African Urbanism, Urban Political Ecology, and Collective Action—Discussion Seminar in Stockholm, 11 September


I am traveling to Stockholm to organize a PhD seminar with Joshua Lewis on "Urban Ecology as Science, Culture and Power". I am also giving discussion seminars on work I have done with co-authors for those interested. See below. 


11 September :: Discussion seminar on

African Urbanism, Urban Political Ecology, and Collective Action

With Henrik Ernstson
Stockholm Resilience Centre and the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town

Venue: 11 September :: Seminar Room 315 at Stockholm Resilience Centre, Kräftan, Stockholm University. Three different sessions: 9.00-10.30; 11.00-12.30; and 13.30-15.00 

I am taking the chance to invite people interested in African urbanism, urban political ecology and collective action to discuss selected articles I have been working on together with co-authors during my two years at the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town. What is ‘African urbanism’? How does the wave of post-colonial theory and the will to ‘speak back’ to northern theory manifest in the urge to re-think cities in the global south? How can such re-thinking be related to a politicized way of analyzing urban environments? What does it for instance mean to protect ‘nature’ in the context of a post-apartheid city when you come from previously marginalized groups? How do you write an account of collective action using actor-network theory (ANT) as a way to understand epistemological and ontological politics? How can ‘ecosystem services’ be discussed in the light or urban justice? And how can ecosystem services be a technology of globalization that risks de-politicizing questions of sustainability and equality? If you are interested in these types of questions, please send me an email and I will make sure that you get the articles that will be discussed. 

The day is divided as follows and you can pick which session you would like to attend. 

1) Urban Political Ecology and African Urbanism [09.00-10.30]—On African cities, urban theory and postcolonial thought, and how power operates through urban ecologies. 3 papers, including my case study from Cape Town.

2) Perspectives and Critiques on Ecosystem Services [11.00-12.30]—On environmental justice and critical engagements with an ecosystem services approach. 2 papers.

3) Theorizing Collective Action through Relational Perspectives—from SNA to ANT [13.30-15.00]—On transformative change, transition theory, social & social-ecological network analysis, and the role ecology in such studies of change. 2 papers and one concept note preparing for field work in Cape Town. I will here be joined with Joshua Lewis.

All happens in Seminar Room 355 at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Kräftriket, Stockholm University.

*PhD seminar on 10 September—and going out on restaurant...*
Please also note that Joshua and me are organizing a PhD seminar the day before on “Urban Ecology as Science, Culture and Power”. It is based on five selected articles from different fields. Please let those know that might be interested. See details for PhD seminar here: http://www.rhizomia.net/p/courseurban-ecology-as-science-culture.html

Below follows my papers for the time slots, with abstracts and links to download them.

See you soon,
Henrik

1) Urban Political Ecology and African Urbanism

Lawhon, M., Duminy, J. and Ernstson, H. (in review). Conceptual Vectors of African Urbanism: Emerging Insights into Theory/Practice and Structure/Agency from African cities. Urban Studies. Download here: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/3605089/My_publications/Lawhon%20Duminy%20Ernstson%20Conceptual%20vectors%20African%20Urbanism%20SUBMITTED.pdf 

Lawhon, M., Ernstson, H., Silver, J. and Fazel-Ellahi, S. (in review). Provincialising Urban Political Ecology: Expanding UPE through African Urbanism. Antipode. Download: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/3605089/My_publications/Lawhon%20Ernstson%20et%20al%20Provincializing%20Urban%20Political%20Ecology%20-%20Antipode%20In%20Review.pdf 

Ernstson, H. (2011). Re-translating nature in post-apartheid Cape Town: The material semiotics of people and plants at Bottom Road. Conference paper presented at: "Understanding Development Through Actor-Network Theory" [Selected for a special issue in European Journal of Development Research], London School of Economics, 30 June, London. Download: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/3605089/My_publications/Ernstson%202011%20ANT4D%20Re-translating%20Nature%20135%20LSE.pdf 

Comment: Urban theory is mainly founded on EuroAmerican experience of urbanization, which has been challenged by the urbanization we witness in Africa and the global south. These pieces draws upon scholars that have strived to re-think how we think about cities, expanding the type of experience that can talk into urban theory-making. The last piece is a case-study from Cape Town in which I draw upon actor-network theory to describe a particular form of politics that arise when those that were marginalized leads ecological rehabilitation projects.

2) Perspectives and Critique of Ecosystem Services

Ernstson, H. (accepted). The Social Production of Ecosystem Services: Towards a Framework for Environmental Justice and Ecological Complexity in Urbanized landscapes. Landscape and Urban Planning, Accepted with minor revisions. Download: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/3605089/My_publications/Ernstson%20The%20Social%20Production%20of%20Ecosystem%20Services%20R3b%20172%20-%20Lands%26UrbPlanning.pdf

Ernstson, H. and Sörlin, S. (accepted). Ecosystem Services as Technology of Globalization: On Articulating Values in Urban Nature. Ecological Economics, Accepted with minor revisions. Download: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/3605089/My_publications/Ernstson%20and%20S%C3%B6rlin%20Ecosystem%20services%20as%20technology%20of%20globalization%20EcolEcon_R1%20formatted%2096.pdf 

Comment: The first piece stays within the conceptual apparatus of ecosystem services (ESS) to discuss the generation, distribution and articulation of ecosystem services with empirical examples. The second is a more general critique that tries to understand how ESS could also de-politicize decision-making around ecological complexity, including urban case studies of value articulation in Stockholm and Cape Town.

3) Theorizing Collective Action through Relational Perspectives—from SNA to ANT

Ernstson, H. (2011). Transformative Collective Action: A Network Approach to Transformative Change in Ecosystem-based Management. In Social Networks and Natural Resource Management: Uncovering the Social Fabric of Environmental Governance. eds. Ö. Bodin and C. Prell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 255-87. Download: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/3605089/My_publications/Ernstson%202011%20Transformative%20Collective%20Action%20-%20Chapter%2011.pdf 

Ernstson, H. (2011). Re-translating Nature in Post-apartheid Cape Town: The Material Semiotics of People and Plants at Bottom Road. Conference paper presented at: "Understanding Development Through Actor-Network Theory" [Selected for a special issue in European Journal of Development Research], London School of Economics, 30 June, London. Download: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/3605089/My_publications/Ernstson%202011%20ANT4D%20Re-translating%20Nature%20135%20LSE.pdf

Ernstson, H. and Diani, M. (2012). Civic Networks of Cape Town: Towards a Relational Study of Civic Collective Action and Socioecological Movements (Concept note for the MOVE project). Download: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/3605089/My_publications/Ernstson%20and%20Diani%202012%20Concept%20note%20CT%20Civic%20Network%20Study%2041.pdf 

Comment: The first one uses social network theory to understand various collective action processes (my old case study in Stockholm). The second uses actor-network theory (ANT) to understand the construction of collective action in and through humans, things, places and plants to better understand ‘the political’ in urban ecology. The third is a concept note with Mario Diani in which we prepare for a social network and social-ecological network study of civic associations and green spaces in Cape Town. The latter is only a manuscript.



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Papers with abstracts

Ernstson, H. (2011). Re-translating nature in post-apartheid Cape Town: The material semiotics of people and plants at Bottom Road. Conference paper presented at: "Understanding Development Through Actor-Network Theory" [Selected for a special issue in European Journal of Development Research], London School of Economics, 30 June, London.

Abstract. This paper uses actor-network theory (ANT) to study a grassroots’ ecological rehabilitation project in a marginalized area of Cape Town. By tracing the stabilization of relations between residents, authorities, plants and green areas, the paper demonstrates how ANT can be enfolded into the study of African cities as an attentive way to rethink agency, empowerment and collective action. It also shows how ANT allows for the study of epistemological and ontological politics inherent to all collective action—here demonstrating how plants participated in giving voice to memories of oppression while undermining expert-based practices that separate Nature and Culture.

Ernstson, H. (accepted). The Social Production of Ecosystem Services: Towards a Framework for Environmental Justice and Ecological Complexity in Urbanized landscapes. Landscape and Urban Planning, Accepted with minor revisions. 

Abstract: This essay discusses a conceptual framework for how to relate ecosystem services to environmental justice in urbanized landscapes. The essay holds that ecosystem services—the benefits humans and society can derive from biophysical processes—cannot be viewed as objectively existing "out there", but as deeply entangled in social and political processes, which is here unpacked through the notion of generation, distribution and articulation of ecosystem services. Importantly, urban ecosystems are heavily moderated by human decisions and this governs to large extent not only the generation of ecosystem services (through urban development patterns and day-to-day management practices of urban ecosystems), but also who in society that benefits from them, i.e. the distribution of ecosystem services (viewed here as the temporal and spatial scales at which it is possible for humans to benefit from biophysical processes). This opens towards a broader citywide analysis of distributive justice, but the essay moves on to include articulation. Indeed, for ecosystem to be acknowledged in decision-making, a social practice of articulation is needed to demonstrate that certain biophysical processes are of value to society. The skills, tools, and expertise necessary to articulate value are differently held by groups in society, which opens towards a processual and 'in- place' analysis of how power relations and discourse play out in struggles over land-use and management priorities in local settings. The essay draws on empirical studies in various cities and develops a framework that combines landscape ecology and network theory, with a 'sociology of translation'.

Ernstson, H. and Sörlin, S. (accepted). Ecosystem Services as Technology of Globalization: On Articulating Values in Urban Nature. Ecological Economics, Accepted with minor revisions.

Abstract. The paper demonstrates how ecosystem services can be viewed and studied as a social practice of value articulation. With this follows that when ecosystem services appear as objects of calculated value in decision-making they are ‘tainted’ by the social and cannot be viewed as merely reflecting an objective biophysical reality. Using case studies of place-based struggles in Stockholm and Cape Town, we demonstrate how values are relationally constructed through social practice. The same analysis is applied on ecosystem services. Of special interest is the TEEB Manual that uses a consultancy report on the economic evaluation of Cape Town’s ‘natural assets’ to describe a step-by-step method to catalogue, quantify and price certain aspects of urban nature. The Manual strives to turn the ‘ecosystem services approach’ into a transportable method, capable of objectively measuring the values of urban nature everywhere, in all cities in the world. With its gesture of being universal and objective, the article suggests that the ecosystem services approach is a technology of globalization that de-historicizes and de-ecologizes debates on urbanized ecologies, effectively silencing other —and often marginalized—ways of knowing and valuing. The paper inscribes ecosystem services as social practice, as part of historical process, and as inherently political. A call is made for critical ethnographies of how ‘ecosystem services’ and urban sustainability ‘indicators’ are put into use to change the ‘local’ while manufacturing ‘global expertise’.

Ernstson, H. (2011). Transformative Collective Action: A Network Approach to Transformative Change in Ecosystem-based Management. In Social Networks and Natural Resource Management: Uncovering the Social Fabric of Environmental Governance. eds. Ö. Bodin and C. Prell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 255-87.

Summary: This chapter will discuss transformative change towards ecosystem management. Special attention will be paid to elucidate the collective nature of these transformations, hence the title of transformative collective action. The analysis will show that in order to bring about radical institutional change of natural resource management, a whole network of individuals and organizations are needed that, through time, can sustain pressure for change. These actors furthermore need to relate to each other through information exchange and repeated collaborations in order to coordinate their collective action, to learn as they go along of what works and what does not work, and to negotiate their vision of change to reach some common ground that can unite their collective effort. The focus is to demonstrate how concepts derived from social network analysis, paired with theories from the social movement literature, can be used to analyze transformative change in natural resource management.

Ernstson, H. and Diani, M. (2012). Civic Networks of Cape Town: Towards a Relational Study of Civic Collective Action and Socioecological Movements (Concept note for the MOVE project).

Abstract. This concept note describes preliminary notes on how to study civic networks, or the patterns of relations between social groups that take collective action in Cape Town. Based on a thorough pre-study, a survey will be developed to assess the networks of collaboration that exist among a multitude of groups from local to city-scale, and their relations to: authorities, events (over time), public and green areas (across space), and types of issues they mobilise on. Some 150-220 associations will be visited, which primarily mobilise on issues of urban ecology, including food security, waste, and the use of green spaces (but could include access to water, electricity and sewage treatment, and housing). More issues could be added through the methodology integrated in the survey. The survey will be followed by in-depth interviews with activists and civil servants involved in these networks to understand network dynamics and interpret preliminary data. Apart from describing and analysing networks (such as centrality and clustering), the aim is also to describe and analyse what facilitate and constrains the emergence of civic associations and their ability to build alliances around certain issues (and not others). The relational perspective used will hopefully add an important dimension to the study of civic collective action in South African cities.

Lawhon, M., Duminy, J. and Ernstson, H. (in review). Conceptual Vectors of African Urbanism: Emerging Insights into Theory/Practice and Structure/Agency from African cities. Urban Studies.

Abstract. The development of theory from the global South has become a critical need in urban studies. In Africa, scholars have shown an increasing interest in cities, but struggled to articulate theory which points to the distinctiveness of African cities without relegating them as irrelevant to theory. Roy proposes the development of conceptual vectors based on the idea that regional histories and contexts shape cities, and that theoretical concepts, while rooted in place, may have significance elsewhere. Using literature on African urbanism we identify key factors that shape African cities and we develop two conceptual vectors around theory/practice and structure/agency. We review how African urbanists have met demands of practice through innovative ways of engaging theory, and how the binaries of structure and agency have been negotiated through the use of concepts such as networks, flows, and space. We demonstrate that African cities and scholars make critical contributions to urban theory- making.

Lawhon, M., Ernstson, H., Silver, J. and Fazel-Ellahi, S. (in review). Provincialising Urban Political Ecology: Expanding UPE through African Urbanism. Antipode.

Abstract. Urban political ecology has provided a critical lens on the sociomaterial construction of urban environments and contestation over power and urban resources. We review the broad field of political ecology, including studies in the global North and South, urban and rural, and using Marxist/structuralist and post-colonial/ poststructural theory. We suggest UPE typically begins with a structural theory of power, then examines particular artifacts to provide a critique of society. Using theoretical and empirical work from African urbanism, we begin suggesting what a provincialized, expanded UPE might entail: starting with the everyday, examining diffuse power, and opening the scope for radical incrementalism. Such insights from African cities are one means through which to expand UPE. Rooting research in a broader definition of political ecology which includes post-structuralist and post-colonial theory and starts from theory and empirics in cities of the South can provide new theory and grounds for radical change.

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