Course—Urban Ecology as Science, Culture and Power

How can we understand urban ecology? This PhD course provides participants with an overview of, and engagement with, various theoretical perspectives, debates and research practices that have energized the discussions around urban ecology, urban ecosystems, and urban sustainability during the last 10-15 years. 

This course is called "Urban Ecology as Science, Culture and Power" in Stockholm 10-14 June, 2013It has been given a couple of times, at Stockholm Resilience Centre (in 2012, as a seminar) and in 2013 at KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratry. As all courses it is under continuous development.

At the intersection of increasing urbanization and ecological crises, there has been an intense theoretical debate on how to understand and research urban nature and urban ecology. As a way to gain oversight of the latest 10-15 years of academic production, this course provides four fields of value to discuss, namely (i) urban ecological and urban social-ecological systems research, (ii) cultural geography, (iii) urban environmental history, and (iv) urban political ecology. 

Although sub-divisions within these fields can be done, they all share an interest in understanding the long-standing question of how humans modify, and are in turn modified as part of biophysical environments, but with different emphasis and traditions of thought. They also, in various ways, places a central emphasis on urbanization and the city as a conceptual and empirical starting point towards broader discussions within natural and social science, and the humanities. 

To describe the main features of the production of research across these fields means to work through a continuous shift of how to understand what urban ecology is, and how one can gain knowledge about urban ecology and urban nature. When put together in a course like this, these ontological and epistemological shifts, through supporting and contesting each other, opens interpretative possibilities—a prism for viewing urban ecology as science, culture and power. Included in these discussions hovers the question of what role ‘urban nature’—as cultural symbol and biophysical reality—plays in wider circuits of power and governing logics. 

Objectives and aims

In this PhD course we will carefully work through these fields to familiarize participants with each respective field’s overarching structure of thought and practice. Through lectures and seminars, complemented with paper presentations at the book workshop, this will allow us to discuss, and explore how these fields overlap and contest each other towards enriching our understanding of urban ecology as material condition, academic discourse, and political tool. 

The course thus aims to provide participants with a familiarity of an extensive and varied literature.  But also intellectual capacity to critically unpack the politics of urban ecology, and the abilities and disabilities to create more democratic and sustainable forms of urbanisation.

Key questions pursued through the lectures, discussions and workshop presentations are:
  • What scientific registers and systems theoretical perspectives are used to gain insights into the bewildering, unorthodox and hybrid character of urban ecosystems?
  • How do we historicize urban nature and urban ecology?
  • How do we politicize urban nature and urban ecology?
  • How is a worldling of urban nature achieved, i.e. how is urban nature/ecology spoken about differently from different parts of the world? What does this variance mean?
  • How and why is it necessary to pluralize urban nature and urban ecology—into urban natures and ecologies?
The course can therefore be taken by PhD students from social science, natural science and the humanities to enrich their PhD projects in different ways. 

Note that apart from theoretical discussions, we will also share our own research experience in how to do research at the intersections of these literary fields. Those leading the course are part of two research projects, “Ways of Knowing Urban Ecology” (WOK-UE) and “Socioecological Movements in Urban Ecosystems” (MOVE), with on-going empirical case studies from Cape Town, Stockholm, and New Orleans. Apart from this they have further experience of environmental research, from systems ecology, social theory and historical research. 

Obligations for the students
  • Reading of all obligatory literature and preparation of notes on the literature to be prepared for lectures, discussions and book workshop.
  • Write a 2-page outline of an essay that starts discussing the literature in relation to your ongoing PhD project to be handed in one week before course start. More details will follow.
  • Active participation during the whole course work.
  • Short 5 minute presentation of your research project on the first course day. This should entail case study description (if applicable), theoretical framework, and possible results and insights so far. If you use presentation software, no more than 3 slides. But rather be creative and bring something else—a thing, a symbol, a piece of clothing, an artifact—and use that as a way to bring us closer to your field work and PhD project experience. 
  • Hand in an essay after the course that is geared towards a research publication, which engages your PhD work through the literature of the course. This will be examined and feedback will be given. More information will follow.
Examination (no grades, only approved/not approved)
  • Active participation during the whole course work.
  • Short 5 minute presentation of your research project 
  • Essay.
The course will engage four fields in the literature. These are described briefly below, and examples of the literature is given on the next page. A full literature list will be posted and sent out to those taking the course. 

A. Urban ecology and urban social-ecological systems research (SES)
Urban ecology as a scientific field emerged as a comprehensive field of study in earnest only through the large research grants in the USA in the 1990‘s. The so called Long-Term Ecological Research projects (LTER) in the cities of Baltimore, Phoenix and Seattle firmly established ‘cities as ecosystems’ through teams lead by researchers trained in the ecological and biological sciences; Steward Pickett, Nancy Grimm and Marina Alberti respectively. 
This perspective has been enriched by studies by urban ecology groups elsewhere, not least those at Stockholm Resilience Centre. Although a core interest has been in ‘green areas’, urban forests and wetlands, which have traditionally been seen as objects of study in ecological research, these groups have also framed the whole city as a biophysical system, including houses, motorways and green spaces as active parts. 
This perspective is based on complex adaptive systems theory (a la Santa Fe), resilience theory, and is presented as a scientific approach to understand and intervene in urban nature and urban ecology using ecological sciences. It has grown fond to express the value of nature through the ecosystem services framework. Some social science has been integrated, but less so when it comes to social theory and the humanities, including historical research. More nuanced discussions of power, identity, contestation and cultural interpretation has difficulties to fit within its ecosystem model and ‘the social’ tend to enter as ‘boxes’ or ‘factors’, with ‘feedbacks’ to ecological boxes and factors.

B. Cultural geography
Cultural geographic renderings of urban nature have taken an interest in how cultural identities are co-constructed with engagements with urban spaces. Urban nature is viewed as relationally and socially constructed through different networks of power and identity (following for instance Massey), and a more recent move to explicitly draw upon post-structuralist theory to trace and describe such relational processes. 
Through the latter, the materiality of the city, its ‘urban nature’ is viewed as relationally constructed through socio-material networks whereby also the physicality of objects and things are given agency in understanding the way nature is engaged, modified, and acts back on ‘social projects’ (Murdoch, 2006). Different actors, from planners to residential user groups, use different practices that engage urban spaces and natures, and each create their meaning of space which can overlap, contest each other, or collaborate to stabilize meaning and identities, and processes of inclusion and exclusion. Increasingly, cultural geographers have made use of actor-network theory (ANT)(Hinchliffe et al., 2005; Hinchliffe and Whatmore, 2006; Murdoch, 2006) and assemblage thinking (McFarlane, 2011) to describe these processes. 
Nature is here used, and thus modified, to express, construct and sustain cultural identities, and social projects. Parks, nature reserves, city squares, buildings and motorways can be part of such analysis and a system perspective is not needed—but networks and relations are key metaphors (especially in poststructuralist accounts), and it works with a ‘flat ontology’, avoiding a dependence on ‘grand theory’ like resilience theory or Marxist theory. 

C & D Urban environmental history and Urban Political Ecology (UPE)
An historical understanding of urban nature has been developed by environmental historians—e.g. Cronon (1991) on Chicago, and Gandy (2002, 2006) on New York and Lagos—and further by more theory-driven urban political ecologists, see for instance Swyngedouw (1997, 2004) on Guyaquil, Kaika (2005) on Athens and other case studies in the edited volume In the Nature of Cities (Heynen, Kaika and Swyngedouw 2006). 
Through environmental historians ‘the city’ is viewed as constructed by sociocultural and often capitalist processes of accumulation that produces ‘second nature’. This involves the formation of elites and labour classes and the (administrative and material) technologies through which ‘first nature’ (in the country) can be commodified and brought into the markets and be used to construct ‘second nature’ as in cars, trains, computers, and thus ‘the city’ itself. The “concrete and clay” of New York is part of urban nature, and the processes and social relations that made the movement of gravel and water to produce this ‘second nature’ is used as entry point to uncover how cities are made through social relations in an historical process. This describes the dialectical relationship between ‘the country and the city‘ and Marx’ notion of the labour process is key for un-packing this process of urbanization (see Bellamy-Foster, Harvey, Raymond Williams). The accessing of resources from afar, constructs a different nature in the city, a second nature, being the buildings, motorways, and parks, but also the things moving around in and between cities, cars, trains, boats, bicycles, which makes modern life possible, while supporting the circulation of capital. 
The city comes to us as dialectically related to ‘second nature’, or cyborgs—often seen as created through the imaginaries of the elite or the wealthy with greater social power (Swyngedouw, 1997, 2005; Kaika and Swynedouw, 2000). In supporting the broader process of capital accumulation, the city is (merely) an artifact to sustain this process, while being constructed and modified through the same process, in a dialectical relationship.

A full list of the literature will be given, but a few examples are: 

Grimm, N. B., Faeth, S. H., et al., (2008) Global Change and the Ecology of Cities, Science 319:756-760. [5 pages; ]
* This article gives a broad overview of the gathered understanding of “cities as ecosystems”, based on results from biophysical scientific methods published in scientific journals in ecology and the environmental sciences, including Ecosystems, Nature, Bioscience, Landscape Ecology and Ambio. *

Evans, J. P. (2011) Resilience, ecology and adaptation in the experimental city. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 36(2):223–237. [11 pages]
* This piece by a cultural geographer provides reflection on the practice of “urban ecology as science”. The focus is on Baltimore and Phoenix, and their urban ecology research groups. What happens when theories of sustainability and resilience include the researchers themselves? From an experienced cultural geographer, we are invited to critically reflect on how environmental knowledge is produced through the lens of social-ecological systems theory, and how science as practice is also political. A core question is how “the city is being negotiated as both the site and object of a nascent mode of experimental governance.”*

Hinchliffe, S., & Whatmore, S. (2006) Living cities: Towards a politics of conviviality. Science as Culture, 15(2), 123–138. [15 pages]
* This piece by two british cultural geographers starts with where ‘urban ecology as science’ has taken us—urban ecologies are weird, “recombinant”, even bastards, since they differ from the ‘wild ecologies’ studied in the past. This has called into question the scientific norm of delivering ‘facts’, and shifted “the status and location of expertise”. Through visiting local associations and their places, the authors record how also non-humans like animals and plants are part of the city. This leads to a formulation of a politics of togetherness. As perhaps a quite tough introduction to actor-network theory (ANT; a more-than-human theory of action), it pays of to read it carefully... — and discuss it with others. *

Swyngedouw, E., Heynen, N. C., (2003) Urban political ecology, justice and the politics of scale, Antipode 35:898-998. [18 pages]
* This paper describes a key-version of Urban Political Ecology, that rooted in critical theory and Marxism. This is a relational and historical approach that helps to untangle the interconnected economic, political, social and ecological processes that create deeply unjust urban landscapes. The materiality of the urban environment—its different ecologies and often unsustainable forms—is viewed as part of larger social projects in which asymmetrical power relations form the city and its environments. It views “both nature and society as fundamentally combined in historical-geographical production processes”. This paper will be complemented with more empirical chapters for the section on ‘Urban ecology as power’ *
Ernstson, H. (2011) Re-translating nature in post-apartheid Cape Town: The material semiotics of people and plants at Bottom Road. In: Heeks, R., (Ed.) Conference on "Understanding Development Through Actor-Network Theory", London School of Economics, 30 June, London, URL: [15 pages]
* This case study from Cape Town shows how urban ecology is being re-translated by those that never before could speak into ‘nature’, or claim to be in the know of Capetonian urban nature. The article follows how persons classified as ‘Coloureds’ during apartheid, form alliances with various entities, including plants, to reclaim urban green spaces. As such it shows how collective action is constructed in-and-through things and people, but also how ethnographic research can move us beyond discussions of distribute justice and understand other dimensions of the ‘the political’ that reside in urban ecology. *

About the course leaders
Dr. Henrik Ernstson is a Research Fellow at Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University and Honorary Visiting Scholar at the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town. He also has an upcoming postdoc position at Stanford University, California. 
Joshua Lewis is a PhD student at the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, and affiliated to Tulane University in New Orleans. 
Professor Sverker Sörlin is a environmental historian building up the KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory at KTH. 

For more information on their two research projects “Ways of Knowing Urban Ecology” (WOK-UE) and “Socioecological Movements in Urban Ecosystems” (MOVE), see here:

Full list of literature:

Literature list for ‘Urban Ecology as Science, Culture and Power’. Version 3 June 2013.

The course is based upon intense reading across a large field of literatures. With the intensification of increased urbanization and ecological crises, there has been an enormous academic production that has engaged with the notions of ‘urban ecology’ and ‘urban nature’. Some has been in the realm of basic science, some in the field sciences; other expressions has been towards policy—natural resource management and urban planning—and politics.

Below is a selection and does not try to be comprehensive. However, there are structuring features of these literatures that the course strives to unpack, and every article is thus, in that sense, an example—or case study—of a larger field. Through getting familiar with this literature, we will touch and discuss the larger fields and strive to unpack what it is that makes them operate and ‘tick’. This will help all participants the better situate their own work in the literature, and get inspired, or provoked, by fields they knew less about before the course.

What follows is a first set of readings that you can start with. The selection tries to find a balance between theoretical interventions, and case study research. This serves to sensitize the course to how theoretical statements are made, but also how empirical phenomenon are researched. The headings are provincial but gives a marker in which broad area of the literature they fit in. A couple of more headings will be added with some other literature. Also non-compulsory literature will be added later on. Most articles and chapters you can find in the course DropBox. I will continue adding as I have made scanned versions. The only book you really need to buy is Richard Walker’s (see below). But of course several are useful, for instance Cronon (1991) and Lachmund (2012).

The articles are divided between ‘empirical engagements’ and ‘theoretical interventions’, which is, again, only a marker for things that works across these borders. But the point out a main thrust of the papers.

All non-marked are compulsory reading. *Compulsory and part of reading for a lecture; **Non-compulsory reading.

As Science...
(To understand how the social practice of science tries to make sense of urban ecology as vegetation patterns, movement of species and as entire ecosystems.)

Empirical engagements (case studies)
Lundberg, J., Andersson, E., Cleary, G., Elmqvist, T., 2008, Linkages beyond borders: targeting spatial processes in fragmented urban landscapes, Landscape Ecology 23(6):717-726.

**Zipperer, W. C., Guntenspergen, G., 2009, Vegetation composition and structure of forest patches along urban-rural gradients, in: Ecologies of Cities and Towns: A Comparative Approach (M. J.

McDonnell, A. K. Hahs, J. H. Breuste, eds.), Cambridget University Press, Cambridge.

Theoretical interventions
Grimm, N. B., Faeth, S. H., Golubiewski, N. E., Redman, C. L., Wu, J., Bai, X., Briggs, J. M., (2008) Global Change and the Ecology of Cities, Science 319:756-760. [5 pages; ](Summarizing article.)

Pickett, S. T. A., Cadenasso, et al. (2008) Beyond urban legends: An emerging framework of urban ecology, as illustrated by the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, Bioscience 58(2):139-150. (Presenting a framework. Distilling a mode of thinking about the urban.)

**Pickett, STA and Cadenasso ML (2006) Advancing urban ecological studies: Frameworks, concepts, and results from the Baltimore Ecosystem Study. Austral Ecology 31, 114–125

...and as Systems Theory, NRM and SES...
(To understand how ‘field science’ is translated into policy and management ideas around urban ecology.)

Colding, J., Lundberg, J. and Folke, C. (2006) Incorporating green-area user groups in urban ecosystem management. Ambio 35(5) 237-244.

Empirical and theoretical
Barthel, S., Folke, C., and Colding, J. (2010) Social-ecological memory in urban gardens—Retaining the capacity for management of ecosystem services. Global Environmental Change 20: 255-265.

Ernstson, H., Barthel, S., Andersson, A. and Borgström, Sara T. (2010) Scale-crossing brokers and network governance of urban ecosystem services: The case of Stockholm. Ecology and Society 15(4): 28

As Culture...
(To understand how to use cultural geographical theory to understand and approach urban biophysical processes and ‘urban nature’, including STS and ‘science-in-action’ with focusing on different ways of knowing urban ecologies.)

Empirical engagements
Karvonen, A., & Yocom, K. (2011). The civics of urban nature: enacting hybrid landscapes. Environment and Planning A, 43(6), 1305–1322. doi:10.1068/a43382 (* Connects with Hinchliffe and

Whatmore but in a more straightforward way. Better situated in environmental history and UPE).

*Evans, J. (2011) Resilience, ecology and adaptation in the experimental city. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 36: 223-37.

*Evans, J. (2007) Wildlife corridors: an urban political ecology. Local Environment 12 (2) 129-152.

*Ernstson, H. (2011) Re-translating nature in post-apartheid Cape Town: The material semiotics of people and plants at Bottom Road. In: Heeks, R., (Ed.) Conference on "Understanding Development Through Actor-Network Theory", London School of Economics, 30 June, London, URL: [15 pages] (* Connects with Hinchliffe and Whatmore, draws more upon ANT, and introduces urban ecology in a racialized landscape, postapartheid.)

Ernstson, H., & Sörlin, S. (2009). Weaving protective stories: connective practices to articulate holistic values in the Stockholm National Urban Park. Environment and Planning A, 41(6), 1460–1479. doi:10.1068/a40349

Theoretical interventions
*de Certeau, M. (1984) The Practice of Everyday Life, University of California Press, Berkeley. Chapter 7. Walking in the City.

Hinchliffe, S., & Whatmore, S. (2006) Living cities: Towards a politics of conviviality. Science as Culture, 15(2), 123–138. [15 pages] (* Links very well with the urban ecology as science through citing ecologists about the recombinant ecology.)

Hinchliffe, S., Kearnes, M. B., Degen, M., Whatmore, S., 2005, Urban wild things: a cosmopolitical experiment, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 23:643-658. (Goes against the UPE scholars notion of where the political lies and how to enact it.)

As History...
(To understand how historical methods and ways of structuring accounts and arguments brings a layered story to urban ecology.)

Empirical engagements (the only mode of historical research...)
Karvonen, A. (2010). MetronaturalTM: Inventing and reworking urban nature in Seattle. Progress in Planning, 74(4), 153–202. doi:10.1016/j.progress.2010.07.001

Lachmund, J. (2012). Greening Berlin. Princeton: MIT Press. (*Selected empirical chapter-*)

Walker, R. (2007) The Country in the City: The Greening of The San Francisco Bay Area, Univ of Washington Press, Seattle and London.  (135 pages to read) -- Introduction and Chapters 3-7 --

**Cronon, W. (1991). Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. New York: Norton. (Chapter 4)

As Power...
(To understand how, in particular, critical geography and neo-Marxist thought have aimed to politicize urban ecology, its benefits and ills, and how it is known. Also often historical, but more explicitly driven by theoretical ideas.)

Empirical engagements
Swyngedouw, E. (1997). Power, nature and the city: The conquest of water and the political-ecology of urbanization in Guayaquil. Environment and Planning A, 29(2), 311–332.

Gandy, M. (2006). Planning, Anti-planning and the Infrastructure Crisis Facing Metropolitan Lagos. Urban Studies, 43(2), 371–396. doi:10.1080/00420980500406751

Ernstson, H., & Sörlin, S. (2013). Ecosystem services as technology of globalization: On articulating values in urban nature. Ecological Economics, 86, 274–284. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2012.09.012

Theoretical interventions
Swyngedouw, E. (1996). The City As a Hybrid: On Nature, Society and Cyborg Urbanization. Capitalism Nature Socialism, (April 2013), 37–41.

Swyngedouw, E. (2009). The Antinomies of the Postpolitical City: In Search of a Democratic Politics of Environmental Production. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 33(3), 601–620. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2427.2009.00859.x

Gandy, M. (2005). Cyborg Urbanization: Complexity and Monstrosity in the Contemporary City. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 29(1), 26–49. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2427.2005.00568.x

**Kaika, M., & Swyngedouw, E. (2011). The Urbanization of Nature: Great Promises, Impasse, and New Beginnings. Blackwell Companion to Cities (pp. 96–107). Blackwell Publishing.

**Pincetl, S. (2007) The Political Ecology of Green Spaces in the City and Linkages to the Countryside. Local Environment 12(2): 87–92



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