Visit and seminar at Centre for Civil Society at University of KwaZulu-Natal

I have done a study trip as visiting scholar and I have traveled through the geography and academy of South Africa. I spent one week at the Dept of Development Studies and the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and one day at Rhodes University in Grahamstown (see next blog post). It has been an amazing trip with great hospitality from these universities and their departments. 

At UKZN I had very good meetings with several scholars, including Prof Richard Bond, Prof Dianne Scott, Dr Richard Ballard, Cathy Sutherland (Oelefse) and several more at UKZN. I spoke at a seminar - see weblink here to presentation:,61,3,2588

Who can claim to be in the know of “urban ecology”? A seminar on plants, people, politics and collective action in post-apartheid Cape Town.
Speaker: Henrik Ernstson
Date: Wednesday 28 March 2012
Venue: Development Studies Seminar Room
Time: 12:30-14:00
Seminar papers: Articulating Values in Urban Nature Ecosystem: Services as Technology of Globalization by Henrik Ernstson and Sverker Sörlin. Re-translating nature in post-apartheid Cape Town: the material semiotics of people and plants at Bottom Road by Henrik Ernstson.
Topic: With increasing urbanization and ecological crisis, “urban ecology” has been engaged by academia and civil society. This presentation prepares for a discussion about who can claim to be in the know about urban ecology, about epistemological and ontological politics, and how that is played out in the political ecology of Cape Town in particular. I will depart from my ethnographic research of a grassroots’ initiative to rehabilitate a fynbos vegetation wetland habitat in Grassy Park, Cape Town, a lower-middle class area classified as a ‘Coloured’ area during apartheid. This case study will be contrasted with the efforts by biologists and civil servants to produce a biodiversity map for Cape Town, and later also the use of the framework of ‘ecosystem services’ to build a “business case” for the city’s “natural assets”. Through the collective action at Grassy Park we learn that there are ways to undermine the neat separation of Nature and Culture often upheld by biologists and experts. Thus, rather than counting the number of species to account for value, there is an attempt to infuse “biodiversity” with memories of oppression engendering a politics of knowing and being. Although only using material from Cape Town, I hope the seminar can help to engage other urban realities to lay bare similar patterns and help to ask (i) how urban ecology is, and could be part of forging civic collective action in various forms, but also (ii) how urban ecology could be part of practices that silences or neglects unequal socioenvironmental patterns. A description will also be included of an idea on how to study civic collective action as networks of collaboration.
Presenter: Henrik Ernstson (PhD) is an ecologist/sociologist, who draws on systems ecology, sociology, and political ecology to explore the governance and politics of urban ecologies. Currently he is a Visiting Scholar at the African Centre for Cities (ACC) at University of Cape Town, but also affiliated to the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University. He leads two research projects - "Ways of Knowing Urban Ecology" and "Socioecological Movements in Urban Ecosystems" with project case studies in Cape Town, New Orleans, Stockholm and later also Sydney. Read more at his website 


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