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During 2018 we are taking a rest! ACC Winter School on “Democratic Practices of Unequal Geographies” plans to be back in 2019.

There will unfortunately not be an ACC Democratic Practices Winter School during 2018. However, we are planning another three years from 2019, 2020 and 2021 that will tentatively be more centred on racial capitalism, settler colonial urbanisation, resistance and democratic practices in the contemporary era. The organising committee is convening meetings during 2018 to lay the foundation for these three years and seek funding to hold the course including travel bursaries and organisational assistance. We are also not sure where the course will be held next time since Henrik Ernstson, who has been the anchor for funding and organising the course at ACC in Cape Town is joining The University of Manchester full time during 2018. However, we are still hopeful to be able to hold the course in South Africa, either at ACC again or in collaboration with another university. We will keep you posted and you can expect an update later in 2018. For questions or input, please contact Henrik.

For those new to the Democratic Practices Winter School, its an intense one-week seminar where we read political philosophy with and against Southern urbanism. Rather than a geographical container, we are interested in the global South as an epistemological position and a field of experience that can trouble and re-new both radical urban theory and political theory. The Winter School has been developed by Dr. Henrik Ernstson and Dr. Andrés Henao Castro, and in 2017 together with Dr. Ashley Bohrer, as a contribution to students and scholars interested in critical urban and political theory. Below you can find more information about the Winter School, its  aims, content and reading lists for 2015, 2016, and 2017 when we worked through the themes of THE DEMOS, THE POLITICS, and THE POLICE. During these three years we have had over 40 participants, with 12-18 participants per year, primarily from South African universities, but also from Kenya, Namibia, Sweden, Germany, UK, Canada and USA.

For more information, go to the course webpage.

 

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“Decolonizing Urbanism” Trier Summer University, 6-12 June 2017 (Call for Applications 31 January)

Henrik Ernstson is an invited keynote lecturer at the upcoming Trier Summer University on “Decolonizing Urbanism: Transformative Perspectives”, Trier University, Germany June 6-12, 2017. Deadline for application January 31, 2017. For updated information and application details, see their website

Participants in Decolonizing Urbanism Summer School at University of Trier, 2017.

Trier Summer SchoolCall for Applications:

Trier Summer University “Decolonizing Urbanism: Transformative Perspectives”

Trier University, Germany June 6-12, 2017
The Governance and Sustainability Lab at Trier University is now inviting applications for its 2017 Summer University, which will take place June 6-12, 2017. Applications are invited from advanced doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers as well as from early career professionals working in geography, urban studies, urban planning, political science, international relations, development studies, gender studies, native studies, cultural studies, sociology, ecology and related fields. Participants will explore the theme of ‘decolonizing urbanism’ through a mixture of public lectures, seminar sessions, advanced skills trainings, excursions, and cultural activities. The Summer University will be held in English. The deadline for applications is January 31, 2017.

On Our Theme, ‘Decolonizing Urbanism’

When the United Nations was founded in 1945, nearly a third of the world’s population lived in territories that were dependent on colonial powers. Since then, many territories have found freedom, yet a variety of colonial relationships and physical legacies have persisted, such as between military occupiers and surrounding populations, native and non-native populations, and through the presence of major religious organizations, just to name a few. Moreover, a considerable body of critical scholarship has pointed out that contemporary societies are still inextricably linked to coloniality, defined not only as a historically situated and unjust economic model, but also as a racialized, androcentric, and class-based hierarchy of knowing and being which marginalizes non-western cultures, knowledges, and histories.

Today, the coloniality of knowing, being and power also intersects with the negative and unevenly distributed consequences of global mega-trends such as urbanization and climate change, which raises pressing questions. How has the span of urbanism and urbanization – from the related academic disciplines to the physical places, people, politics, infrastructure, and cultures – been affected by the forces of colonization and coloniality? Moreover, as efforts to deliberately steer societal transformations in the so-called ‘Anthropocene’ and the ‘Urban Century’ are unavoidably related to questions of power and politics, we ask what efforts to bring about social change are needed or already underway. We are interested in established themes in the literature as well as forging less obvious and exciting new linkages together among disciplines, practices, and places.

Structure of the Summer University

Well in advance, a number of suggested texts will be made available to participants in preparation for the Summer University. The actual Summer University will last seven days and will include keynote speeches, panel discussions, advanced skills training sessions (e.g. presentation tips), as well as excursions and cultural activities in the city of Trier, the Moselle region, and Luxembourg. Participants will discuss each day’s keynote lectures, workshops, and excursions together in small groups, forging new linkages between readings made available in advance, the presented ideas, and the inputs from participants. Further, participants will be able work on a sub-topic of their interest that is related to the overarching topic of ‘decolonizing urbanism’. Some relevant examples include:

    • Decoloniality in theory and praxis (for example in research, education and urbanism)
    • Urban imaginaries and the relation between space, power and knowledge in the urban sphere
    • Perspectives for societal transformations in the face of everyday coloniality and accelerating global change
    • The neoliberalization of the city and strategies for realizing alternative visions of urban change
    • The role and transformation of colonial heritage in urban settings

We envision that through this intensive interdisciplinary dialog a joint publication such as an edited volume or special issue will emerge, and time will be dedicated to this effort.

Confirmed Speakers

Below you can find our keynote speakers. Additional speakers will be confirmed over the next months. For regular updates on the Summer University program, please visit our website.

  • Dr. Epifania Amoo-Adare. University of Bonn, Germany, Center for Development Research (ZEF)

Dr. Epifania Amoo-Adare is a social science researcher and educator with over 25 years of experience, working in countries such as Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ghana, Qatar, the UK, and the USA. Dr. Amoo-Adare has a Ph.D. in Education from UCLA and is also a RIBA part II qualified architect. Additionally, she has diverse and post- disciplinary interests in areas such as Critical Pedagogy, Critical Spatial Literacy, Cultural Studies, Decoloniality, International Educational Development, Mobility Studies, ‘Third World’ Feminisms, and Urban Studies.

  • Prof. Dr. Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez. Justus-Liebig-University Gießen, Germany Department of Sociology

Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez studied sociology, political science, and Romance languages in Frankfurt, Lyon, and Quito, Ecuador. She has taught and worked at the universities of Manchester and Hamburg, as well as in the USA, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Portugal, Sweden, Finland, Austria, and Switzerland. Her areas of interest include global inequality and its local manifestations, and the application of a post- Marxist and decolonial perspective on migration, labor, and culture. Her research projects have been realized in part through support from the DFG (German Research Foundation), the British Academy, the EU, and the Ford Foundation. Gutiérrez Rodríguez has published broadly.

  • Dr. Henrik Ernstson. University of Cape Town, South Africa (African Centre for Cities) KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden (KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory)

Dr. Henrik Ernstson spends most of his time at the African Centre for Cities at University of Cape Town, while serving as Research Fellow at the KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory in Stockholm. He recently concluded a PostDoc at Stanford University and holds a PhD from Stockholm University. He is developing a situated approach to urban political ecology that combines critical geography, urban infrastructure studies and postcolonial and global South urbanism, with a focus on collective action, radical democratic theory, knowledge practices and the co-production of alternative research ‘outputs’, including film and theatre. This includes workshops for younger African scholars in South Africa and Uganda and a PhD winter school at ACC on ‘Democratic Practices of Unequal Geographies’ with Dr. Andrés Henao Castro. He is an experienced Principal Investigator with case studies in Cape Town, Kampala, New Orleans and Stockholm with grants from Swedish, British and South African funders. He is currently finalizing two edited book manuscripts and the environmental humanities research film called ‘One Table Two Elephants’, which focuses on the ontological politics of how race, nature, city and history is interconnected in Cape Town.

  • Dr. Noa Ha. TU Berlin, Germany, Center for Metropolitan Studies

Dr. Noa K. Ha is an Asian German urban studies scholar based in Berlin and wrote her dissertation in Architecture (Technical University Berlin) on street vending in Berlin. Her research investigates processes of urban production from decolonial, critical race theory, feminist and queer theory perspective. She is on the board of the council of migration Berlin and Brandenburg (Migrationsrat Berlin Brandenburg e.V.), active in the Asian German network orientation e.V. and a board member of Critical Ethnic Studies Association (CESA). Currently she is a post-doc at the Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technical University Berlin, and researches the spatial production of Asian diasporas in European cities. She was a scholarship holder of TU Berlin, Rosa-Luxemburg-Foundation and an associate fellow of the transatlantic graduate program ‘History and Culture of Metropolises in the 20th Century’ at the Center for Metropolitan Studies (Berlin).

  • Prof. Dr. David Simon. Mistra Urban Futures, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg and Royal Holloway

David Simon is Director of Mistra Urban Futures, an international research centre on co- production for urban sustainability based at Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden and also Professor of Development Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London. He has vast international experience in research on sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the UK, USA and Sweden. His research in relation to urban areas and climate/environmental change has examined the likely implications of environmental change for cities and their populations, as well as seeking to understand how cities are preparing mitigation and adaptation strategies in response. David Simon has served as specialist advisor to UN-HABITAT on cities and climate change, and was one of only two academics on the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s specialist Africa Advisory Group. He has also served on the Scientific Steering Committee of the international Urbanization and Global Environmental Change (UGEC) program which is now within Future Earth. He holds a B.A. with Distinction from the University of Cape Town, B.A. (Hons) from the University of Reading, and a DPhil from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

  • Prof. Dr. Tuna Tasan-Kok. University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands Department of Human Geography, Urban Planning and International Development

Dr. Tuna Tasan-Kok is an urban social geographer and planner. She graduated from the Department of City and Regional Planning at Dokuz Eylul University of Izmir and completed her M.Sc. in Regional Planning at the Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey in 1996. Her research focuses on regulation of urban development and change from different angles. Being awarded by Turkish, Polish and Hungarian scientific funds, she worked as a research fellow in Polish and Hungarian Academy of Sciences until 2000. She has received her PhD degree in Social Geography from the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands, in 2004. Dr. Tasan-Kok took up researcher and lectureship positions at the Universities of Leuven (2005-2007), TU Delft, OTB Research for the built Environment (2007-2015), and University College Roosevelt (2011-2014), before taking up her current position in Department of Human Geography, Urban Planning and Inter- national Development at the University of Amsterdam in September 2015.

  • Stokley Towles., M.F.A., MLIS The Evergreen State College, USA Member of the Faculty and Performance Artist

Stokley Towles is a public artist, librarian, and member of the faculty. His work focuses on the relationship of people to their daily working and living environments, be it the publics’ experience on a trail system, the dynamic world of police officers on the street, how patrons interact with the public library, or the environment of a municipal waste- water system. He holds a B.A. in Semiotics from Brown University, USA (1986), a M.F.A. in Art and Photography from the California Institute of the Arts (1990), and a MLIS, Library and Information Science, from the University of Washington (2008).

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New Publication: Unlearning [un]located ideas in the provincialization of urban theory

A new publication from our Situated UPE Collective was just published in Regional Studies by Mary Lawhon, Jonathan Silver, Henrik Ernstson and Joseph Pierce. It continues our contribution to Urban Political Ecology and Urban Studies.

Photo by Alicia Nijda, Wikimedia Commons
Figure: Photo by Alicia Nijda, Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alicia_Nijdam-rocinha.jpg

Postcolonial scholars have argued for the provincialization of urban knowledge, but doing so remains an opaque process. This paper argues that explicit attention to ‘learning to unlearn’ unstated theoretical assumptions and normativities can aid in provincialization, and demonstrate ways in which theorizing entails a socio-spatial situation. The authors’ efforts to grapple with operationalizing learning to unlearn in three different urban cases are described, followed by an articulation of strategies for theorizing which more explicitly acknowledge theory-building’s situatedness as well as points of reflection for developing postcolonial urban theory. The authors argue that this usefully shifts the focus of unlearning from ‘who’ is theorizing ‘where’ towards theory’s unstated norms and assumptions.

Intervention in UPE and Urban Studies

The new paper on “Unlearning (Un)located Ideas” (2016) follows our two previous co-authored papers, in Antipode on “Provincializing Urban Political Ecology” (2014) and in Regional Studies “Conceptual Vectors of African Urbanism” in (2014). Together they constitute a theoretical intervention and exploration of Urban Political Ecology and Urban Studies that aims to develop a situated approach to cultural and material politics of urban life that draws a lot of its energies from postcolonial and global South urbanism literature.

Three Situated UPE paper 2014-2016 small3
Three Situated UPE paper 2014-2016 small3

The arc we are traversing, follows one of seeing how UPE has operated as a crucial discourse to politicise urban environments and urbanisation as a process that transforms ’nature’ into social forms of power. UPE’s contributions have been to understand how the material of the city is configured to maintain and enforce social forms of power, and how urbanisation is part of wider economic, geographical and profit-driven processes.

We have then explored how the ‘image of the city’ has changed through the work of global South urbanists. Theoretically this literature centres around the postcolonial insight that ‘location’, or from where one theorises, is important to take into account when making sense of (new) empirical situations.

When the bulk of urban theory comes from a quite different spatiotemporal situation, an industrialising Europe and North America, global South urbanists helps to be cautious of how far such ‘Northern theory’ is in its reach and how well it can explain practical and empirical situations. This means to re-insert the ‘localness’ of European thought to allow for experiences of urbanization and scholarship from different regions to take hold and influence theory-making. For instance, global South urbanists have foregrounded the important role that ‘informality’ and everyday practices plays in the politics of urban environments and urbanisation. And to depart from the everyday and ‘informality’ is one line of thought we are pursuing, see for instance our new research project in Uganda, HICCUP. This way of working does not mean to set aside ‘wider’ economic and geographical processes, but it means to call for a re-alignment from where one can theorise cities and urbanisation, and extend the ways by which specific geographical and historical experiences can feed into thinking cities, political ecologies etc. This reading of global South urbanists have helped us to “provincialize” UPE, i.e. to re-tune and extend its basic critical project, and it has influenced our work to try to build an extended analytics (with adjoining new methods) through which we can re-think how urban environments are politicised.

In this our latest publication on “Unlearning (Un)located Ideas” we reflect explicitly on what this work of “provincialisation” means in practice for us as scholars, i.e. how do we, in our own empirical projects, de-centre our habits of thought, our training as critical scholars so as to let actual cities and forms of urbanisation that we study—its people, technologies, places and their particular histories etc.—speak into theory.

You can read our three publications here:

“Provincializing Urban Political Ecology”, 2014 in Antipode

“Conceptual Vectors of African Urbanism”2014, in Regional Studies

“Unlearning (Un)located Ideas” 2016, in Regional Studies

Also check out our newly funded project: Heterogeneous Infrastructure Configurations in Cities in Uganda Project (HICCUP).

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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:
1b3f381ANTIGONE CLAIMED, “I AM A STRANGER”: DEMOCRACY, MEMBERSHIP AND UNAUTHORIZED IMMIGRATION
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.

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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.

FullSizeRender-750459

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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An environmental film project in Cape Town: “Ways of Knowing Urban Nature – The Film”

Swedish filmer Jacob von Heland and Henrik Ernstson report on their film project in Cape Town that deals with knowledge and urban nature. Filming will take place in Cape Town in January and March, with planned screening at the Urban Beyond Measure Conference: Registering Urban Environments of the Global South at Stanford University in May 2015. The film is also an effort to reflect upon how film and the camera can be part of a research process. The project contributes to broader efforts in the Environmental (post)Humanities to build on the tradition of film as document, art and tool. The project website is here.

How different groups create knowledge about urban nature

The-Film-WOKUE-ThumbnailOur film takes an interest in how different groups create knowledge about urban nature, thereby shaping the future of the city, its ecology, and its meaning to the people of the city. The story starts with grassroots in Cape Town and their work to rehabilitate the Princess Vlei wetland, which has also come to address the city’s history and apartheid legacy. The film continues and follows other groups. In particular we aim to follow municipal biologists and ecologists who have developed and fought to protect ecological functions and the biodiversity of the city in face of development pressure at a broader scale. By describing the work of these different groups, and the city from their perspective, we want to surface how different values and knowledge of urban nature is articulated and become part of public debate.

While biologists might rely on scientific methods, databases, algorithms and maps to bring urban nature into public debates, residents have organized campaigns, planting activities with school children, and performed hip hop songs and circulated slave legends that ties urban nature to the history of the city. The film is interested in understanding the generative differences by which groups approach and give value to urban nature. But also aspects of how scientific and popular knowledge might disappear when decisions around urban nature is to be taken.

The decision-making processes we use seems to have difficulties to maintain the very textured and detailed knowledges that there is about urban nature, from scientific understandings of fynbos and wetland ecology, to intimate feelings of affect and care for urban nature. Indeed, beyond the registers of knowing that different groups use—beyond what can be measured, or what can be expressed in popular struggles and campaigns—lies a silence about the significance of urban nature, its complexities.

The film is about how knowledge about urban nature is performed, and how it matters

The topic is of general relevance for urban contexts world-wide, not least for rapidly growing cities in the developing world. In this context, Cape Town stands out with its high levels of biodiversity, its unequal and demanding development challenges and its apartheid history, which makes Cape Town an important city to understand. It also follows that any film about knowledge production and nature protection will encounter and make visible the always present, but sometimes obscure connections between knowledge, nature, democracy and power. This increases the value of the film as a discussion material in public debates, higher education, and in research.

The film is planned to have its premiere on the scientific conference Urban Beyond Measure: Registering Urban Environments, at Stanford University, 7-8 May 2015.It will be used as discussion material in Cape Town, as well as other cities of the Global South, and in teaching at the University of Cape Town and the KTH Environmental Humanities in Stockholm.

About the film

 “Ways of Knowing Urban Nature” is the working title of the film adaptation of an ongoing Cape Town research project funded by the Swedish Research Council (FORMAS). It is a collaboration between Principal Investigator Dr. Henrik Ernstson at the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town and the film director Dr. Jacob von Heland from Telltales Productions, and the former also affiliated to the KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. For questions, contact Jessica Rattle (jess.rattle[AT]gmail.com) or Henrik Ernstson (henrik.ernstson[AT]uct.ac.za). Filming is planned in Cape Town 18-30 January and 9-16 March 2015.

The-Film-WOKUE-3

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Guatemalan cities and urban political ecology: Report from research visit

Fernando Castillo, biologist and urban ecologist at the Centre for Conservation Studies and University of San Carlos de Guatemala, was invited to work for a week with Henrik Ernstson at Stanford University this May 2014. He here reports on his trip and how it lead to a proposal on urban political ecology in Guatemala.

I did a short Research Internship with Dr. Henrik Ernstson at Stanford University this May 2014. I knew about his work when I read some of his articles and his webpage In Rhizomia. After some emails in which I asked for advice on urban political ecology, we instead came to arrange a full week for me to visit him to exchange ideas on urban political ecology in Latin America, and how Situated Urban Political Ecologies could play a role in formulating a research project for Guatemalan cities. The longer term aim is to contribute with research from Latin America and Guatemala, and provide material to Guatemalan debates on urban ecology and environmental justice.

Guatemala City_DSC8979_1
Photo of working class and informal settlements in Guatemala City. Photo: F Castillo 2014.In preparation, I used the literature from the course Urban Ecology as Science, Culture and Power and we started my visit by discussing ideas behind political ecology and urban ecology. Authors like Swyngedouw, Heynen, Pincetl, Norgaard, Ernstson—and his papers with Silver, Lawhon and Duminy—were used as a means for reflection. A strong commitment to read an apply epistemologies from the south was one of the things we considered more relevant for urban political ecology in Africa and Latin America. (falta lo de la reunion con otros profesores)

Based on this I started to develop ideas on how to apply this knowledge in the context of Guatemalan cities, which we discussed throughout. I developed this further into a discussion document at my home institution in Guatemala that has lead towards a research framework entitled “Applying Political Ecology in the Urban Landscape: Towards Urban Environmental Justice and Urban Sustainability in Guatemalan Cities”. With other colleagues we have recently submitted a proposal based on this framework and we are hoping to gain access to funds to start this project (Lets hope we get the funds!).

Together with Henrik (and his Chilean wife Andrea), I also translated two of his papers into Spanish (Social production of ecosystem services; and Ecosystem services as technology of globalization, with S Sörlin) with the aim to publish these in Latin American journals to have more readers of this part of the world gaining an interest in critical perspectives of the urban environment and urban political ecology in particular. (Avisaremos cuando sepamos más de esto!)

Even in a short time like this, these kind of exchanges, which includes ideas, experiences, literature and commitments can shake your ways of thinking and increase your sensitivity to other contexts that could strength your own work. I think the broader research effort around Situated Ecologies and Situated Urban Political Ecologies is very much about this—to listen and (re-)translate how we understand ecology and politics in different contexts and areas. And then tie them together again in our conversations.

Guatemala City_DSC8982_2
View over high income residential areas of Guatemala City. Photo: F Castillo 2014.

 

I would like to thank Henrik for his patience and advice and also the funding he could provide for this exchange through the Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies project, funded by Swedish Formas (grant number: 250-2010-1372).

I hope we can continue our situated and yet cosmopolitan efforts for trying to understand cities in the South, their complexity and their different shapes and connections to urbanization processes, while also developing practices towards environmental justice in the city.

Saludos desde Guatemala!