Urban Political Ecology


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

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  • Urban Political Ecology

    1. 1. The Urbanization of NatureGreat Promises, Impasse and New Beginnings? <br />Erik Swyngedouw<br />University of Manchester<br />Graduate Summer School on Environmental Conflict, Autonomous University of Barcelona, 8 July 2011<br />
    2. 2. “There is nothing unnatural about New York City” (Harvey, 1996) <br />“However far we go, we can never leave the city” (after Italo Calvino)<br />“Capitalism today as global urbanism” (Lefebvre, 1989)<br />
    3. 3. The Urbanization of nature<br />The Urban Question and Socio-Environmental Conflict: 19th century<br />The de-naturalization of the city: 20th century nature/city separation<br />RE-naturing the city in the late 20th century: Promises<br />Nature in the city<br />The fantasy of urban sustainability <br />Urban Environmental Injustice<br />Urban Political Ecology<br />IMPASSE<br />Re-Politicizing Urban Political Ecology: New Beginnings?<br />
    4. 4. The Urban Question as an Environmental Issue: 19th and 20th century antecedents<br />The Conditions of the Working Class in England (F. Engels)<br />‘Metabolic Rift’ and capitalist urbanization (K. Marx)<br />“… 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).<br />Early Sociology as socio-ecological understanding: Spencer, Compte, Schaffle<br />The ‘Bacteriological City’ and the urban sanitation movement: The ‘sustainable’ city avant-la-lettre<br />
    5. 5. The Urban Question as an Environmental Issue: 19th and 20th century antecedents<br />Natural Ecology – Social Ecology – Socio-Ecological Systems -- Social Harmony – Socializing Nature (Chicago School and Modern(ist) Urban Planning and Green Spaces)<br />The ‘denaturalization’ of the Urban Problem: from the Chicago School to Critical Urban Political Economy<br />
    6. 6. Re-naturing the City<br />Foregrounding Urban Nature again:<br />The ecological problem as socio-political problem (> 1960s)<br />System theory – Urban ‘Design with Nature’ (McHarg)<br />Nuclear energy as ‘symptomatic torsion point’<br />Resource Depletion and the Malthusian Spectre (CoR)<br />Galloping Urbanization in Global South and the Urban as socio-environmental problem<br /><ul><li>A New Relationship with Nature: Sustainability as Romantic Ideology and a Particular scripting of Nature
    7. 7. Neglecting Socio-environmental inequality and persistent conditions of socio-ecological exclusion
    8. 8. Two Perspectives: Nature in the City versus the Urbanization of Nature</li></li></ul><li>1. Urban Sustainability: The Fantasy of Socio-Ecological Urban Cohesion<br />1987 Brundtland Report – 1992 Rio Summit<br />Two interconnected perspectives<br />Ecological rationality: efficient resource use<br />Technology-mediated management: eco-technocracy and ecological modernization<br />Occasionally attention to wider socio-ecological networks and the conflicts/compromises involved in delivering urban sustainability<br /> Sustainability as Imaginary Fantasy <br /> Predicated on the possibility of socio-ecological Harmony and on a particular ‘scientific’ understanding of Nature as singular, ordered and inherently harmonious<br /> Silencing of questions of inequality/inequity<br />
    9. 9. 2. Urban Environmental Injustice: The Distribution of Environmental Bads<br />Normative concept AND Social Movement<br />Originated in the US as a socio-environmental movement:<br />Distributional notion of Justice (Rawlsian) – absence of political demands of equity/equality – liberal notions of justice (as fairness)<br />Foregrounding race<br />Procedural <br />Focus on environmental ‘bads’<br />Localised (NIMBY-ism)<br />
    10. 10. Urban Environmental Injustice: The Distribution of Environmental Bads<br />Socializing urban natures<br />Extending injustices ad-infinitum: gender, class, disability, age, inter-generational, scale, ….<br />Focus on PATTERNS of socio-spatial environmental injustices<br />We are all victims<br /> Socio-ecological (In)Justices in the City VERSUS the political-ecology processes of Urbanization and its inequalities.<br />
    11. 11. 3. Urban Political Ecology<br />The Production of Urban Socio-Environmental Inequalities through human/non-human assembling./flows.<br />Nature does not exist – natures become<br />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”<br />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.<br />
    12. 12. Urban Political Ecology<br />Large-scale urbanization of all manner of natures is THE spatial form of capital accumulation (with all manner of unintended outcomes). <br />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. <br />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<br />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 <br />
    13. 13. Urban Political Ecology<br />The urbanization of natures is multi-scaled: for example, the political ecology of urban water and the water/money/capital nexus.<br />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.<br />POLITICAL EMPHASIS: Not on (In)Justice (as ethical or moral imperative), but on EQUALITY as founding political gesture/demand. <br />
    14. 14. 4. Re-Politicizing Urban Political Ecology: From Urban Environmental Movements to Eco-Political Demands<br />The failures of critical thought: IMPASSE – the disappearance of the environment post-crisis<br />Bringing the political back into POLITICAL-Ecology <br />From socio-environmental analysis to political action<br />Thinking the political (vs. politics)<br />The democratic political as the presumption of equality of each and all.<br />The common management of the commons<br />
    15. 15. Re-Politicizing Urban Political Ecology: From Urban Environmental Movements to Eco-Political Demands<br />Urbanizing Global Environments:<br /> 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’<br /> (The commodification/financialization of H2O, CO2, land, wastes, Genes, etc….; multi-scalar and multi-networked struggle; <br />DEMANDING THE RIGHT TO URBANITY AS METABOLIC VEHICLE.<br />
    16. 16. From urban environmental movements to Eco-Political Demands<br />2. Post neo-liberalizing urban environments:<br />Neo-liberalism as the privatisation/commodification of everything as a political/class project <br />State authoritarianism and post-neoliberalization: Capitalism with Asian values? <br />The Socialist Elite State and the Tyranny of Participatory Governance<br />Socio-Ecological Inequality and De-Democratization: <br />RECLAIMING DEMOCRACY AS FOUNDATIONAL POLITICAL GESTURE.<br />
    17. 17. From urban environmental movements to Eco-Political Demands<br />3. Urban environmental movements<br />Reactionary<br />Localised<br />Repertoires of Action: Victims and Grievances<br />The presumed egalitarianism of urban environmental movements (disavowing conflict – internal power relations)<br />MULTI-SCALAR AND RELATIONAL-ECOLOGICAL POLITICAL DEMANDS<br />
    18. 18. From urban environmental movements to Eco-Political Demands<br />4. Radical Urban Socio-Ecological Imaginaries and The <br /> Discourses of Urban Natures<br />Nature or Sustainability are ‘empty’ signifiers<br />Ecology as the ‘New Opium of the People’<br />Ecologies of Fear<br />Ecological coherence as panacea<br />Inviting radical change so that nothing really has to change<br />Nature does not exist<br />Producing egalitarian socio-environmental urban imaginaries and material assemblages<br />STAGING EQUALITY = RECAPTURING DEMOCRACY: Towards a slow city <br />