RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2014 Sessions

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We are pleased to announce two fantastic sessions at the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2014 on urban political ecology.  We are excited and we warmly thank all authors for sending us their abstracts. We hope for a great meeting in London in August 2014. Below you will find all abstracts including our CFP. The session follows  similar sessions at conferences in Johannesburg in March, and in Kentucky in February. Below you can read about the session and the papers.

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CFP: Pluralizing the approaches to urban political ecology in a ‘world of cities’

Urban political ecology has provided critical insights into the sociomaterial construction of urban environments, their unequal distribution of resources, and contestation over power and resources. Most work is rooted in Marxist urban geographical theory, typically beginning with a historical materialist theory of power, then examining particular artifacts and infrastructure to provide a dialectical critique of society. However, there are numerous theoretical framings and entry-points to unpack unequal oppressive urban environments—and their potentialities for struggle and liberation. In this RGS session, we continue our search for ways to pluralize and co-produce approaches to urban political ecology. Our own efforts has focused empirically on cities in Africa and theoretically to articulate a situated urban political ecology through postcolonial critique and a focus on everyday practices. But, this is just one path among others and in this session we encourage novel and creative approaches, or the reinvention or re-imagining of established approaches, to participate in building a broad and rich repertoire of urban political ecology. The rationale is that in a ‘world of cities’ where urbanisation works in so varied ways we need a suit of methods and theories to go about the task to unpack, analyse and participate in the shaping of urban environments.

Session Organisers: Jonathan Silver, Henrik Ernstson, and Mary Lawhon.

Session One:

Paper 1: Ilia Farahani on Vanished in Gaps, Vanquished in Rifts; Social ecology of urban spatial change in a working class residential area: Peykan-Shahr, Tehran, Iran,

Paper 2: Martin Sanzana Calvet on Urban metabolism of a coup d’état: Santiago de Chile under Pinochet’s ecological warfare

Paper 3: Céline Verissimo on A political ecology approach towards the self-organized Mozambican post-colonial city

Paper 4: Nerea Calvillo on Queering/ing political ecologies through air quality monitoring

Paper 5: Francisco Calafate-Faria on Countercycling: Catadores’ Epistemologies of the South in the ‘Environmental Capital’

Session Two

Paper 6: Jochen Monstadt and Sophie Schramm on Translating the networked city? Political ecologies of urban water and wastewater in Dar es Salaam

Paper 7: Surabhi Karambelkar on Seeking Environmental Justice in the Gray Spaces of the Cities

Paper 8: Henrik Ernstson and Jonathan Silver on Radical incrementalism and Cape Town’s urban political ecologies

Paper 9: Hayley Leck on Political ecology and the ecological human rights approach: complementary framings for developing environmentally just climate change adaptation actions in Durban, South Africa

Paper 10: Natasha Cornea, René Véron and Anne Zimmer on Imaging a situated urban political ecology: the use of participatory photography to explore local environmental values

Abstracts of Papers

Paper 1: Vanished in Gaps, Vanquished in Rifts; Social ecology of urban spatial change in a working class residential area: Peykan-Shahr, Tehran, Iran

Ilia Farahani, Geography Department, Lund University

The article aims to understand the forms and processes of socio-ecological changes following socio- geographical dislocation of workers in a working-class neighborhood (Peykan-Shahr) in Iran. The article integrates theories of gentrification and metabolic rift. Existing studies on urbanization in Iran refute the possibility of gentrification. This study, in contrast, by drawing attention to peculiarities of the capitalist economy in Iran, adapts the basic economic mechanisms of gentrification such as the rent/value gap and the concept of absolute rent, concluding that Peykan-Shahr is indeed in a process of gentrification. The theory of metabolic rift adds theoretical dimensions and complexity to the analysis and provides a richer understanding of the case. Grounded in Marx’s labor theory of value, the analysis shows that by mediating the exploitation of labor/nature by capital through displacing workers from their houses, gentrification in Peykan-Shahr has caused a socio-ecological metabolic rift in terms of labor reproduction and deterioration of labor power.

Paper 2: Urban metabolism of a coup d’état: Santiago de Chile under Pinochet’s ecological warfare

Martin Sanzana Calvet, Development Planning Unit, UCL

Chile’s 1973 coup d’état has been widely studied by its negative record on human rights and by paving the way for a radical and authoritarian neoliberal restructuring of the Chilean society. While the long terms effects of the new military arrangements for urban planning, transport, housing and economic policies over Santiago city have been also analysed, few attention has been drawn on the military action it self as a major urban intervention. Departing from urban political ecology theoretical propositions on metabolism and socio-natural production, as proposed by Eric Swyngedouw, Steve Graham and others, the paper revisits the 11 September 1973 events and examines the metabolic dimension of the military operation to overthrown Allende’s government. The aim is to discuss the impact of armed interventions into the cities metabolism and reflect over a relationship between war operations and urbanisation that is also shaping the ‘world of cities’. The analysis focus on the coup d’étatfirst days impacts on the public space, infrastructure, environment, and official discourses, to draw an image of the disruptions, control and conflict over the city flows and Santiago’s metabolism. Thus, I explore the concept metabolic coup, that is, a strategic takeover of the urban metabolism for achieving military, social and political objectives. By applying urban political ecological propositions to theorise the urban dimensions of power conflicts, the paper suggests that the case of study can be read as a clash of competing hybrid socio-natural assemblages, an hypothetical ecological warfare that interwoven class, power, ecology and violence.

Paper 3: A political ecology approach towards the self-organized Mozambican post-colonial city

Céline Verissimo, Center for African Studies, University of Porto

This paper discusses the political ecology of self-organised urbanisation as the one that occurs in Mozambican cities. The paper examines the possibilities of a political ecology approach to the self-organised city as the materialisation of the dialectics between society and nature, viewed here as indispensable in identifying the extreme polarities of the contrasting spatial distribution of people in the dualistic Mozambican city, the unequal exposure to environmental challenges and the way in which they are controlled by the (internal and external) political economy and coped with socially. Since this research is dealing with a particular form of urbanization that goes beyond the scope of current literature about ‘political ecology of urbanization’ it is necessary to go back to the more general roots of political ecology, when Karl Marx’s identifies the pressures of political economy on society and on environmental transformation, with his notion of man’s alienation through labour. The metabolic analysis of urban life as an ecosystem, which considers the dynamic flows of people and products within the city over time, offers a perspective that underlies the notion of an innate relationship between human society and nature, as identified in the Dondo case study, located in the central region of Mozambique, in order to investigate ways in which this could be optimised and replicated. The city is the human habitat and the centre of social and environmental production, in which a return to society’s intrinsic connection with nature may materialise, capable to generate a more just and natural form of urbanisation.

Paper 4: Queering/ing political ecologies through air quality monitoring

Nerea Calvillo, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London

Environmental monitoring is often identified with ubiquitous technologies, invisible in our urban spaces and belonging to the realm of cloud computing. And yet, when making a device analysis to these infrastructures what becomes visible is that they are transforming our urban landscapes, invading them with steel boxes, antennas and other instruments that transform public spaces into scientific labs. Through the analysis of Madrid ́s air monitoring digital infrastructures this paper intends to challenge the notion of urban political ecologies through the notion of queering, bringing together some works around queer ecologies and eventually apparently less related literatures of queer theory. The goal is not to discuss spaces related to sexual practices or bodily experiences, but to understand the queering of spaces as a strategy of political re-signification of leftover urban spaces, in this case, through air monitoring practices. In this context, the paper revolves around three main questions: The role of computing in the definition of a more hybrid notion of urban political ecologies. The challenges that the notion of queering opens up in the spatio-temporal understanding of urban political ecologies.The opportunities of a notion of queer/ing urban political ecologies to re-think public spaces and public infrastructures.To conclude, the paper intends to bring back the notion of queer/ing urban political ecologies to the air and air quality, and test if it can advance some insights on the role of the air in our urban landscapes.

Paper 5: Countercycling: Catadores’ Epistemologies of the South in the ‘Environmental Capital’

Francisco Calafate-Faria, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London

This paper seeks to confront the ‘unpolitics’ of official urban ecological discourses. Based on research carried out in Curitiba with informal waste-pickers and their organisations, the paper highlights the potential of subordinated populations to reintroduce notions of justice and open up alternatives in the global debates about cities and the environment. Curitiba in the South of Brazil is commonly referred to in the country as ‘first world city’ and ‘ecological capital’. Since the 1990’s the city has been internationally acclaimed as an example of innovation, rationality and environmental awareness in urban planning. Curitiba’s waste management infrastructures and recycling campaigns played a central role in this international recognition and the ensuing general pride amongst residents. Of course, just because a city is measured up to the standards of the ‘rich North’, it does not mean that it has eliminated the characteristics of the urban South in which it is located. Thus Curitiba also functions on informal work, limited provision of water and sanitation and reliance on “humans as infrastructure” (in Abdoumaliq Simone’s formulation) to supply those needs. In the particular case of municipal recycling, 2010 municipal figures show that 92% of the material recycled in Curitiba is collected by informal waste pickers and make their way into industrial circuits through more or less informal markets.  In order to reiterate the image of the ‘model city’, official discourses omit the contribution ofcatadores. It is as if the acknowledgement of its material messy reality would devalue the city’s comparatively high recycling rates. This paper draws on Boaventura de Sousa Santos’ notion of “Epistemologies of the South” to argue for a revaluation of alternative approaches to urban environmental problems coming from what I call the ‘South of the Global South’.

Paper 6: Translating the networked city? Political ecologies of urban water and wastewater in Dar es Salaam

Jochen Monstadt and Sophie Schramm,  TU Darmstadt

One of the most influential ideals to construct and manage cities and infrastructures worldwide has been that of the “networked city”. Most obviously, this ideal refers to the technological design and morphology of cities integrated and ordered by infrastructure networks. Beyond a centralised topology of technical infrastructures and artefacts this modernist urban ideal refers to a specific organisational model in the operation, use and planning of urban ecologies in an increasingly rationalised and scientifically managed form. Engineers, planners, reformers and public health officials have thus aspired to align with this globally circulating ideal of urban modernity, hygiene and rationalization of nature in (re)producing cities worldwide. As many cities in the Global South, Dar es Salaam cannot be characterised by the universal access to centralised networks. While formal institutions, planning documents and strategies reflect significations as well as organisational and planning models of a “networked city”, urban environments are shaped by a mosaic of water and sanitation arrangements manifesting an unequal distribution of water resources and wastewater services. In our paper, we will inquire into this contradiction by addressing the translation of the ideal of the networked city in Dar es Salaam. More specifically, our focus is on the manifold negotiations and contestations over the translation of this hegemonic model and thus their incorporation into the urban system, as well as its appropriation and refusal under the place-specific conditions of urbanity in Africa. In analysing these place-specific translation processes of the networked city into urban environments we will focus on a) the discursive level of intellectual and political debates; b) the micro-level of everyday life of people and small businesses developing sociotechnical solutions in specific places and contexts; and c) the intermediary level of organisations and institutions shaping public investments and policies. The objective of the paper is thus to contribute to the debate on urban political ecology through the lens of translation and appropriation processes of urban and technological ideals in Africa.

Paper 7: Seeking Environmental Justice in the Gray Spaces of the Cities

Surabhi Karambelkar, Development Planning Unit, University College London

The process of urbanization is inherently unequal where the benefits and burdens are not uniformly distributed among the members of the urban space. Marxist urban political ecological theories offer an insight into the class based injustices associated with resource distribution, however they fall short of providing insights on the root causes of these injustices that are linked to not only the lack of recognition or mal recognition of these groups but also their lack of participation. The areas where the urban poor reside are often deemed informal or illegal by the state planning processes. They form gray spaces that are only partially incorporated into the urban polity and form pseudo-permanent margins of today’s urban regions. As Yiftachel theorizes it, in these spaces, it is the planning (or lack of) that provides the authorities the technologies to negate access to services and at times exceptions are made, which create conditions that tolerate, facilitate and even incentivize the existence of these grey spaces. Urban political ecological theories have the potential to inform and engage with planning processes that can contest distributional injustices, and one way this can be done is by unpacking the issues related to recognition and participation of the popular sectors and critically analyzing the planning processes (and exceptions) that occur in the gray areas they reside in. This study focuses on two communities located in the peripheral Quebradas(hills) of Lima that lack access to water and sanitation facilities. By focusing on water injustices, this study aims to uncover some of the processes of government non-action and mal recognition that perpetuate the cycle of informality and lack of access to water and identify possible entry points to disrupt this cycle. While the study draws on experiences from Lima, the learnings can be related to other cities in the Global South that witness similar processes that produce and reproduce environmental injustices,

Paper 8: On radical incrementalism and Cape Town’s urban political ecologies

Henrik Ernstson, African Centre for Cities, UCT/KTH Royal Institute of Technology  and Jonathan Silver, Dept of Geography, Durham University/LSE Cities, London School of Economics

The growing debates across global South cities are increasingly central to reimagining political action across urban space, providing new articulations and strategies for shifting socio-material conditions as an envisaging of future worlds. This article focuses on an interpretation of ‘radical incrementalism’ (Pieterse, 2008) as a way to negotiate the diffuse arrangements of power across Cape Town and explore the possibilities for radical change that exist across its urban political ecologies.  Our aim is to theoretically reflect and contribute to an analytics—and practice—of radical change grounded in particular in the experiences of Cape Town. In interrogating ‘radical incrementalism’, we transverse three literatures: (i) anarchist critique of full-scale revolutions and its conceptual tools of autonomy, territorilization through everyday practices, and pre-figurative politics; (ii) the question of the proper political and the importance of rupture in staging the notion of equality from post-foundational political theorists; and (iii) analyses of everyday practices in postcolonial urban settings. We strive to interpret how the tension between ‘radical’ and ‘incrementalism’ plays out in our cases in Cape Town, but also how they can be linked together. Finally, we reflect on how a certain autonomy can be achieved among those organizing to answer what is radical in the moment, and how it can be linked to wider debates across urban political ecology, city politics and addressing socio-environmental inequalities.

Paper 9: Political ecology and the ecological human rights approach: complementary framings for developing environmentally just climate change adaptation actions in Durban, South Africa

Hayley Leck, London School of Economics

In order to be just and robust, climate change adaptation policies and practices need to account for local or contextual biophysical, environmental, socio-cultural and politico-economic conditions. As Forsyth (2008: 763) says, “the challenge for political ecology lies in understanding both environmental and political change in ways that enhance social justice, but which do not impose a priori notions about each”. While influenced by external forces, the meaning of justice is grounded in and shaped by local contexts; it is socio-culturally specific. Swyngedouw and Heynen (2003) highlight that political ecology theory is beginning to shape an improved understanding of the interwoven processes that create uneven environments and can thus guide studies which address questions of justice.  While political ecology is characteristically concerned with socio-environmental injustices, I argue in this paper that in order to develop a contextually appropriate approach to environmental and social justice in the context of climate change adaptation in Durban, South Africa, political ecology can be usefully complemented by Bossleman’s (2001) ecological human rights framing. The approach of ecological human rights attempts to bring together the philosophical foundations of human rights and ecological principles, thereby fostering a link between intrinsic values of humans and the intrinsic values of other species and the environment (Bosselmann, 2001).  Empirical results from in depth research on climate change adaptation at the municipal and community scales in the city of Durban, South Africa are drawn on to elucidate the potential of pluralizing or complementing political ecology with ecological human rights insights for climate change adaptation planning and practice. While the specific case of Durban is presented the key issues and conceptual framing presented apply more broadly, especially in cities of the Global South.

Paper 10: Imaging a situated urban political ecology: the use of participatory photography to explore local environmental values

Natasha Cornea, René Véron and Anne Zimmer, University of Lausanne

Urban political ecology (UPE) has recently begun to engage with the everyday and ‘ordinary’ (re)production of urban natures.  In doing so researchers must find ways to engage with the situated nature of ‘identity, knowledge and everyday practices’ (Lawhon et al 2014).   This may involve a broadening of both methods and methodology. Methodologically, this may be facilitated by drawing on post-structuralist insights into power and the context specific meanings which people place on urban-natures.   However, this raises the question of how to expose and discuss people’s situated knowledge of the environment and in turn what they consider as, how they access and value the artefacts of their urban nature(s) This paper is based on research using participatory photography to expose the environmental values of different social groups. The paper proceeds by exploring the literature on participatory photography, photo-voice and photo-elicitation as used within other fields.  It explores photography as a method and possible drawbacks and/or concerns that it raises.  We then reflect on our experiences piloting the technique to explore environmental priorities within urban India and how these methods, novel to UPE, have led to new understandings.

These two sessions at RGS- IBG is part of the collaborative SUPE Collective’s conversation during 2014. http://www.situatedecologies.net/supe/events2014