put together by myself, Josephine Namukisa, Helen Fairs, Colin McFarlane and Jonathan Silver with support from Shuiab Lwasa, David Mann and, of course, the staff at the National Museum.

This commentary first appeared on Africa@LSE (

Kareem, B., & Lwasa, S. (2011). From dependency to Interdependencies: The emergence of a socially rooted but commercial waste sector in Kampala City, Uganda. African Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, 5(2), 136-142.

Vermeiren, K., Van Rompaey, A., Loopmans, M., Serwajja, E., & Mukwaya, P. (2012). Urban growth of Kampala, Uganda: Pattern analysis and scenario development. Landscape and urban planning, 106(2), 199-206.

Announcements Conferences News NEWS: MOVE Cape Town Presentations

MOVE Project organises: The Cape Town Civil Society Conference, 6 June, 2015

Dr. Henrik Ernstson is organizing a major Civil Society Conference in Cape Town on 6 June, 2105. The conference is a result of his 3-year MOVE/CIVNET research project on civil society networks with Professor Mario Diani and Dr. Lorien Jasny. The conference gathers over 100 organisations that mobilise on the urban environment to debate and discuss the project’s findings, the autonomy of civil society—and democratisation of this once apartheid-divided city. 


This conference invites Cape Town’s civil society organzations to reflect and share their experiences in mobilizing and influencing the urban environment, from struggles around housing and service delivery, to the protection of habitat and biodiversity. Researchers are invited to discuss alliance building, movement formation and the democratization of urban space, including legacies from apartheid and contemporary challenges. Central is to give space for break-out groups, discussions and networking.

Read more at our website.

If you are civil society group in Cape Town, please go to the website and sign up to participate on the red RSVP button.

Announcements Conferences News NEWS: Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies

Conference at Stanford: “URBAN BEYOND MEASURE: Registering Urban Environments in the Global South” 8-9 May 2015

Dr. Henrik Ernstson and Dr. Jia-Ching Chen are organizing an ambitious conference at Stanford on the meeting between environmental scientists, global South urbanists and STS scholar on the “Urban Beyond Measure: Registering Urban Environments of the Global South”, May 8-9, 2015 at Stanford University. Included is also a session on film and photography as environmental humanities response to registers these urban environments beyond measure. Read more on our website.


The processes of urbanization in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America are occurring at the fastest rates in human history. In the context of new cities, ‘megacities’, informal and illegal cities, what people think of as cities—our assumptions about how they develop, what they look like, what they provide and how—is changing in response.

However, there are limits to our methods and theories in understanding these emergent cities. The registers we use to map, measure and code the city into intelligible data only capture certain aspects. In many regards, our scientific means of framing the city and how it is changing is in a process of catching up, leaving us with a sense of the urban beyond measure.

In this regard, a meeting between science and urban studies is crucial in order to develop interdisciplinary methods and knowledge, and thinking across disciplines. The conference gathers leading environmental scientists and global South urbanists and political ecologists.

Leading scientists

Leading environmental scientists and social scientists participating includes, Anne Rademacher, Awadhendra Sharan, Alisa Zomer, Angel Hsu, Garth Myers, Malini Ranganathan,  James Ferguson, Jason Corburn, Jenna Davis,  Stephen Luby, Perrine Hamel, Timothy Choy. Keynote addresses will be given by Sarah Whatmore and Susan Parnell.

Film and photography as registersThe Film WOKUE - Thumbnail

In the evening of 8 May there will also be  Knowing Urban Environments through Photography and Film
Film screening: ONE TABLE TWO ELEPHANTS: A FILM ABOUT WAYS OF KNOWING URBAN NATURE by Jacob von Heland and Henrik Ernstson.
Film screening: KAPITAL CREATION: CHASING THE CHINESE DREAM by Matthew Niederhauser and John Fitzgerald
Photographs: CHINA’S COUNTERFEIT PARADISE by Matthew Niederhauser

This is a conference organized and moderated by Henrik Ernstson (Stanford University) and Jia-Ching Chen (Brown University) under the Urban Beyond Measure initiative at Stanford Anthropology. 8-9 Levinthal Hall at the Stanford Humanities Center.


Announcements Learning Uncategorized

ACC Seminar: “Political Theory Meets Global South Urbanism: Where is the Political?”, July 27-31, 2015

Dr. Henrik Ernstson and Dr. Andrés Henao Castro is organising a week-long #SUPE literature seminar on “Political Theory Meets Global South Urbanism: Where is the Political?”, July 27-31, 2015 at ACC, University of Cape Town. I am happy to have invited Dr. Andrés Henao Castro to come to ACC at University of Cape Town for a month in July/August. Andrés is a Colombian who wrote his dissertation at the University of Massachusetts on political theory, working through the classics, but with a viewpoint from the immigrant, a very important topic from Europe, USA to South Africa these days. He writes about his dissertation:

My dissertation offers a new framework through which to theorize contemporary democratic practices by attending to the political agency of unauthorized immigrants. I argue that unauthorized immigrants themselves, by claiming their own ambiguous legal condition as a legitimate basis for public speech, are able to open up the boundaries of political membership and to render the foundations of democracy contingent, that is to say, they are able to reopen the question about who counts as a member of the demos.
Together we putting together a reading seminar on two bodies of literature—political theory and global South urbanism. With PhD students and participating scholars, we will explore how these literature can speak to each other, their tensions and possibilities. We hope this will be a yearly seminar so that we can run this again next year in 2016.
For those interested, the seminar is a great opportunity to read classics and contemporary literature in political philosophy with somebody that has studied these texts a lot. Andrés will be our guide to discuss these texts and place them in a wider context of political theory. When paired with global south urbanism literature we hope we can contribute to the theoretical terrain of ACC, Situated UPE, global South urbanism and beyond. The seminar is part of the new 3 year project that Henrik Ernstson is developing with Edgar Pieterse on “Radical Incrementalism and Situated Urban Political Ecologies” that through empirical work and scholarly seminars will explore theories and practices of emancipatory change in unequal urban landscapes.
More information about the seminar will be sent out when we have clarified the scope and framing. If you are interested, please send me a line (email address at UCT or KTH). There are no funding available to cover any costs for international participants.
Best regards,
Henrik Ernstson
PS: Here is more information about Dr. Andrés Henao Castro and his dissertation:
PhD dissertation by Andrés Fabián Henao CastroMy dissertation offers a new framework through which to theorize contemporary democratic practices by attending to the political agency of unauthorized immigrants. I argue that unauthorized immigrants themselves, by claiming their own ambiguous legal condition as a legitimate basis for public speech, are able to open up the boundaries of political membership and to render the foundations of democracy contingent, that is to say, they are able to reopen the question about who counts as a member of the demos. I develop this argument by way of a close reading of Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone, which allows me to dramatize democracy’s vexed relation to the question of foreignness and to challenge traditional concepts of democracy, political membership and agency.My turn to the classical Greek tragedy of Antigone is doubly motivated. First, it allows me to translate the political agon (conflict) staged by unauthorized immigrants today in order to read its rival narratives of membership. It provides me with a frame by which to link the politics of burial at the borders with the public protests performed by unauthorized immigrants in the streets of Tucson and Paris. Secondly, it allows me to decenter the frame, to facilitate a new trajectory for this classical tradition against the dominant reception of Antigone as civically circumscribed to one polis. Exploring Antigone’s alternative subtext of metoikia helps me to contest the idealized construction of Athenian culture that has influenced Western European ideals. Filling the gaps in our accounts of democratic theory, this research will contribute to our understanding of the phenomenon of alienage and provide a deliberative platform through which to articulate questions surfacing from this other form of political membership. My research also provides future scholarship with a theoretical basis for a broader interrogation of political agency and opens up a different trajectory for the reception of the classical tradition and for different inter-disciplinary ways of doing political theory.

Learning News NEWS: Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies Presentations Publications

Marnie Graham defended her thesis on Postcolonial Nature Conservation

Marnie Graham successfully defended her PhD thesis at Stockholm University on “Postcolonial Nature Conservation and Collaboration” on the 27th of February 2015. Her study is part of our “Ways Of Knowing Urban Ecologies” project in Cape Town where she has studied nature conservation and collaborative arrangements at the Macassar Dunes.

By framing the site and nature conservation practices as embedded in colonial and apartheid legacies Dr. Marnie Graham uncovers how such legacies both continue into the present, but also when they are negotiated and transformed when people from different backgrounds meet. Her study includes analysis of how nature conservators are elaborating new identities and methods in becoming nature conservators in a post-apartheid and post-colonial urban setting like Cape Town. Based on empirical work in Cape Town, her thesis develops a more general approach on how to handle and understand the intersection between conservation and urbanization, in particular in cities of the Global South.

The Swedish research council Formas is acknowledged for providing funding for this thesis research through the research grant “Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies” (Dnr: 250-2010-1372; WOK-UE) lead by Dr. Henrik Ernstson. Her supervisors have been political ecologist Dr. Henrik Ernstson at KTH and human geographer Sandie Suchet-Pearson at Macquarie University in Sydney.


Summary of the thesis:

Post-colonial Nature Conservation and Collaboration in Urban Protected Areas 

By Marnie Graham, Stockholm University and Macquarie University

Nature conservation has a lengthy, contested history throughout much of the colonial/settler world. In South Africa during the colonial and (defacto colonial) apartheid eras, conservation was marked by exclusion and dispossession of colonised peoples, and state and elite control of land, resources and knowledge. These inequitable processes were underlined by normalised and racialised ideas and relations to nature, conservation, knowledge and protected areas. In the post-colonial, post-apartheid era, theories and practices of inclusive, devolved, and people-centred approaches have emerged around protected area management, referred to collectively as co-management.

Seeking in theory to redress historical relations between conservation authorities and colonised lands and peoples (Dressler et al. 2010), co- management arises as an endeavour of post-colonial nature conservation. The post-colonial refers to the era after the (highly contested) end of colonial rule, but also to the prospect of embracing de-colonising approaches to nature conservation (Adams and Mulligan 2003). Post-colonial nature conservation thus attends to both “the contestation of colonial domination and the legacies of colonialism” (Loomba 2005: 16). In South Africa and other colonial/settler nations, colonial conservation practices and ideas continue to find expression in post-colonial nature conservation, including in co-management.

This study brings novel insights on post-colonial nature conservation through attention to co-management processes in urban protected areas. In particular I consider co-management processes in cities of the Global South, which face rapid urbanisation and informality, intense spatial and social inequalities, and

increasing socio-cultural diversity. My literature review demonstrates how this intersection of nature protection, increased urbanization and collaboration is vastly understudied in the Global South within human geography and natural resource management disciplines. Particularly lacking are in-depth empirical analyses of actually existing collaborative nature conservation arrangements, which situate such attempts within colonial, apartheid and post-colonial relations.

The empirical focus is on Macassar Dunes/Wolfgat nature reserves in Cape Town, South Africa, where municipal conservation authorities collaborate on conservation initiatives with community representatives who come from expansive adjacent informal settlements and racially-segregated apartheid-era townships. Through semi-structured interviews and participant observation, I draw on the perspectives from diverse participants in these collaborations to interrogate the (post)colonial condition of collaborative urban nature conservation at Macassar Dunes/Wolfgat, while striving to expand my analysis more generally to be speak into the growing literature on Southern cities (Robinson 2011; Parnell and Pieterse 2014).

Through this analysis emerges complex, ambiguous and contested relations to urban nature, urban space, conservation, knowledges, participation, stakeholder identities, and collaboration. On one hand, neo-colonial practices of exclusion and control are embedded in policy and management regimes, in spite efforts of collaboration and participation. This manifests in conservation science, knowledge production, environmental education, tourism initiatives, and in ‘stakeholder’ identity constructions. On the other hand, my research also demonstrates how those involved in collaborations, from civic representatives to conservation managers, challenge colonial conservation notions and practices, and that these spaces of collaboration can re-work and contest neo- colonial notions and practices.

In my analysis of how nature conservation is re-worked and challenged at Macassar Dunes, I pay attention to the institutional and contextual constraints of the collaborations. The focus is however also on interpersonal relations amongst people and between people and nature that occur in-place at the conservation area, and in the adjoining spaces of the townships and informal settlements. Attention is paid to the often ad hoc, informal and deeply inter-personal relations that develop through the collaborations, and which are challenging conservation practice in profound ways. The relations formed in and through collaboration are informing from the ‘bottom-up’ what post-colonial nature conservation practice could be, but also how colonial legacies and tendencies ‘slip’ into these interpersonal relations.

By necessity, this analysis requires engaging difficult questions of race, identity, informality, poverty, insecurity and diverse ways of knowing urban nature through the collaborations. It is these themes that permeate the analysis and bring novel insights into the practice of urban protected area co-management as an endeavour of post-colonial nature conservation. The thesis is composed of an Introduction, Literature Review, Methodologies and Conclusion chapters, together with four manuscripts prepared for publication in peer-reviewed journals.

Supervisors: Henrik Ernstson, KTH-Royal Institute of Technology, and Sandie Suchet-Pearson, Macquarie University.

Co-supervisors: Thomas Elmqvist, Stockholm University, and Richard Howitt, Macquarie University.

The Swedish research council Formas is acknowledged for providing funding for this thesis research through the research grant “Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies” (Dnr: 250-2010-1372; WOK-UE).

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Moving Closer to Nature: Film Project & Intellectual Conversations

The 26th of February, KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory held the roundtable conversation Moving Closer to Nature. The discussions centred around researching and thinking about nature, capitalism and situated ways of knowing. This post is re-blogged from KTH Environmental Humanities website published on 2015-03-16. For more information read the film project site here.

In this conversation, political ecologist Henrik Ernstson (KTH) invited Michael Adams (Wollongong University), Dan Brockington (University of Manchester) and Bill Adams (Cambridge University) to reflect, using their own empirical research, on how research, theory and thinking about nature have changed over their active careers. Central to the conversation was to move closer to nature to better understand its political content in a world where the pressures to codify nature to serve capital as a service, a product or a consumerist experience, is paralleled with a need to re-understand nature as profoundly intertwined with us. Indeed, we could have called this meeting ‘Nature in tension: between simplification and situatedness’.

The Roundtable Conversation was filmed. The conversation is part of an environmental film project between Jacob von Heland and Henrik Ernstson at Telltales Film and KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory and part of Henrik Ernstson Formas-funded research projects on Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies and Situated Ecologies. Similar conversations will be filmed at two other meetings organized by Henrik Ernstson during 2015, the conference Urban Beyond Measure: Registering Urban Environments of the Global South at Stanford University 8-9 May, and Rupturing the Anthro-Obscene: Political Possibilities of Planetary Urbanization, co-organized with Erik Swyngedouw at KTH in Stockholm, 17-18 September.

For more information about this project, follow our project website  and other ongoing projects for situating ecologies.  Heland and Ernstson area also working on another environmental film project based in Cape Town.

Commentary News

Environment and Development: Gender Equity and Sustainability

EDGES – or Environment and Development: Gender Equity and Sustainability –  is a research collaborative based out of the University of British Columbia and led by Dr. Leila Harris. Members of the group include Masters and PhD students, mostly from the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, but also from the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice, as well as post-docs and visiting scholars who work on relevant topics. EDGES work is predominantly concerned with research on marginalized and vulnerable populations (women, the impoverished, etc.) and seeks to deepen knowledge and advance action on a wide range of coupled social and environmental issues. EDGES members are currently working on a number of projects, one of which is the EDGES Comparative Water Governance in urban sites of Africa Research Project (CWGAR). The project encompasses a number of multi-year studies that focus on research at the intersection of water access/governance and citizenship in urban contexts, most notably in Cape Town, South Africa and Accra, Ghana. The project is also interested in the differentiated effects of neoliberal policies and market instruments on the lived experiences of water access and participation in water governance in these locales.

Among the objectives of this project are:

1)To analyze the effects and experiences of shifts in contemporary water governance among relatively impoverished and underserved communities in Accra, Ghana and Cape Town, South Africa

2) To analyze relationships between water use, access, governance, and citizenship

3) To develop new approaches for narrative analysis, particularly for political ecology

4) To contribute to policy debates regarding possibilities for extending water access and promoting participatory governance, particularly in underserved areas. We also aim to work with partners in each context to promote research capacity and to disseminate knowledge.

Past stages

As part of the CWGAR project, a 499 household survey was conducted in Cape Town, South Africa, and Accra, Ghana (~250 households in each site), completed in January 2012. The survey data is used to identify major points of interest for a deeper qualitative investigation and also to provide context and background for the qualitative work. Among the deliverables of the survey are a policy brief on water access in Ghana, a publication in Ecology and Society, and several more manuscripts in progress.

Between 2011 and 2013, four Master’s students completed fieldwork in Cape Town, South Africa (Lucy Rodina) and Accra, Ghana (Cynthia Morinville, Megan Peloso and Elizabeth Dapaah). Their 4 Master’s theses each shed light on key dimensions of the lived experiences of water access and governance in the context of marginalized and semi-informal urban spaces. One of the key themes that emerged from the work in Ghana and South Africa relates to the role of informality in water access. In a piece published in Water Alternatives, Peloso and Morinville argue that although it is often the case that informal water services pose challenges to users, they have important implications for shaping water realities on the ground. Specifically, in the peri-urban context they study, “respondents make use of informal water services to supplement or ‘patch up’ gaps left by the sporadic water flow of the official service provider. This analysis contributes to understandings of heterogeneity in water access by attending to the everyday practices by which informality is operationalised to meet the needs of the urban poor, in ways that may have previously been overshadowed”.


Elizabeth Dapaah’s work involves a comparative study on water governance, delivery and access among indigenous and migrant low-income communities in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area. Her work looks at how impoverished migrant and indigenous communities negotiate access to water and the role of informal networks and institutions in this regard. She concludes that “it is important to understand the factors that constrain or enhance people’s access to water within specific neighborhoods since it can inform intervention options to improving access. For some communities, while cost may remain a barrier to access, for others, conflicts, time and distance to access water may remain the main dimensions of vulnerability. In addition, knowing the socio-cultural make up of a community can be very important in exploring different governance pathways for improving water access.”


Work by Lucy Rodina in Cape Town, South Africa looks at the tensions that arise from the housing formalization process in urban impoverished townships (specifically Khayelitsha) and their implications for reshaping the divide between formal and informal spaces. (In)formality, she finds, is experienced through differentiation in both water service delivery and sense of citizenship. One of Lucy Rodina’s thesis chapters (currently available as a working paper) investigates the lived realities of the implementation of the human right to water in South Africa, by looking at the effects of service delivery processes and politics on actual water access in Khayelitsha. She concludes that the human right to water is too narrowly defined, which can result in continued challenges in water access as well as accentuated inequality among residents of formal and informal spaces. The role of the state –as a governing body, but also as imagined and experienced – is another key theme in this research. The CWGAR project highlights key differences in how the state is imagined in Ghana and in South Africa. Several papers currently in process further investigate the evolving state-society relations linked to water access and governance in both contexts.













Most recent work by post-doc Crystal Tremblay

During the most recent stage of the project, Dr Crystal Tremblay, postdoctoral researcher, visited Cape Town in November and December 2014. The major focus of Crystal’s work is to involve local communities in a participatory video project, with focus on water and sanitation related issues. She did some initial work with the Iliso Care society in Khayelitsha in November and is planning a trip to Accra (March 2015). More details on Crystal’s background and project are available HERE. During the initial stages of the participatory video project in Khayelitsha, water and sanitation were among a range of themes highlighted by youth involved with the project. Participants used drawing techniques (in small groups of 2) to creatively explore and uncover important issues and stories to delve into as part of the video project. Keep an eye on the EDGES website for more information on the community-produced videos. In the meantime, a short video is available that explores these issues.



Future steps in this project include a follow-up on the community video work in 2015 with planned focus groups with policy makers, as well as two new PhD projects conducted by Lucy Rodina and Scott McKenzie. Lucy’s doctoral work will look at the intersection of water governance and climate change in Cape Town using a social-ecological systems approach. More specifically, she will seek a deeper understanding of the ways in which climate change affects both water resources and existing governance frameworks. Lucy is also interested in investigating critical approaches to resilience concepts, and in evaluating the ways in which resilience thinking can be meaningfully applied to urban water governance under climate change. Scott McKenzie’s project will investigate the triangulated relationship between citizenship, state provision of water, and space in under-served areas of Accra, Ghana and Cape Town, South Africa. Scott is interested in two primary research questions. First, how does water provision, access, and affordability affect notions of constructed and everyday citizenship for relatively impoverished residents living in Accra and Cape Town? Second, how do citizens in these locales engage their civic rights, or discourses of rights, to influence state practices and water provision?


More details on all of these projects are available on our website: Announcements of related news and new publications can be found on Twitter (@EDGES_ubc).


Commentary News

SUPE Commentaries—a successful space during 2014 to grow our collective!

We have had thousands of views on our SUPE ‘Commentaries’ webspace during 2014. The contributions have been lively, gratifying to edit and read for the main editors Henrik Ernstson and Jonathan Silver. Contributions have come from various locations and people. Below we feature a selection of contributions.


Importantly, the SUPE Commentaries has hCommentaries1-300x98ad contributions from several outside those that initiated the collective. A quick overview of SUPE Commentaries shows that the SUPE activities—workshops and special sessions—have triggered more scholars to contribute to grow our SUPE Collective. In particular younger and early career scholars have used this space to test ideas, report on their projects and share reflections. For the SUPE Collective this is a good breathing space to share. Please contribute!

After the SUPE Pretoria workshop, one participant, Wangui Kimari used her research experience to reflect on police raids in urban areas in Kenya and Brazil—and the possibility of connecting favela resistance(s). She writes “it is important to recognise that the raids in these two cities are not exceptions and are rather entrenched in the more negative structural conditions that connect both Kenya and Brazil. These oppressions are anchored in the mutually shared politico-economic scaffoldings and unequal socio-natures that establish extreme income disparity, poverty, disease and exclusion, particularly for young people who constitute a significant percentage of the population of both countries. For both groups of youth, in stark contrast to the betterment that they are consistently promised in these periods of democracy and neoliberal fervour, what they face instead, before and after the raids, is huge unemployment, rising costs of living, environmental injustice and “caterpillars cutting down the pillars of houses.””

Erin Goodling, after the Radical Incrementalism workshop in Cape Town took us to Portland to think through how a situated urban political ecology perspective can reshape how we can think about mobilisation in Portland, a Northern “poster child” for the “sustainable city”. She sees that ”several threads that SUPE organizers are thinking through are useful in theorizing how transformative change might happen in Northern cities of relative affluence – with serious racialized and spatialized disparities – such as Portland.”


Anna Zimmer used the SUPE Commentaries after the DOPE special session section to present her ongoing research project with Natasha Cornea and René Véron. They work through the lens of urban political ecology to “question the patterns of environmental governance that develop in small cities [of India where most people live], and the politics surrounding these.” They adopt “a comparative case-study approach to examine four small cities in Gujarat and West Bengal.” Anna Zimmer also gave a reflection on a recent workshop on Indian Ecological Urbanisms organised in Hong Kong by Anne Rademacher & K. Sivaramakrishnan.

Sophie Schramm did like Anna Zimmer and described coordinates for her new research project with Jochen Monstadt on African infrastructure ideals. Their focus lies on “the translation and creative adaptation of circulating urban and infrastructure ideals and models in the African cities Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Accra (Ghana) and Nairobi (Kenya) and the way they shape the respective water and sanitation infrastructure regimes”.


Jonathan Silver reflected on water shut offs in Detroit and compared resistance strategies with those from African cities. In another piece he pondered the meaning of Smart cities across urban Africa, which included the fear of the use of “riot drones” developed in South Africa after Marikana to quell urban mobilisations. Earlier he had argued in another piece that carbon financing for African cities is flawed and often fails to support sustainable and just development. Earlier, James Evans had focused on boda-boda motorcycle taxis in Uganda to ask how current thinking in mobility studies often fails to acknowledge effective modes of transportation, which nonetheless needs to be critically assessed. Marnie Graham reflected with her supervisors on doing PhD studies at Stockholm and Macquarie Universities in Sweden and Australia, with critical human geography field work on urban nature conservation in Cape Town. Mary Lawhon used her teaching to reflect on how differently different students in her classroom in Pretoria think about ‘the city’, depending on what social class or part of the urban area they are from. She surfaces the many problems that arise when we work as educators across different experiences of ‘the urban’.

Anthony Levenda, after the SUPE special session at DOPE, contributed to the SUPE Commentaries with a sensitive reflection on how Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Urban Political Ecology could be set in effective communication to ‘emplace urbanism’ in both North America and developing countries. He draws on Thomas Gieryn’s 2006 paper on ‘city as truth spots’ where Gieryn instead points to the “the LA School of critical postmodern urban research that claims no objectivity, and rather, has explicit action-oriented, advocatory, and normative research orientations that view the city as neither a lab nor field, but rather a “battleground” where claims, ideas, and meanings are always political and contested.” He cites Haraway that “our inquiries should embrace “politics and epistemologies of location, positioning, and situating, where partiality and not universality is the condition of being heard to make rational knowledge claims.“”

Henrik Ernstson reflected on the difference between “pluralizing” and “provincializing” urban political ecology, arguing that the dividing line goes between the level of postcolonial critique applied. He also reported from a wetland in Cape Town on how colonial and apartheid memories can destabilise established expertise in nature conservation and natural resource management, and in another piece developed some coordinates for the use of film in Situated UPE work.

Please follow their lead and send in your own reflections by contacting Henrik, Mary or Jon and help to grow our SUPE Collective.