Learning News Publications Uncategorized

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.

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).

Announcements Commentary News NEWS: Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies Uncategorized

STOMPIE: Crafting stories from Cape Flats using Afrikaaps, hiphop and popular theatre

A couple of weeks back STOMPIE was screened on 25 Feb 2016 as a work-in-progress on how to weave together experiences of hiphop pedagogy with popular theatre. This was a ‘South-North’ collaboration around crafting stories from marginalised areas. Next steps being discussed among the STOMPIE Crew is a ‘Garage Tour’ to find STOMPIE Supporters, followed by a tour of High Schools in Grassy Park. Here is a short background to the project that involves The Heal the Hood Project, Mixed Mense Collective of artists, Teater Reflex, and the African Centre for Cities. 

STOMPIE - work in progress on crafting stories from Cape Flats
STOMPIE – work in progress on crafting stories from Cape Flats

STOMPIE is the result of three weeks of intensive collaboration between Emile Jansen (The Heal The Hood Project) and Kent Ekberg (Teater Reflex). They are two pedagogues with long-term experience from working in marginalised urban areas in their respective cities of Cape Town and Stockholm using dance/hip-hop/rap and popular community theatre, respectively. During these weeks they have worked with Leeroy Philips, Stefan Benting and Andre Bozack from the Mixed Mense Collective of dancers, artists and b-boys from Lavender Hill/Grassy Park. On 25 Feb it was showed as a work-in-progress on the “Garage Stage” in Grassy Park for kids and adults.

The focus has been on what it means to tell and craft stories from Cape Flats today and the collaboration also feeds into an initiative by Henrik Ernstson at the African Centre for Cities at UCT on Democratic Practices of Unequal Geographies that strives to create and extend the spaces and practices involved in thinking democracy and politics in Cape Town, South Africa & global South cities.

Humour; and Afrikaaps as language of subaltern experience

The play/performance is developed fully in Afrikaaps*, which is seen as a language with its own proper history and genealogy with sounds, rhythms, beats and tones beyond simply being an ‘accident’ or ‘dialect of’ Afrikaans**. This has been explored by Emile and others in the major stage production called Afrikaaps, that played at Artscape and turned into a documentary by Dylan Valley. In STOMPIE, Afrikaaps is mixed with English. But apart from dialogue, the actors use their skills as dance and music artists, to explore a story-line where characters are faced with an important choice that will influence growth, and individual and collective efforts.

The play engages realities of urban living with humour and seriousness. During this work-in-progress session it was clear how it engaged a wide audience from kids to adults that seldom get to see theatre/performances in their own language. This made possible the opening up of thoughts and wider conversations of what it means to grow up, become part and change Cape Town. Afterwards there was a discussion on how to take these practices, stories and lessons-learnt further. Next steps being discussed among the “STOMPIE Crew” is a ‘Garage Tour’ and a tour of High Schools in Grassy Park.

To me, the play explores how to break out of confines, and where agency to change the city might sit, and through what practices that could be done. Language becomes a tool for creating agency, for bringing forth and recognising everyday collective experiences as valid and important, and from where agency can be created. This lies clearly in the use of Afrikaaps, but also in how other registers or languages is being used as in dance, rap, dialogue and story-telling. I look forward in having conversations about this more with people who saw the play, and those who will hopefully see it as it evolves.


* I am adding this video, a link to the documentary film of the on Afrikaaps project:


** Afrikaans has in turn a quite unstable relation to Dutch.

Announcements Commentary News NEWS: Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies Uncategorized

1 Table 2 Elephants: a film essay about bushmen bboys, a flower kingdom and the ghost of a princess (5 min teaser)

Check out a 5 minute ‘teaser’ of the film “1 Table 2 Elephants” that we are finalising in 2017. Filmed in Cape Town in 2015, it deals with ways of knowing urban ecologies in postapartheid and postcolonial cities. It’s created by Jacob von Heland and Henrik Ernstson, produced in collaboration with KTH and UCT and funded by Formas.

Many-layered city-nature

Entering the city through its plants and wetlands, the many-layered, painful and liberating history of the city emerges as we meet how biologists, hip hoppers, and wetland activists each searches for ways to craft symbols of unity and cohesion. But this is a fraught and difficult task. Perhaps not even desirable. Plants, aliens, memories and ghosts keep troubling efforts of weaving stories about this place called Cape Town.

The film tries to be a vehicle for more general conversations about history/histories, post/de-colonization and the caring for nature, city, people and oneself. Its directed towards a wide audience, from the general public to students and scholars. When ready during 2017 it will be 75 minutes long. Watch the 5 minutes ‘teaser’ below.

A wider repertoire for doing urban political ecology

The film forms part of an effort to build a wider repertoire of practices on how to approach urbanisation, cities and environmental politics, a repertoire we have called Situated Ecologies [1]. This is a multi-faceted approach that includes historical research and ethnographic practices, but also collaborations with filmers, artists, philosophers and designers. We believe these collaborations can help to trouble more conventional social and natural scientific practices, and create different ‘outputs’ or artefacts to facilitate wider, richer and thoroughly political conversations about urban ecology.

This film explores ontological politics and urban political ecology in postcolonial and postapartheid contexts. But it also speaks beyond its own local context. As often through the medium of film, the peculiar—and in some cases, the utter strangeness of Cape Town—becomes something that can travel and be translated. The film tries to be this ‘vehicle of translation’ from one context to another and provides material for discussions about our own cities, lives and collective struggles.

The film will be ready during 2016. Keep checking this space (or @rhizomia or @SituatedEcologies) and we will let you know. We have screened early work-in-progress versions in South Africa, California, Sweden and soon in Namibia.

 /Henrik and Jacob.

Facts about “1 Table 2 Elephants” : Created by: Jacob von Heland and Henrik Ernstson. Produced by: Telltales Film in collaboration with KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory and the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town. Photography: Johan von Reybekiel. Sound: Jonathan Chiles. Funded by: Swedish Research Council Formas. Production coordination: Jessica Rattle and Nceba Mangese. More info:


[1] This is a blog post and not a scholarly text, but to outline some of the inspirations behind ‘situated ecologies’, I can mention: Donna Haraway’s crucial work on situated knowledges from 1988; Urban Political Ecology and its use of socio-natures, cyborgs and its interest in emancipatory politics (Erik Swyngedouw, Matthew Gandy); postcolonial and decolonial scholars (e.g. Gayatri Spivak, Dipesh Chakrabarty); global South urbanism (AbdouMaliq Simone, Ananya Roy, Jennifer Robinson and others); and work on ontological politics, material semiotics and actor-networks (Isabelle Stengers, Sarah Whatmore, John Law, Ann-Marie Mol, Bruno Latour). 

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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.

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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 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.

News Uncategorized

Re-blogging: SUPE Session at DOPE tomorrow in Lexington

Tomorrow is the start of the DOPE conference on Dimensions of Political Ecology in Lexington, KY. SUPE is organizing a special session with 8 papers from across the world (unfortunately Cameron Hu and Ilia Farhani had to cancel their participation). The session is on “Pluralizing Urban Political Ecology in a World of Cities” and gathers in-depth case studies with theoretical conversations, from Jakarta, Bangalore to New York City. This is the start of our year-long SUPE conversation on doing and studying urban political ecology in a world of cities. (DOPE conference programme, here.)

As we have reported, the session will mix students and more experienced scholars, theoretical reflection and case studies. Garth MYERS pushes us to seek spatial justice in African cities and with Missaka HETTIARACHCHI we travel to urban wetlands in Kolkatta and Colombo, unpacking the political content of their governing. Lindsay CAMPBELL discusses trees and ‘green spaces’ in New York City, Malini RANGANATHAN learns from Bangalore on how to pluralize the state in urban political ecological analysis. Alec FOSTER unpacks Philadelphian urban ecologies through the notion of ‘doing identity’, and Mary LAWHON analyses media representations of environmental struggles in South Africa. Joshua COUSINS will present a broad literature review from 1965-2012 on different theoretical takes on urban metabolism. Henrik ERNSTSON opens the session by provincializing Urban Political Ecology through African Urbanism. Our two-part session will be moderated by Henrik ERNSTSON and Mary LAWHON. Stay tuned! Our 2014 SUPE Platform Conversation has just begun.

Part 1—”Pluralizing the Approaches to UPE in a ‘World of Cities’” [10 am – 11:40 am, Student Centre]
Paper 1: Henrik ERNSTSON on Provincializing Urban Political Ecology: Towards a Situated UPE Through African Urbanism (with Mary Lawhon and Jonathan D. Silver)
Paper 2: Malini RANGANATHAN on Pluralizing ‘the State’ in Urban Political Ecology: Insights from Post-Colonial Studies and the Anthropology of State Formation (Bangalore)
Paper 3: Alec FOSTER on Doing Identity in Urban Political Ecology (case study from Philadelphia)
Paper 4: Garth MYERS on Seeking Socio-Environmental and Spatial Justice in African Cities

Part 2—”Pluralizing the Approaches to UPE in a ‘World of Cities’” [3 pm – 4:40 pm, Student Centre]
Paper 5: Mary LAWHON on Media Representations of Urban Environmental Conflict in South Africa
Paper 6: Lindsay K. CAMPBELL on Constructing Nature in a Global City: Political, Discursive, and Material Practices of Urban Forestry and Agriculture in New York City
Paper 7: Missaka HETTIARACHCHI on Governing the Urban Wetlands in Developing Cities: A Political-Ecology (with T. H. Morrison, Clive McAlpine)(Kolkata and Colombo)
Paper 8: Josh COUSINS on Islands of Urban Metabolism Research and Prospects for Interdisciplinary Scholarship (with Josh Newell)

For abstracts, go here.




Announcements News Uncategorized

SUPE organises student/early career workshop in Johannesburg in March

The SUPE Platform is organizing a workshop for students and early career researchers just before the Southern African Cities Conference in Johannesburg. The workshop on the 26th of March explores how to do Urban Political Ecology studies in African Cities and is part of our longer initiative to build networks, skills and companionship in developing critical urban political studies in Africa. We will follow up with a longer course/workshop later this year in September in Pretoria, and we applying for funds for a similar workshop in Kampala in 2016.

If you are student (PhD or Masters) or early career research, please read more on the banner below and then contact either Mary or Jon (more formally know as Dr. Mary Lawhon and Dr. Jonathan D. Silver) on their emails in the banner below, or on their profiles. Contact them as soon as possible. More details on reading etc. will be sent to you if you are accepted to this workshop.

Please note that no travel grants or other financial support can be given to this workshop. However, we hope future workshops will have such possibilities in order to gather students and researchers from across the African continent. So please stay tuned to the SUPE News feeds for upcoming events and workshops.


Commentary News Uncategorized

Its time to pay the climate debt: Financing a low carbon urban Africa

 Jonathan Silver argues that carbon financing for cities is flawed and is failing to support urban Africa in addressing climate change and development imperatives.


At the recent ICLEI Local Climate Solutions conference in Dar es Salaam the Vice President of Tanzania, Mohamed Gharib Bilal addressed the assembled participants at the opening plenary. He argued that the global response to climate change must be fair, reflecting common but differentiated responsibilities that would put the emphasis on industrialised countries to finance a low carbon urban future and support the decoupling of growth from carbon and wider resource intensity in African cities. Yet these commonly held views on the continent and beyond seem to be having little effect on the slow, painful process of financing low carbon infrastructures and a green economy in Africa. As speakers at the conference and a burgeoning body of research are pointing out African cities are on the frontline of climate change dynamics, have contributed little to historic Green House Gas emissions and face multiple infrastructural pressures across an urbanizing region. This climate change driven, energy, resource and development crisis is not some imagined future but rather taking place in the here and now. Reflecting on these relationships between climate change, low carbon imperatives and infrastructure geographies from across urban Africa generates a critical question: Where is the financing coming from to transform energy systems that respond to low carbon and developmental objectives and fund the plethora of strategies and plans proposed over the last decade?

The prognosis is not an optimistic one. The failure of historic polluters to offer the necessary finance, technology transfer and solidarity highlighted by the Tanzanian Vice President as crucial to a low carbon, resource efficient urban future is achingly visible. The options out there now for African cities are limited, full of contradictions and characterised by the dominance of carbon markets. Speakers at the ICLEI conference sought to help city policy makers navigate the Byzantine nature of market based carbon financing, used (rare) case studies of success stories for the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and sought to draw some hope from a thoroughly discredited financing system. Yet these voices seem to be a minority as a growing consensus rejects the market rationalities embedded in carbon financing with a coalition of activists, academics and policy makers highlighting what seems like an endless number of problematics with financing mechanisms such as the CDM.

These critiques of carbon financing cover a series of issues from the privatisation of the air and the atmospheric commons through to the non-linearity of climate change. The almost perverse notion that polluters are being rewarded under these market conditions, together with widespread examples of fraudulent behavior seems to reflect the wider flawed logic of relying on the market and corporations to address socio-environmental conditions. Work by researchers in cities such as Durban show that in cities that have carbon market financed projects they are often orientated around mega-sized waste to energy technologies that are having devastating social and ecological consequences for local communities. Price fluctuations, speculative behaviors and the post-2008 crash of the carbon price have illustrated that these mechanisms are even failing on their own (market) logics and terms, reflecting the wider contradictions of global financial markets, derivatives and such like. Beyond these extensive general critiques there are some very real distribution inequalities to the current financing across carbon markets that suggest even if these wider flaws didn’t exist then this form of financing would marginalize African cities in these global flows of infrastructure investment. Taking the Clean Development Mechanism as an example we can see that the vast majority of financing has both a regional and a non-urban bias that leaves urban Africa on the margins.

Graph showing geographic location of CDM projects
Graph showing total proportion of urban based CDM projects


So whilst African cities have been promised the fruits of the carbon markets in reality such projects make a tiny and insignificant part of infrastructure investment through the CDM. There are various discourses emerging from organisations such as the Cities Alliance and the World Bank that seek to ‘get cities prepared to attract carbon finance’ yet previous experience would suggest that such preparations are likely to include energy sector liberalisation, policy reform and cause future difficulties for African cities to address climate change, poverty and other imperatives.

These series of problems, flawed logics and failures characterising carbon financing are not going to address the energy, climate change and development challenges facing urban Africa. So where does this critique of carbon markets and current financing landscapes leave cities in terms of financing low carbon, resource efficient urban futures? As the Vice President of Tanzania, concluding his address to the conference made clear, industrial countries must pay and there must be an equitable and fair way to finance the transformation of infrastructures across urban Africa. This is financing based on the idea of climate debt, of paying for the historical pollution of the atmosphere and offering an alternative to the failed logics of markets in addressing these global inequalities that continue to characterise relationships between the continent and the North.

The need for municipalities across urban Africa to instigate significant investment programs becomes ever more important to address climate change, low carbon imperatives and the multiple development challenges facing these spaces of poverty and inequality. Yet as the ICLEI conference illustrated yet again there seems little in the way of alternatives to the limited, compromised and hopelessly flawed carbon financing mechanisms as countries of the North fail to undertake their historic responsibilities. Its time to pay the climate debt and support African cities to undertake different trajectories from the resource intense urban systems of the North. Many of these cities have yet to construct the required infrastructure systems they will need over the next century providing a limited window of opportunity to build a low carbon, resource efficient and fair urban future. The time for the global North to finance these transformations is now.




Royal Geography Society conference 2013

Jonathan Silver co-organised and presented a paper at three linked sessions on
‘The contested politics of urban electricity networks: Insights from urban infrastructure studies’
This included a number of papers from African cities including Accra and Maputo
This session is aimed at unpacking the ongoing politics across electricity networks in cities. It aims at drawing attention to the political and political ecological dimensions shaping electricity networks and their current transformation. Cities across the global North and South are reimagining and redeploying their electricity networks in response to issues of climate change, resource constraints, the search for energy efficiency and the advent of smart digital technologies. Building on previous work that highlight the political nature of urban infrastructures (Graham and Marvin, 2001; McFarlane and Rutherford, 2008; Coutard and Rutherford, 2009; Swyngedouw, 2004) and uncover the uneven power relations embedded in the urbanization of nature through infrastructure (Kaika and Swyngedouw, 2000; Swyngedouw and Heynen, 2003), the session aims to explore new ways in which the urban infrastructure literature can contribute to the field of energy geographies, furthering its use for understanding urbanization processes. Some of the key questions we aim to collectively answer are:
• How the reconstitution of electricity networks through discourses on decentralized generation, ‘smart’ technologies and localized electricity markets are producing a new type of geographies of post-networked urbanism (Coutard and Rutherford, 2009).
• How historical processes of uneven urbanization contribute to current electricity network geographies and associated social relations (Jaglin, 2008; Kooy and Bakker, 2008).
• How urban electricity networks relate to infrastructural notions of informality, the incremental and the everyday (Simone, 2004) within and across post-colonial settings.
• What is the role of urban electricity networks in reinforcing, reflecting or reducing urban inequalities and shaping a splintered urbanism (Graham and Marvin, 2001).
• How wider theoretical debates around post-structural approaches to urban infrastructures, such as assemblage urbanism (McFarlane, 2011) or vital materialities (Bennett, 2010), can shape our understandings and conceptualizations of urban electricity networks.
Details of speakers here