Troubling Waterscapes: Our journey of counter-mapping the multiple waters of Pravah

Arianna Tozzi, Irene Leonardelli, Enid Still, and Sneha Malani describe their work with counter-mapping. Using rivers and the flows of water and pollution as entry points, they capture urban-rural interdependencies in their rich and multi-faceted website Troubling Waterscapes. Here they provide a background to their counter-mapping project.

This project began with a friendship between three PhD researchers, and an artist/practitioner, with a common interest in water and agriculture, and a desire to explore creative methods of engaging with our research topics.

‘Troubling Waterscapes’ was developed as an online exhibition for the bi-annual POLLEN conference in September 2020: Contested Natures: Power, Possibility, Prefiguration. Rather than classic academic presentations and panel discussions, where words and theoretical concepts dominate, we invited participants to think with and through water in creative ways. We used ‘troubling’ as a praxis of questioning dominant narratives of resource commodification ‘from above’ and victimhood ‘from below’, inviting the audience to think through the complexities of the uneven socionatural relations that surround us. 

Our story begins in Pravah, the fictional name for a rural village in Maharashtra, India, where Irene lived during her PhD research, learning from the farming practices of women growing flowers to supply to markets in the nearby city of Pune. The waters of Pravah are troubled in many complex ways. Located in a notoriously drought-prone region, a wastewater transfer scheme transports wastewater from Pune to the village for irrigation purposes. As the wastewater reaches Pravah, it is stored in wells and ponds across the community, percolating into the aquifer and contaminating existing water sources. Though the scheme increased water supply and brought economic opportunities for some, it has also profoundly re-shaped Pravah’s (waste)waterscape. Ironically, a village, once famous for its sweet, pure water, nowadays needs to purchase purified water from a ‘water ATM’ as the drinking well is now contaminated. Together with people, animals, plants, crops, weeds everything and everybody has been drawn into rearranging their everyday dealings with water, navigating across different layers of purity and contamination. As the wastewater makes its way back to the city of Pune in the form of flowers, its circulation creates complex urban-rural socionatural entanglements whose complexities became the initial canvas for our counter-mapping journey. 

Through Irene’s stories and maps of Pravah we started reflecting together on different ways of being with, understanding, knowing, and feeling water. Speaking online from isolation across different parts of the world, we started adding layers to the map in the form of photos, poetry, satirical sketches, reflection, and animations. These expressions were sparked by our collective conversations as we further troubled and questioned our engagement with waters and agriculture from multiple perspectives. Together, we reflected on what water infrastructures are (materially and symbolically) about their histories and meanings. We discussed how the people’s experiences and engagements with different waters (groundwater, wastewater, rainwater) change throughout time and space, and how these differences are reflected across multiple intersecting identities. We questioned how the very materiality of water, its fluidity, transparency, taste, affects, everyday dealings, and experiences changed across different waterscapes.

As part of the exhibition, we extended these questions to the broader audience as we invited people to reflect with us, contributing with their artistic work and counter-maps of the troubled water relations in their research and everyday life from other sites and places.

We hope this process and visualisation won’t end with this website. Rather we hope it will inspire others to use creative methods to think through the complexities of socionatural relations and interdependencies.

By Arianna Tozzi, Irene Leonardelli, Enid Still, Sneha Malani

Our website — — was collectively designed but created and produced by Karin Hueck.

For more information about the project, see this prezi-presentation.

This project has received support and funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 764908.


Reflection After a Project: Building Collaborations Beyond The Peer-Reviewed Publication

The Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies (WOK-UE) project started in 2011 and finished in December 2016. Amongst other activities, the project proved instrumental in helping to build the Situated UPE Collective from its early days in 2013. Here PI Henrik Ernstson reflects on this now finished research project to exemplify how projects can act as crucial venues for critical social scientists in building collaborations, projects and constellations beyond the peer-reviewed publication.

Looking beyond peer-reviewed publications

The Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies Project has been incredibly productive as can be witnessed by its publication list. This includes one PhD thesis, an upcoming edited volume with MIT Press, and a row of high-calibre theoretical and empirical contributions in top-journals based on extensive empirical work in Cape Town and Stockholm, including New Orleans (the latter mainly through the associated MOVE project). To this, the core WOK-UE team—Jane Battersby, Marnie Graham, Anna StormJoshua Lewis, Mary Lawhon, Jessica Rattle, Sue Parnell and Sverker Sörlin—also made regular contributions to wider popular science and media platforms. 

The WOK-UE project also created a lot of activities that were not mentioned in the short final report that I submitted to the Swedish funder Formas. In this post I would like to take the opportunity to list some of those activities since it shows how research projects can be viewed as venues to build new collaborations, projects and constellations beyond empirical research and peer-reviewed publications. In this list, I also mention key collaborators who have been more than instrumental in developing the following three main activity streams that were developed as part of WOK-UE, sometimes with funding from other sources as well:

  • (A) The building of The Situated Ecologies Platform, which is a highly interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary platform of collaborations that explores urban ecology across a range of registers and which included the following activities:
    • The development of two major film projects, One Table Two Elephants (upcoming in 2018), and Moving Closer to Nature with film-maker and researcher Jacob von Heland. This in turn has lead to the funding of a new project into Visual Environmental Humanities that includes two new research films.
    • Explorations at the borderland between design, art and ecology in Tactical Symbiotics with designer Martín Ávila, which was aligned to his postdoctoral project.
    • The development of the ACC Annual Seminar and PhD Course on Democratic Practices of Unequal Geographies with political philosopher Andrés Henao Castro, which over three years have explored the intersection of political theory, global South urbanism and urban ecologies/geographies.
    • The organizing of the academic workshop on Radical Incrementalism and Theories/Practices of Emancipatory Change with critical geographer Jonathan Silver.
    • The use of hip-hop and theatre practices to situate stories of Cape Flats in the play STOMPIE in Cape Town together with Emile Jansen/Mixed Mense and theatre director Kent Ekberg.
    • The partial funding of organizing the interdisciplinary conference Urban Beyond Measure at Stanford University with critical geographer and urban planner Jia-Ching Chen.
    • The provision of funds for the development and eventual funding of major research grants on food security at the African Centre for Cities by Jane Battersby (read more here).
  • (B) The support and early development of the Situated Urban Political Ecologies Collective (#SUPE), including:
    • The work with SUPE-core publications in Antipode and Regional Studies with Jonathan Silver, Mary Lawhon, and James Duminy.
    • Complementary funding of the SUPE Africa-focused week-long workshop in Pretoria with younger scholars, especially from African universities, with Jonathan Silver, Mary Lawhon and Joe Pierce (with main support from the Antipode Foundation).
    • The support for SUPE members to give conference presentations and organize special sessions at the conferences of Dimensions of Political Ecology (DOPE) and Association of American Geographers (AAG).
    • Support towards the development of new research projects that have now been funded, including NOTRUC, TLR Waste, and HICCUP with several already mentioned scholars, alongside Suraya Scheba and Koni Benson (funded wholly by WOK-UE), and Erik Swyngedouw, Nate Millington and PhD students Kathleen Stokes and Anesu Makina (funded through the new projects).
    • And the development of this crucial website, which is our recently released official website for The Situated UPE Collective.
  • (C) And finally, the writing and organizing of the Grounding Urban Natures edited book volume (Ernstson & Sörlin), which included two workshops in Cape Town and Stockholm and a special session at the ASEH in San Francisco. The book is now in review at MIT Press with 14 chapters and should come out in 2018.

Building networks

Just this glimpse into the project’s main activities beyond the peer-reviewed publication, shows what a single project can do when paired with excellent people, institutions and other projects. Throughout its life-span, the WOK-UE project have been quite instrumental in supporting the building of an amazing network of scholars and students, in particular young and up-and-coming (of which I counted myself in the beginning of WOK-UE) and practitioners that go beyond those mentioned here. Grounded in this experience, it becomes clear to me just how important it is for us critical scholars to network and use the resources we control to actively build peer-networks and peer-collaborations. While fieldwork and the writing of PhD theses and peer-review publications arecentral to our work—so is the ability to build longer-lasting networks.

At least three crucial contextual factors are important to mention. First, the Swedish funder Formas is an excellent funder in that it provides high autonomy to the PI to run the project. There are few reports to write and their administration is highly flexible and personal. This in turn provides time for the team and the PI to stay focused on empirical research and networking, such as those above. Also, if not all funds are spent as first outlined and in time, changes and extensions can be negotiated without too much formalities. Secondly, the universities involved have been highly accommodating of the project, in spite its international complex arrangement with scholars from different institutions and countries. I have been highly reliant on competent university administrators, economic controllers, and interested research directors to steer the project and accommodate it within separated bureaucracies that demand specific budgets, overhead costs and paper work. Thirdly, the building of dedicated websites and keeping them active have proved important to gather and build a network of interested scholars and students. To encourage team members and others outside of the project to contribute blog-posts for provides a channel to write less formal texts than those for peer-reviewed journals. The website also creates a logbook of a project. For WOK-UE you can for instance easily go to The Situated Ecologies Platform website and search for “ways of knowing” (or just click here). Up pops at least 36 related posts, which provides a quite fascinating overview of “the rhythm” of the project; smaller and larger events and activities string out over time that helps to build an idea of the project. Building a website was indeed a good and early decision that has served to create interest around the project among scholars, students and the public. Now, after the project, the website provides testament of the project and material for further reflection.

Finally, it has been a lot of work as PI for the WOK-UE project, but it has also been extremely rewarding. This was my first research project as PI, and I have a lot of people to thank, some of them are mentioned above, in being able to serve (and flounder) in this role.

/Henrik Ernstson, Cape Town 18 May 2017.

PS. Read a short final report sent to funder Formas (Swedish translation, scroll down on this page). A similar post was also posted here.

Project: The Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies Project (2011-2016)
Principal Investigator: Dr. Henrik Ernstson.
Project Researchers: Dr. Jane Battersby, Dr. Mary Lawhon, Dr. Marnie Graham (then PhD student), Dr. Joshua Lewis (then PhD student), Dr. Anna Storm, Professor Sverker Sörlin. Also associated at a crucial stage of developing SituatedUPE, was Dr. Jonathan Silver.
Institutional Partners: KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory, KTH Royal Institute of Technology; African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town; Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University.
Funder: Swedish Formas.
Announcements Learning News Presentations Uncategorized

“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).


Political Ecology of Urbanization in Latin America: A fertile ground for more situated and just urban ecologies


German Quimbayo Ruiz reports on efforts to develop a Situated UPE approach in Latin America. His co-authored research article in the journal Ecología Política is in Spanish, so  spread the message among our Spanish-speaking scholars and activists. (For a PDF copy, contact the authors. For more SUPE posts on Latin America, see here.)

Recently I published a paper with Francisco Vásquez about the requirement of a comprehensive framework to understand the political ecology of urbanization in Latin America. The paper built upon the postcolonial perspectives that Mary Lawhon, Henrik Ernstson and Jonathan Silver developed in their Antipode paper in 2014, which was based on their experiences from working in African cities. Our paper summarizes wider debates within urban political ecology, and tries to integrate the analysis of uneven development and urbanisation (see for instance David Harvey, 2012), but from a Latin American perspective.

Departing from this line of thinking we strive to develop some grounds for a political ecological research-action agenda in and through Latin American cities and urbanization. We first identify a need to better understand how unequal socio-ecological urban changes in the region can be linked to methods and knowledge production of various social movements and uprisings across Latin American cities and urban areas. We then propose ideas, in conversation with these movements, of how to re-think and promote proper democratic participation in the production and reproduction of social relations between people, and amongst people and the environment.

Photo of Southern parts of Bogotá.

Encouraged by scholars like Arturo Escobar, who recently claimed that Latin American critical though is more vibrant than ever, we feel there is fertile ground to develop a Situated UPE agenda that can help to link struggles in urban spaces with contestations of broader processes of exploitation.

Situated UPE and “neo-extractivism”

In particular we are interested in exploitation processes that have recently been called “new developmentalism” and “neo-extractivism”. These concepts, as reviewed in an article from 2014 by Hans-Jürgen Burchardt and Kristina Dietz*, refer to a set of state-led growth-oriented development paths embodied in extraction and exploitation activities. These include mining, hydrocarbon, and land grabbing for food and energy industries and has been accompanied with promises from national governments to use revenues collected from these exploitation activities to improve citizens’ living conditions.

While these polices might signal, as Burchard and Dietz writes, a “renaissance of the developmental state” (ibid., p. 468), it is crucial to understand that these processes are highly contested in Latin America as they are tied to more general patterns of uneven geographical development. This includes socio-spatial and socio-ecological contradictions, territorial transformations, and “the reordering of landscapes, and of social and labor relations” (ibid, p. 468; see also North and Grinspun 2016 for a more recent review).

We argue that there is a lack of critical reflection on how these extraction activities are related to urban socio-ecological injustices, and also how they link to rural struggles and processes. Using a Situated UPE perspective we hope to draw on historical case studies and contemporary ongoing struggles to take stock of how local and everyday settings operate as locus to ignite and develop new innovative forms of struggling for decent living conditions in urban landscapes.

For more information, please find our publication in the journal Ecología Política, issue 51, pages 43-51 which is published in Barcelona, entitled: “Hacia una ecología política de la urbanización en América Latina”.

By Germán Andrés Quimbayo Ruiz

* As noted by Buchardt and Dietz (2014) “new developmentalism” and “neo-extractivism” was first introduced by Uruguayan social scientist Eduardo Gudynas in 2009.


Germán Quimbayo
Germán Quimbayo

Germán Andrés Quimbayo Ruiz is from Bogotá, Colombia. He has a background in ecology and geography (MSc.), and has worked as a consultant with several institutions and authorities in Bogotá. He is doing a PhD in Environmental Policy at University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu Campus. His doctoral project is related with social movements, environmental concerns and urban policy in Bogotá.




Francisco Vasquez
Francisco Vasquez

Francisco Vásquez Rodríguez is Chilean based in Colombia and is working as independent researcher on Urban Political Ecology  in Latin America. He has a special interest in the socio-environmental inequalities resulting from neoliberal urbanization of nature.






Burchardt, H.-J. & Dietz, K., 2014. (Neo-)extractivism – a new challenge for development theory from Latin America. Third World Quarterly, 35(3), pp.468–486.

Gudynas, Eduardo. (2009) “Diez Tesis Urgentes sobre el Nuevo Extractivismo: Contextos y Demandas Bajo el Progresismo Sudamericano Actual.” In Extractivismo, Política y Sociedad, edited by Jürgen Schuldt, Alberto Acosta, Alberto Barandiará, Anthony Bebbington, Mauricio Folchi, CEDLA, Alejandra Alayza and Eduardo Gudynas, 187–225. Quito: CAAP/CLAES.

Harvey, David (2012). Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution.

Lawhon, Mary, Henrik Ernstson, and Jonathan Silver  (2014). “Provincializing Urban Political Ecology”, Antipode, 46 (2), pp. 497-516.

North, L.L. & Grinspun, R., 2016. Neo-extractivism and the new Latin American developmentalism: the missing piece of rural transformation. Third World Quarterly, 6597(April), pp.1–22.

Quimbayo Ruiz, Germán Andrés and Francisco Vásquez Rodríguez (2016). “Hacia una ecología política de la urbanización en América Latina”. Ecología Política. 51:43-51. Barcelona.



Blog post edited, moderated and uploaded by Henrik Ernstson, 7 Dec 2016.

Commentary News Projects TLR Waste Uncategorized

Waste management in Cape Town: understanding responsibility and labour

Kathleen Stokes reflects on waste management and political ecology in Cape Town. Kathleen is a PhD student in Human Geography at the University of Manchester with a research focus on community responsibility and labour in waste management. She is part of the Turning Livelihoods to Rubbish Project, which is run in collaboration between the University of Cape Town, the University of Manchester and Florida State University.

TLR project in Cape Town SAWhile attending the ACC’s winter school on democratic practices, I was fortunate enough to meet with a range of people involved in Cape Town’s waste management system. Through these discussions, and my own encounters with the city’s sites of disposal and decomposition, I was struck by the variety of imperatives driving waste management, and the relations between people whose livelihoods depend on the sector.

Managing rubbish is a complex affair in any city. In Cape Town, the municipal government is responsible for waste management services, and informed by legislation and policy imperatives from national and provincial government. Within the context of rapid urbanization, enduring inequalities, and state promises of universal service provision, municipal strategies have tended towards neoliberal strategies of contracting out, public-private partnerships, and cost recovery. In addition to contracting service responsibilities out to businesses, Cape Town’s municipal waste management service also looked towards residents to play their part.
As part of its strategy, Cape Town has launched public education and engagement campaigns like Waste Wise, which seeks to raise public awareness of waste reduction and encourage residents to start and help with community schemes – such as local compost to school recycling schemes. In recent years, this programme has focused on supporting Green Zones, designated neighbourhoods that receive support to pilot a holistic approach to community waste education and engagement. While the project has been on hiatus since 2014, some follow-on activities appear to be underway in Green Zones and other parts of the city.

Such initiatives profess a positive impact amongst residents, and align themselves to discourses of empowerment, job creation, and sustainable communities. However, they do not exist in a vacuum. If we understand waste management to be a sort of lively infrastructural assemblage (for instance, see Amin, 2014 and Graham & McFarlane, 2015), we can appreciate that community responsibility is undoubtedly related to formal provision of services, and the practices of informal waste collection. What happens to waste, who is contributing their effort, and how is their labour valued?

Over 2017, I will look more closely at Waste Wise and other initiatives promoting community responsibility for waste management in South Africa’s cities. By investigating changes to waste management in areas involved in such schemes, I hope to understand what transformations have occurred to the everyday functioning of waste management, and to the livelihoods of whose who those labour is keeps the frontlines going.

As this project unfurls, I am left with more questions than answers. Still, focusing on the relationship between community responsibility and worker livelihoods can provide us with a better understanding of how value and labour are manifested within the processes and dynamics of urban waste management. Drawling upon a SUPE lens, I will frame my research by integrating urban political ecology with neo-Marxian, post-colonial and South African understandings of labour, infrastructure and livelihoods. Most of my research will take place over 2017. Fortunately, I am supported by my supervisors and colleagues in the TLR project. As this time draws nearer, we are making final preparations and continuing to review the discourses, policies, and practices shaping waste management in different urban contexts across South Africa.

As ever, my colleagues and I hope this process will be of interest to others. If you would like to hear more, or have any comments or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch (kathleen.stokes(at)

Thank you to Dr Henrik Ernstson, staff and colleagues at the African Centre for Cities and KTH Stockholm for supporting my participation in the democratic practices winter school. Likewise, thank you to the University of Manchester and the ESRC-DFID Poverty Alleviation Fund for their support of my PhD.

Announcements Commentary HICCUP News Uncategorized

The Urban Action Lab at Makerere University is in action!

Urban Action Lab at Makerere University, Uganda.
Urban Action Lab at Makerere University, Uganda.

The Urban Action Lab (UAL) at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda has launched their website. The UAL is run by Professor Shuaib Lwasa and his team of urban researchers and students and the Lab will make a crucial contribution from East Africa to pan-African attempts in facing urban challenges of the 21st century.

By Henrik Ernstson

Shuaib just sent out an email to a row of urban scholars that are all serious about contributing to urban sustainable and just cities through the particular experiences and challenges of Africa and the South. He writes:

[A]fter several years of engaging in urban research, conceptual rethinking as well as solutions-oriented co-generation of knowledge with all of you at various points, we now have an online platform for sharing the knowledge while we continue to galvanise the understanding of urbanisation in sub-Saharan Africa. With Uganda and East Africa as the launch pad, the UAL is envisaged to grow into a regional knowledge hub and Centre focused on the various issues in regard to African Urbanism and sustainable urban development.

UN Habitat 3 Conference in Quito, 2016, on the "New Urban Agenda"
UN Habitat 3 Conference in Quito, 2016, on the “New Urban Agenda”

For those going to the Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador 17-20 October 2016, the Urban Action Lab will exhibit in the Exhibition Hall. Shuaib Lwasa and PhD student Peter Kasaija, will also be running the networking event on “Emerging innovative solutions to leapfrog towards urban sustainability in Africa”. The event is scheduled to take place on 20 October, from 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. in room MR13 at the venue of the Habitat III Conference, Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana “Benjamin Carrion”.

Pan-African network of similar urban research institutes

The UAL follows a broader trend to re-think urban knowledge, policy and action based on experiences from African cities. Since 2011 the African Urban Research Initiative, or AURI, has been an effort to link urban research labs and institutes in order to form a pan-African response to the particular urban challenges that the continent is facing, an effort “to scale-up applied urban research and practice on the African continent” as stated at the African Centre for Cities webpage, one of the initiators*. AURI brings together no less than 14 research institutes across the major regions and language groups of Africa, including urban research and practitioner institutes that have been around for decades, to more recently formed labs, including institutes from Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Togo, Senegal, Ethiopia, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Niger, and now hopefully also Uganda.

The HICCUP project – supporting the UAL

We are a bunch of urban scholars who are very excited for the UAL and its future. The Situated UPE collective — and my home institutions of KTH Environmental Humanities Lab and UCT’s African Centre for Cities — are supporting the Lab directly through the research project HICCUP. This is a Swedish Research Council (VR)-supported project that runs from 2016 to 2019. It focuses on urban infrastructure challenges in the areas of waste and sanitation in Ugandan cities and with a broader regional learning component. Shuaib Lwasa plays a leading role in this project and we have in collaboration integrated the training of one PhD student and three Master students at Makerere University as part the project. AURI and research collaborations like HICCUP seems crucial in building research capacity and transformative capacity in African cities. To learn more about the UAL, please visit their website.

* AURI originates from a grant that the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town received in 2011.



Announcements Uncategorized

Symbiotic Tactics and Bio-semiotics: Martín Ávila visits University of Tartu, Estonia

Martín Ávila from Konstfack in Stockholm is visiting the leading Semiotics Department at the University of Tartu in Estonia on the 2nd of September 2016. Supported by funds from Henrik Ernstson’s MOVE project at KTH, he will meet with biosemiotician Kallevi Kull and colleagues to extend and strengthen the interdisciplinary dialogue that he and Henrik Ernstson have developed and which seeks new insights into political ecology using speculative design.

Politics of co-habitation

Martín Àvila’s postdoc work on Symbiotic Tactics have been featured on this blog before and it is part of a wider collaboration based at KTH’s Environmental Humanities Laboratory. During his visit in Tartu, Martín Ávila will give a seminar based on the forthcoming manuscript with Henrik Ernstson called “Realms of Exposure: A Speculative Design Perspective of Material Agency and Political Ecology”, based on empirical work in Córdoba, Argentina. In inviting his colleagues, Kalevi Kull writes:

This seminar will address issues of cohabitation among humans and nonhumans on an everyday basis, as mediated by (designed) artifacts. Martin Avila will present his postdoctoral project entitled “symbiotic tactics”, reflecting upon biosemiotic aspects that confront us with socio-ecological challenges.

The manuscript by Ávila and Ernstson, turns around Ávila’s design of an alternative shower grating in people’s homes, one that aims to establish a different link between people of the city and the ecosystems below in the sewage systems (of which one actant is a highly dangerous scorpion); they write:

In this essay we elaborate an approach to urban political ecology and environmental studies that shifts from the descriptive and analytical, toward the propositional and speculative. This is needed we mean in order to create new handles to (re)understand and (re)enact the political in a thoroughly more-than-human, cyborgian and artificial world.

An alternative shower grating.
An alternative shower grating.

Bio-semiotics and the Situated Ecologies Platform

For the Situated Ecologies Platform, and for KTH’s Environmental Humanities Laboratory, the collaboration with Martín Ávila means to expand the registers, tools and philosophies that can engage the political dimensions of our time of ecological crises. The key aim of this trip to Tartu is also to further engage and expand how the field of “bio-semiotics” can contribute to a Situated Ecologies platform. Developed first by Estonian ethologist Jakob von Uexküll in the 1930s, the field has received in creasing attention since the 1990s by the Tartu-based group, including theoretical biologist Kallevi Kull, but also Thomas Sebeok, Marcelo Barbieri and Jesper Hoffmeyer. As summed up by Joshua Ozias Reno (2014: 9):

The core idea of bio-semiotics is that life requires the use of signs, as organisms must engage with the world around them within the perceptual and behavioural limitations of their developing form.

/Reported by Henrik Ernstson

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 Conferences News NEWS: MOVE Cape Town Presentations

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

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


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

Read more at our website.

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

Announcements Conferences News NEWS: Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies

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

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


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

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

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

Leading scientists

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

Film and photography as registersThe Film WOKUE - Thumbnail

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

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