Presented at Stanford University on Situated UPE and Ways of Knowing Urban Natures

Last Thursday I had the great opportunity to present my work at the Stanford Global Studies—Centre for African Studies Seminar. It was a dinner seminar with a great audience, in particular students from different disciplines. It was of course also incredibly useful and humbling to meet James Ferguson from Anthropology and my Stanford host historian Richard Roberts, who are both amazing African humanist scholars. In the audience were also Sean Hanretta and Laura Hubbard from the Centre for African Studies.

To give a short overview, I have from my lecture notes:
This presentation will be about urbanization, ecology and postcolonial urbanism. Indeed, I hope to bring you some theoretical ideas and some lessons from Cape Town. I will provide both a theoretical argument and an empirical case study and I thus have four aims:
- to provide the outlines for how urban political ecology can be made more sensitized to African cities and postcolonial critique, what I call a situated urban political ecology
- to bring an empirical study of different ways of knowing urban nature in Cape Town. This includes biodiversity mapping techniques, ecosystem services, and in-place ways of knowing urban nature at Princess Vlei.
- I will reflect upon where the political is located in these ways of knowing
- And I hope the seminar will provide an arena to discuss African urbanization, and how 'urban ecology' operates as science, culture and power

Stanford Dinner Talk. Stanford Global Studies, Centre for African Studies, Stanford University, 6 March 2014, 6 - 8 pm, 30 - 40 minutes talk and then questions. Audience: Students and experienced scholars. A manuscript was pre-circulated. 

Title: Towards a Situated Approach to Urban Political Ecology in a 'World of Cities': Thinking with Cape Town's Post-apartheid Natures

Henrik Ernstson (Stanford Unviersity, University of Cape Town and KTH)

Abstract: The paper summarises and develops recent theoretical arguments that I have made with colleagues in our project to create a situated approach to urban political ecology based on developments in urban theory 'from the south' and empirical studies in cities of the global south (Roy 2009; 2014; Robinson 2011; 2014). The paper is empirically grounded in my studies on different ways of knowing nature in Cape Town, from a biodiversity mapping technique and a 'ecosystem services' approach, which both works to simplify and de-contextualize urban nature, to a popular struggle at the Princess Vlei wetland that has placed urban nature in relation to colonial and apartheid histories. The paper reflects upon where the political is located in these ways of knowing, following how they control how expertise is being distributed in society, who has voice, and who is silenced, in the quest for how urban natures should be organized, protected and produced. The paper also argues that the combination of historical research and ethnographic methods, inspired by actor-network theory, provides a situated and sensitive repertoire to research urban political ecologies in and through post-colonial cities where the question of how nature, race, culture, and ecology are interrelated has received little attention. I hope the seminar will be a way to open towards a critical discussion of the state of urban political ecology, but also to think through how 'urban ecology' operates as science, culture and power in this contemporary situation of increasing urbanisation and ecological crisis.


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