Higher Seminar presentation at KTH: "Situated Ecologies: Thinking Sustainable Urbanism in a ‘World of Cities’"

On Monday, February 8, 10:15-11:45 I presented at the Higher Seminar at the KTH's Division of History Science and Environment. The title was:

Situated Ecologies: Thinking Sustainable Urbanism in a 'World of Cities'

Abstract. We have in earnest entered a world-spanning phase of urbanization. Competing signifiers of this change range from 'planetary urbanization' to a 'world of cities', including a shift from focusing on 'la ville/the city' to extended 'urban landscapes' or city-regions. This has been paired with a profound ecological change oftentimes denoted as climate change, or more recently and popularly as the anthropocene. In this talk I will reflect upon several case studies that I have developed with colleagues that helps to interrogate what this intimate interpenetration of human and nature in and through a world-wide and uneven urbanization means in terms of politics, both 'on the ground' but perhaps more importantly for knowledge production itself. I will argue that this situation requires a deepened reflection on how we as scholars can approach and critically analyze these new conditions. This includes to learn to take into account a broader urban experience to make sense of nature and urbanisation. It also means to be constructively skeptical of established theory since it has been predicated on historical assumptions of the urban, of nature—and of urban nature. However, how to take on this formidable knowledge project? In this talk I will only have time to sketch some of the contours of this knowledge project, but through this I hope to provide material through what this situation means for KTH in terms of research, teaching and collaboration with other institutions. I will argue that while surface and trend data and quantitative modelling of urbanization and environmental change is important, alongside research that responds to urgent needs (e.g. how to create low-cost solutions to improved sanitation), what is also crucially important is to develop detailed historico-ethnographic case studies in different locations of the world (and how such locations are connected). But, and beyond these, it is also crucial to find ways and means to question theory as such and invent novel ways of 'registering' 'the urban' and urban environments in novel ways. It is perhaps here that KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory can play a crucial part in developing collaborations with artists and other knowledge-producers in what Edgar Pieterse has called a "theoretical searching" that departs from the idea that the categories of thought that we have are insufficient for thinking urban environments in a 'world of cities'. As cluster of research activities or research tactics, I call this 'situated ecologies'. 
Dr. Henrik Ernstson is developing a situated approach to urban political ecology. He combines urban ecological science, urban political ecology and critical urban studies, including social movement studies, to understand biophysical and political-cultural dimensions of urban sustainable development. He is currently a Research Fellow at the KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory and an Honorary Visiting Scholar at the African Centre for Cities at University of Cape Town, South Africa.