Report on my academic activities during 2010 in Cape Town

In an effort to strive to be public about what I do with my time, being paid as I am by Swedish public funds, I here re-print a report on what I have done so far here at the African Centre for Cities, UCT.

I arrived in August to Cape Town. In the beginning time went to organize family life with kids to school etc. The main research activities has been divided between fieldwork and finishing publications. Fieldwork has meant to re-connect to the people I know in especially Grassy Park. Through that I have made participatory observations and interviews at several exciting meetings that I will not go into detail here.

The latter has meant to finish our Ambio article (now published) on Urban transitions: on urban resilience and human-dominated ecosystems (article here) which is a collaborative article bringing together an interdisciplinary team authors, of which some are quite well-know in the field of social-ecological studies, for instance Sander van der Leeuw and Chuck Redman (anthropologists/archeologists from Phoenix), Doug Meffert (environmental engineer/urban planner from New Orleans). From Cape Town, George Davis from SANBI participates, and Christine Alfsen (UNESCO) and Thomas Elmqvist (systems ecologist). The article can be viewed as a test to use resilience theory to bring understanding of how cities as physical entities and decision-making systems can cope with larger-scale disturbances in the generation of so called ecosystem services. In relation to other articles on urban resilience, the article calls for a deeper engagement with sociological and cultural theory. The article is published as the feature article of the current issue of the journal AMBIO. I served as the main writer, or main negotiator of the text (or composer if you like), and I am quite happy with the result. However, what is clearly missing is a more political and contested reading of the city, which I would like to develop further, and which I think will also prove that resilience theory (being a systems theory) will have difficulties to handle.

I have also finished the article called Scale-crossing brokers and network governance: the governance of urban ecosystem services in Stockholm (article here) with Stephan Barthel, Erik Andersson and Sara Borgström from Stockholm. Here we develop, amongst other things, the idea of a scale-crossing broker, which is a network position that sits between knowledge generating groups that interact with ecological processes at different scales. It’s an attempt to use social network theory to think through how to cope with cross-scale dynamics in social-ecological systems. However, the idea is general and can work for any system.

I have also finished three chapters on a book on social network analysis in natural resource management. My own chapter is called Transformative Collective Action: a network approach to transformative change in ecosystem-based management” which is an effort to show how social movement theory and social network theory can be used to understand changes in the organization of natural resource management, but it was also a way for me to prepare for my empirical studies here in Cape Town. The other two chapters I have served as co-author, they are called: “Introduction – a social relational approach to natural resource governance” and “Combining social network approaches with social theories to improve understanding of resource governance”, respectively. The book is called “Social Networks and Natural Resource Management: Uncovering the Social Fabric in Environmental Governance” edited by Örjan Bodin and Christina Prell and is due next year at Cambridge.

Besides this, several other publications are in final stages of submission. With my student Elin Israelsson we are soon submitting a paper on people-centered conservation management in Cape Town to Pippin’s special issue in Ecology and Society. This paper is based on Elin’s empirical work here last year. She compared the extent to which four nature reserves in Cape Town had been able to develop more people-centered conservation practices, which has been expressed in policy documents. Two of the selected had been working closely with Cape Flats Nature, a catalyst partnership that aims to develop people-centered practice (which was “terminated” by SANBI in August 2010 after seven years). We have another paper coming that focuses on Cape Flats Nature.

With my other student Marnie Graham we will be submitting in early 2011 a paper on the perceived barriers and bridges on collaborative natural resource management at the Macassar Dunes that Marnie worked on last year. This paper will also be submitted to a special issue in E&S on urban ecology in Cape Town. A second paper, and what we both feel is a bit more exciting, makes a much more critical analysis of “co-management” using geographical place theory, and relational post-structuralist theory.

With Sverker Sörlin, an environmental historian and one of the few public intellectuals that Sweden has, I am working on a chapter for a book on urban governance and urban ecosystem services. Our chapter will review the critique that has been launched at the concept of ‘ecosystem services’ when viewed as a tool for policy and decision-making. Critique has arisen from both natural and social sciences. We employ both Bruno Latour and other ANTies – following my thesis article “The social production of ecosystem services” – and the very exciting and refreshing debate among critical geographers (for instance the June number of Antipode) on the neoliberalization of nature. We also suggest alternative and complementary ways by which human geographers on one hand, and political ecologists on the other have approached the “urban ecology”. I am the lead author on this chapter.

Just when I arrived to Cape Town, final touches were also made to a report on how to intervene in the urban fabric in ways that can support landscape ecological processes and more generally the provision of urban ecosystem services. Together with a bunch of ecologists and architects we formed a group last year called PatchWork to develop “urban social-ecological designs”, i.e. urban designs, buildings and landscapes, that both support ecological processes and social processes of learning about ecological processes. The report is called Q-Book Albano 4 - Albano Resilient Campus: A case-based exploration of urban social-ecological design (and report here).

During the year I also co-authored a piece with UCT scholar Graeme Cumming and SRC collegues Örjan Bodin and Thomas Elmqvist others on using network analysis in biogeography studies (or social-ecological studies). The piece is called “Network analysis in conservation biogeography: challenges and opportunities” (pdf here). My core contribution was to develop and argue for that social-ecological network is feasible to accomplish, i.e. to translate certain aspects of complex social-ecological systems into a network and analyze certain characteristics of this system. In the article we describe three approaches. In a new publication that was presented at the SUNBELT conference this summer in Italy, and which will be further presented at the upcoming Resilience 2011 conference, a fourth approach of translating social-ecological systems to network is added that uses a two-mode network approach. This article, presented at SUNBELT, also adds a way of analyzing so called scale mismatch in social-ecological systems using network analysis, i.e. when social process of management does not align with key-ecological processes in the system.

ConferencesI handed in two abstracts as invited panelist at the Resilience 2011 conference in Phoenix. Also two students, with which I have been developing a social network analytic approach to analyze catchment-scale water governance, handed in abstracts to this conference, Nadine Mehtner and Christian Stein, on which I am co-author. All four were accepted.

27 Nov Swedish Formas will let us know if we are successful on two grant applications on which I serve as principal investigator. One is called “Re-thinking Urban Natural Resource Management through ́Multiple Ways of Knowing’” and is a geography inspired attempt to re-think the practice of (urban) natural resource management with case studies in Cape Town and Stockholm. Both Jane Battersby- Lennard and Shari Daya from UCT is on the application, alongside historian Sverker Sörlin and historian Anna Storm, and human geographer Marnie Graham, and systems ecologist Thomas Elmqvist. Those following this blog know that we got this project granted!

The other application is called “Scale Shifts and Institutional Innovation in Urban Ecosystems: A Comparative Network Analytic Approach” and is on merging social movement theory and systems ecology, with case studies in Cape Town and New Orleans. Here student Joshua Lewis was participating (to do his PhD project), alongside geographer Susan Parnell, Thomas Elmqvist and Doug Meffert, and hopefully with participation of Pippin Anderson if we are successful. On this we have room to hire up to four 1-year postdocs. (This grant was not funded.)

Supervision / student guidance
I have worked with several other (former) students except Marnie and Elin, including:
-    Christian Stein (MSc, SRC-SU) on developing his study using social network analysis (SNA) to analyze governance of water catchments using a green-blue perspective in Tanzania (finished), Zambia (finished) and Burkina Faso (finished). This is done in collaboration with Stockholm Environment Institute and Jennie Barron. This development of SNA for analyzing water governance seems to be quite a novelty and we are currently busy finalizing two initial publications on this work (one to be presented at Resilience 2011).
-    Nadine Mehtner (PhD student, EGS-UCT) on her study of the Berg River catchment, where I have aided in the development of the social network analytical component. She will do her survey in January/February it seems. This will also be presented at Resilience 2011.
-    Joanna Szewczyk (honors, not supervisor) on aiding her in her final write-up and analysis of her honors project on the perception of nature at Princess Vlei.
-    Georgina Avlonitis (EGS-UCT), assisting Pippin Anderson, who is main supervisor, I have aided Georgina to develop her project on doing ecological assessments of biodiversity rehabilitated land, with sites including Bottom Road, Princess Vlei, Tokai Forest and control sites.
-    I also did a external examiner’s report of MSc thesis for a student that is supervised by Julian Smith, UCT.

Public-    On 27 November I am invited by the Greater Cape Town Civic Association to give a short public lecture on urban ecology and the role of civil society in struggle over how to use urban green spaces. I will use material from Stockholm and Cape Town and give an international outlook.
-    On 26 November I will give a short SNA workshop at the Criminology Dept, invited by Suzall Timm.

Field studyI had a field day with Pippin and Gina for Gina’s ecological assessment study. Helen Zille came to meeting at Bottom Road. Mayor Plato came to a meeting at Bottom Road. 2010-10-10 Global day of action at Princess Vlei. Objection letter day at Princess Vlei.

I organized Prof Sverker Sörlin’s week in Cape Town where we worked on our chapter and met with several ACC/EGS scholars. He met with Sue Parnell, Pippin Anderson, Shari Daya and Ismail Farouk as an introduction to ACC.

Publications 2010Ernstson, H., S. E. van der Leeuw, C. L. Redman, D. J. Meffert, G. Davis, C. Alfsen, and T. Elmqvist. 2010. Urban transitions: on urban resilience and human-dominated ecosystems. Ambio 39:531-545. DOI: 10.1007/s13280-010-0081-9. URL:
Ernstson, H., S. Barthel, E. Andersson, and S. T. Borgström. 2010 (in press). Scale- crossing brokers and network governance of urban ecosystem services: The case of Stockholm, Sweden. Ecology and Society:in press.

Ernstson, H. accepted. Transformative collective action: a network approach to transformative change in ecosystem-based management. Page Ch 11 in Ö. Bodin and C. Prell, editors. Social Networks and Natural Resource Management: Uncovering the Social Fabric of Environmental Governance. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Bodin, Ö., S. Ramirez-Sanchez, H. Ernstson, and C. Prell. accepted. Introduction – a social relational approach to natural resource governance. Page Ch 1 in Ö. Bodin and C. Prell, editors. Social Networks and Natural Resource Management: Uncovering the Social Fabric of Environmental Governance. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Crona, B., H. Ernstson, C. Prell, M. Reed, and K. Hubacek. in review. Combining social network approaches with social theories to improve understanding of resource governance. Page Ch 1 in Ö. Bodin and C. Prell, editors. Social Networks and Natural Resource Management: Uncovering the Social Fabric in Environmental Governance. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Cumming, G. S., Ö. Bodin, H. Ernstson, and T. Elmqvist. 2010. Network analysis in conservation biogeography: challenges and opportunities. Diversity and Distributions 16:414-425. DOI: 10.1111/j.1472-4642.2010.00651.x

PatchWork, S. Barthel, J. Colding, H. Erixon, H. Ernstson, S. Grahn, C. Kärsten, L. Marcus, and J. Torsvall. 2010. Q-Book Albano 4 - Albano Resilient Campus: A case- based exploration of urban social-ecological design. Report, Akademiska Hus, Stockholm.


Hej Henrik!
Läste er debattartikel i SvD förra veckan - bravo! Det behövs fler inlägg i debatten och större fokus på det alternativa stadslivet.
Hoppas att ni har det bra!