Situated Urban Political Ecology (SUPE) is a work in progress, the building of a way of understanding cities that takes their differences seriously while striving to learn from difference across contexts.

SUPE builds on a number of different literatures and experiences:

  1. The concern that urban environmental research in African cities is approached through conventional policy and practice. While there has been some research which has used the environmental justice lens, and some use of urban political ecology (UPE) there remains a paucity of critical research into African urban environments (Myers, 2008; Lawhon, 2013).
  2. The call to seriously consider the relevance of urban theory for cities in the South, and allow for a wider range of cities to inform urban theory (Robinson 2006, Roy 2009). To provincialize (Chakrabarty, 2000) UPE is to develop a way of framing that is more attentive to subjectivity and situation and that can question taken-for-granted ideas in order to broaden the scope for theorizing with more urban experiences in mind.
  3. Urban political ecologies, which have typically worked within a Marxist framing (Heynen et al., 2006). While there is much utility to this approach, we seek to expand the range of theoretical influences on UPE, especially in light of the call to provincialise urban theory.

A situated UPE creates the possibility for a broader range of urban experiences to inform theory on how urban environments are shaped, politicized and contested. It is not our intention to suggest that such a provincialization can only or even best be undertaken through engagement with African urban research, but to begin opening a space for the development of a more theoretically heterogeneous UPE.

Two key publications (in Antipode and Regional Studies) seek to conceptually frame the SUPE, bringing together these outlined concerns and providing our response to these imperatives; more collective works are also in progress.

The SUPE Collective is a collaborative space for researchers from different institutions to develop and present interventions in the field of Urban Political Ecology.

Through scholarly papers, conference sessions and presentations, workshops, reading suggestions and more, we hope to develop a sense of community with others with similar conceptual and empirical interests. We hope this can serve as a platform for developing new research projects and exploring radical and critical perspectives on African urban environments.

Central to our project is our desire to provide learning opportunities for young researchers in African universities to develop critical skills needed to interrogate these dynamics. Whilst there is a vibrant culture of urban scholarship in Africa, compared to other global regions university departments engaging in these issues are often under-resourced and struggle to link into global networks of knowledge exchange and development.

  • Lawhon, Mary, Ernstson, Henrik and Jonathan Silver. (2014). Provincialising urban political ecology: towards a situated UPE through African urbanism. Antipode. 46(2): 497-516.
  • Ernstson, Henrik, Lawhon, Mary, and James Duminy. (2014). Conceptual vectors of African Urbanism: ‘Engaged theory-making’ and ‘platforms of engagement’ Regional Studies. Early online available.
  • Lawhon, Mary. (2013). Flows, friction and the sociomaterial metabolization of alcohol. Antipode. 45(3): 681-701.
  • Lawhon, Mary. (2013). Situated, networked environmentalisms: a case for environmental theory from the South. Geography Compass. 7(2): 128–138.
  • Silver, J. (2014). Incremental infrastructures: material improvisation and social collaboration across post-colonial Accra. Urban Geography35(6), 788-804.
  • Zeiderman, A., Kaker, S. A., Silver, J., & Wood, A. (2015). Uncertainty and Urban Life. Public Culture27(2 76), 281-304.
  • Graham, M., & Ernstson, H. (2012). Comanagement at the Fringes: Examining Stakeholder Perspectives at Macassar Dunes, Cape Town, South Africa–at the Intersection of High Biodiversity, Urban Poverty, and Inequality. Ecology and Society17(3), 34.
  • Ernstson, H., & Sörlin, S. (2013). Ecosystem services as technology of globalization: On articulating values in urban nature. Ecological Economics86, 274-284.

Antipode Abstract from Situated Urban Political Ecology on Vimeo.

“We believe that in the long run the special contribution to the world by Africa will be in this field of human relationships. The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look, but the great gift still has to come from Africa – giving the world a more human face.”

Stephen Bantu Biko