Urban Political Ecology
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Urban Political Ecology



Friday 8/7/2011 Erik Swyngedouw (University of Manchester). Urban Political Ecology.

Friday 8/7/2011 Erik Swyngedouw (University of Manchester). Urban Political Ecology.



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Urban Political Ecology Urban Political Ecology Presentation Transcript

  • The Urbanization of NatureGreat Promises, Impasse and New Beginnings?
    Erik Swyngedouw
    University of Manchester
    Graduate Summer School on Environmental Conflict, Autonomous University of Barcelona, 8 July 2011
  • “There is nothing unnatural about New York City” (Harvey, 1996)
    “However far we go, we can never leave the city” (after Italo Calvino)
    “Capitalism today as global urbanism” (Lefebvre, 1989)
  • The Urbanization of nature
    The Urban Question and Socio-Environmental Conflict: 19th century
    The de-naturalization of the city: 20th century nature/city separation
    RE-naturing the city in the late 20th century: Promises
    Nature in the city
    The fantasy of urban sustainability
    Urban Environmental Injustice
    Urban Political Ecology
    Re-Politicizing Urban Political Ecology: New Beginnings?
  • The Urban Question as an Environmental Issue: 19th and 20th century antecedents
    The Conditions of the Working Class in England (F. Engels)
    ‘Metabolic Rift’ and capitalist urbanization (K. Marx)
    “… large landed property reduces the agricultural population to an ever decreasing minimum and confronts it with an ever growing industrial population crammed together in large towns; in this way it produces conditions that provoke an irreparable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism … The result of this is a squandering of the vitality of the soil, which is carried by trade far beyond the bounds of a single country” (Marx, 1981 [1867], p. 949).
    Early Sociology as socio-ecological understanding: Spencer, Compte, Schaffle
    The ‘Bacteriological City’ and the urban sanitation movement: The ‘sustainable’ city avant-la-lettre
  • The Urban Question as an Environmental Issue: 19th and 20th century antecedents
    Natural Ecology – Social Ecology – Socio-Ecological Systems -- Social Harmony – Socializing Nature (Chicago School and Modern(ist) Urban Planning and Green Spaces)
    The ‘denaturalization’ of the Urban Problem: from the Chicago School to Critical Urban Political Economy
  • Re-naturing the City
    Foregrounding Urban Nature again:
    The ecological problem as socio-political problem (> 1960s)
    System theory – Urban ‘Design with Nature’ (McHarg)
    Nuclear energy as ‘symptomatic torsion point’
    Resource Depletion and the Malthusian Spectre (CoR)
    Galloping Urbanization in Global South and the Urban as socio-environmental problem
    • A New Relationship with Nature: Sustainability as Romantic Ideology and a Particular scripting of Nature
    • Neglecting Socio-environmental inequality and persistent conditions of socio-ecological exclusion
    • Two Perspectives: Nature in the City versus the Urbanization of Nature
  • 1. Urban Sustainability: The Fantasy of Socio-Ecological Urban Cohesion
    1987 Brundtland Report – 1992 Rio Summit
    Two interconnected perspectives
    Ecological rationality: efficient resource use
    Technology-mediated management: eco-technocracy and ecological modernization
    Occasionally attention to wider socio-ecological networks and the conflicts/compromises involved in delivering urban sustainability
     Sustainability as Imaginary Fantasy
     Predicated on the possibility of socio-ecological Harmony and on a particular ‘scientific’ understanding of Nature as singular, ordered and inherently harmonious
     Silencing of questions of inequality/inequity
  • 2. Urban Environmental Injustice: The Distribution of Environmental Bads
    Normative concept AND Social Movement
    Originated in the US as a socio-environmental movement:
    Distributional notion of Justice (Rawlsian) – absence of political demands of equity/equality – liberal notions of justice (as fairness)
    Foregrounding race
    Focus on environmental ‘bads’
    Localised (NIMBY-ism)
  • Urban Environmental Injustice: The Distribution of Environmental Bads
    Socializing urban natures
    Extending injustices ad-infinitum: gender, class, disability, age, inter-generational, scale, ….
    Focus on PATTERNS of socio-spatial environmental injustices
    We are all victims
     Socio-ecological (In)Justices in the City VERSUS the political-ecology processes of Urbanization and its inequalities.
  • 3. Urban Political Ecology
    The Production of Urban Socio-Environmental Inequalities through human/non-human assembling./flows.
    Nature does not exist – natures become
    natures become increasingly enrolled in a capital accumulation and circulation process as a socio-metabolic process. Metabolism is the process whereby ”physical matter such as water or cows are transformed into useable, ownable and tradable commodities.” Environments are produced == “there is nothing unnatural about NYC”
    This is predicated upon the incorporation of natures within the social relations of property/ownership, appropriation and distribution of nature/value: the commodification of nature.
  • Urban Political Ecology
    Large-scale urbanization of all manner of natures is THE spatial form of capital accumulation (with all manner of unintended outcomes).
    Anti-Malthusian: scarcity as a socially produced: twin imperative of ‘accumulation for accumulation’s sake on the one hand and ‘the market’ as allocation instrument on the other – accelerating socio-ecological transformation.
    The urban socio-physical environment embodies and reflects the power relations inscribed in socio-ecological metabolism: control/ownership/access, quality of resources, and their utilization/distribution
    State/policies matter, class and other forms of social power are vital or ….. In other words, politics resides in the state, the political resides in social struggle/conflict
  • Urban Political Ecology
    The urbanization of natures is multi-scaled: for example, the political ecology of urban water and the water/money/capital nexus.
    The urbanization of nature is never just LOCAL, it always also is trans-local and often global. -- urban socio-ecological metabolism produces combined and uneven socio-ecological development.
    POLITICAL EMPHASIS: Not on (In)Justice (as ethical or moral imperative), but on EQUALITY as founding political gesture/demand.
  • 4. Re-Politicizing Urban Political Ecology: From Urban Environmental Movements to Eco-Political Demands
    The failures of critical thought: IMPASSE – the disappearance of the environment post-crisis
    Bringing the political back into POLITICAL-Ecology
    From socio-environmental analysis to political action
    Thinking the political (vs. politics)
    The democratic political as the presumption of equality of each and all.
    The common management of the commons
  • Re-Politicizing Urban Political Ecology: From Urban Environmental Movements to Eco-Political Demands
    Urbanizing Global Environments:
    Urbanising globalization as a socio-environmental project: the territorialization and de-territorialization of metabolic circulatory flows organized trough socio-physical conduits or networks of ‘metabolic vehicles’
    (The commodification/financialization of H2O, CO2, land, wastes, Genes, etc….; multi-scalar and multi-networked struggle;
  • From urban environmental movements to Eco-Political Demands
    2. Post neo-liberalizing urban environments:
    Neo-liberalism as the privatisation/commodification of everything as a political/class project
    State authoritarianism and post-neoliberalization: Capitalism with Asian values?
    The Socialist Elite State and the Tyranny of Participatory Governance
    Socio-Ecological Inequality and De-Democratization:
  • From urban environmental movements to Eco-Political Demands
    3. Urban environmental movements
    Repertoires of Action: Victims and Grievances
    The presumed egalitarianism of urban environmental movements (disavowing conflict – internal power relations)
  • From urban environmental movements to Eco-Political Demands
    4. Radical Urban Socio-Ecological Imaginaries and The
    Discourses of Urban Natures
    Nature or Sustainability are ‘empty’ signifiers
    Ecology as the ‘New Opium of the People’
    Ecologies of Fear
    Ecological coherence as panacea
    Inviting radical change so that nothing really has to change
    Nature does not exist
    Producing egalitarian socio-environmental urban imaginaries and material assemblages