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CfP AAG2017: Emancipatory Horizons of an Urban Century

AAG 2017


Call for Papers AAG2017. American Association of Geographers (AAG), Boston, April 5-9, 2017

Emancipatory Horizons of an Urban Century

Session conveners: Henrik Ernstson (KTH and University of Cape Town) and Erik Swyngedouw (University of Manchester)

Abstract. With the rise of planetary and uneven urbanization at the turn of the 21st century, there are real challenges on how to articulate anew the relationship between emancipatory theory and political activism. Urban Political Ecology (UPE) has grown rapidly over 20 years and the field has expanded and been challenged constructively by a wide range of scholars, from feminism, anarchism, critical race studies, more-than-human and posthumanist perspectives, postcolonial studies, decolonization scholars and global South urbanism (see e.g. Keil 2003; Keil 2005; Heynen 2014; Kaika and Swyngedouw 2011; Ince 2012; Harcourt and Nelson 2015; Hinchliffe and Whatmore 2006; Lawhon, Silver, and Ernstson 2013). Through this, UPE has asserted itself as a key mode of critical enquiry in a world shot through by deepening socio-ecological crises, accelerating urbanization, late capitalist crises, and new forms of depoliticization, neo-colonization and neo-imperialism.

However, the field is also in crisis, and it shares this with critical and radical theory more generally. While we have improved our ability to trace sociomaterial flows and ’quasi-objects’ like water, waste and food; explored how financial capital operates across scales; developed situated feminist and postcolonial accounts on the re-politicization of urban environments; traced how economic crises unravel social cohesion and wreck ecological havoc; and just how unequal and unsustainable the world has become, we have less to offer in terms of what to do, in terms of thinking with radical political activists about new political imaginaries, forms of political organizing, and practices of socio-ecological change, which, as we know, are urgently needed.

This session revolves around this task: What could or even should emancipatory politics be about in our times?

We see two main sources of inspiration that we hope can help to structure this session. First, and with a focus on activist practices: What can be learnt from recent (urban) insurgencies that stretch from the Arabic Spring, Occupy Movement, #RhodesMustFall, #BlackLivesMatter to many more, including Kurdish anti-patriarchical modes of governing liberated cities in Syria and Iraq, anarchist pre-figurative movements, radical slum-dwellers organizations, efforts of commoning, zero-growth or de-growth, the return of the commune and many more. What might link such efforts together, in spite of their differences, in terms of emancipation and how they handle key notions within UPE such as sociomateriality, hybridity, cyborgs, metabolism, and ‘the urban’ as a space of re/depoliticization? Second, and now with a focus on political theory: What can be learnt by rubbing political theory with and against political ecology’s interest in materiality/sociomateriality? What, for example, do post-foundational writers like Jacques Rancière, Chantal Mouffe and Alain Badiou bring in terms of helping us to re-politicize environments? How can these thinkers—and other political philosophers—be placed in relation to UPE’s idea of sociomateriality? What to make of ‘vibrant matters’ (J. Bennet 2010) and ‘parliaments of things’ (B. Latour) in relation to a strict notion of equality and freedom from oppression? And on what terms could there exist more-than-human political moments (Booth and Williams 2014; Àvila and Ernstson, n.d.)?

This session seeks contributions that can speak to the challenges on how to organize anew the articulation between emancipatory theory and political activism and that can translate and link across cultural, regional and species differences. The idea is to move beyond ‘the urban’ to foreground ‘the political’ in and through the ecological/sociomaterial. We are hoping to receive contributions not only from critical and human geographers and urban studies folks, but also from anthropologists, critical sociologists, decoloniality scholars, radical race scholars, more-than-human thinkers, political theorists and others committed to emancipation through socioecological transformations and movements.

Possible topics include reflections, research and activisms around:

· The active construction of new forms of emancipatory collectivities (human and more-than-human).

· The formation of new liberating geographies of justice and socioecological movements that are translating across cultural and regional contexts, across North and South, East and West, and beyond.

· How divides of class, race, place, nonhuman etc. are negotiated and possibly made to strengthen emancipatory potentials.

· How the situatedness of all action/knowledge can connect with but also challenge ‘the planetary’ scale of our predicament.

· How the vehicles of emancipatory transformation are changing. For instance, if ‘the party’—as vanguard or mass party; as socialist or communist; or ‘green’—was the (failed) political vehicle of transformation in the 20th century, what is the political vehicle for socioecological equality today?

· How to organize the struggles for the equality of all.

Contacts: If you would like to participate and contribute a conference paper, or possibly contribute in some other non-traditional format, please send an outline of your ideas (250 words) to Henrik Ernstson ( by Friday 21 October 2016. Mark the subject line “UPE@AAG2017”. Also, if you would like to participate in other ways, for instance as a discussant, please feel free to contact us as well. We look forward to connecting with you.

Please note: Once you have submitted an abstract to us and it is accepted, you will also need to register (and pay the AAG fees), AND then also submit an abstract on the AAG website. The AAG abstract deadline is 27 October 2016 at this link:

The session will combine submitted contributions with authors of chapters that is part of an upcoming book by the conveners called Urban Political Ecology in the Anthropo-ob(S)cene: Political Interruptions and Possibilities (Ernstson and Swyngedouw, eds. forthcoming at Routledge).

References (selection)

Àvila, Martìn, and Henrik Ernstson. n.d. “Realms of Exposure: A Speculative Design Perspective of Material Agency and Political Ecology.” In Grounding Urban Natures: Histories and Futures of Urban Ecologies, edited by Henrik Ernstson and Sverker Sörlin.

Bennet, Jane. 2010. Vibrant Matter.

Booth, Kate, and Stewart Williams. 2014. “A More-than-Human Political Moment (and Other Natural Catastrophes).” Space and Polity 18 (2): 182–95. doi:10.1080/13562576.2014.884313.

Ernstson, Henrik, and Erik Swyngedouw, eds. n.d. Urban Political Ecology in the Anthropo-ob(S)cene: Political Interruptions and Possibilities. Oxford: Routledge.

Harcourt, Wendy, and Ingrid L Nelson, eds. 2015. Practising Feminist Political Ecologies. London: Zed Books.

Heynen, N. 2014. “Urban Political Ecology I: The Urban Century.” Progress in Human Geography 38 (4): 598–604. doi:10.1177/0309132513500443.

Hinchliffe, Steve, and Sarah Whatmore. 2006. “Living Cities: Towards a Politics of Conviviality.” Science as Culture 15 (2): 123–38.

Ince, Anthony. 2012. “In the Shell of the Old: Anarchist Geographies of Territorialisation.” Antipode 44 (5): 1645–66. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8330.2012.01029.x.

Kaika, Maria, and Erik Swyngedouw. 2011. “The Urbanization of Nature: Great Promises, Impasse, and New Beginnings.” In Blackwell Companion to Cities, 96–107. Blackwell Publishing.

Keil, Roger. 2003. “Urban Political Ecology No 1.” Urban Geography 24 (8): 723–38. doi:10.2747/0272-3638.24.8.723.

———. 2005. “Progress Report—Urban Political Ecology.” Urban Geography 26 (7): 640–51. doi:10.2747/0272-3638.26.7.640.

Lawhon, Mary, Jonathan Silver, and Henrik Ernstson. 2013. “Politicizing Urban Ecologies: Traveling Theory as a Postcolonial Sensibility in African Cities.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research


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