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Democratic Practices of Unequal Geographies (Annual PhD Course/Seminar)

The Annual ACC Seminar & PhD Course on Democratic Practices. Contact Henrik Ernstson if you are interested in attending by 6 May 2016. We have 14-18 seats. For more information, keep reading!

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The 2016 Annual ACC Seminar/PhD Course on Democratic Practices in Cape Town:

The Aesthetical and the Political of Unequal Geographies: 

Reading across Political Philosophy and Global South Urbanism

July 4-8, 2016, Seminar Room 1, EGS Building, Upper Campus, University of Cape Town.

Organised by Henrik Ernstson and Andrés Henao Castro.

The seminar is given by the African Centre for Cities (ACC) at the University of Cape Town. To apply, please send  your letter of interest no later than 6 May 2016 to Henrik Ernstson (henrikDOTernstsonATuctDOTacDOTza). We hope the seminar with its readings and discussions can contribute new angles and perspectives to your research.

More information on the 2016 theme, reading and seminar methodology is given below. Please scroll!

Andrés Henao Castro leading the seminar on democratic practices and unequal urban geographies in 2015 at UCT.Andrés Henao Castro leading the seminar on democratic practices and unequal urban geographies in 2015 at UCT.

Rationale for 2016: Aesthetics and politics!

The task is urgent and profound: How to make sense of rapid urbanization across Africa and the global South, while (re)turning to explicitly think about emancipatory politics? What does the political mean in these contexts? What constitutes properly democratic practices of equality and freedom? What can we learn by rubbing political theory against urban studies of ‘the South’?

This annual seminar series emerges out of an interest to put into conversation political philosophy and global south urbanism. Importantly, our objective is not that of supplementing a theoretical abstraction (e.g. ‘the political’) with some kind of concrete spatiality. Rather, we are interested in the global south as an epistemological position and a field of experience that has specific contemporary sociomaterial realities that we hope can trouble and re-new both radical urban theory and political theory. Following last year’s seminar, in which we related our readings of Plato to Rancière with critical urban studies of the South, this year we gather a seminar that problematizes the relationship between the political and the aesthetic. This puts more focus on artists and activists that intervene materially and socially in the fabric of urban spaces, and it brings us towards the political in a quite specific way.

More concretely we aim to relate questions around what Jacques Rancière calls the distribution of the sensible with interventions in urban spaces. We aim to push the seminar to think about the representation and troubling of an aesthetic regime from the perspective of how it has become embedded in urban and non-urban settings. We will exploit texts that have linked theoretically the political with aesthetic regimes and how this translates troubles and can be re-thought in the context of the global south. We want to ask, for example:

  • How does the symbolic remaking of a space through an artistic intervention trouble the otherwise naturalization of that space as reducible to its presumable functions (i.e., market values)?
  • What is the relationship between this interruption of the function of a space and that of politics?
  • How can artistic interventions force the community to confront that which it disavows?
  • What kind of conflict do such forms of expressing the senses create within urban spaces?
  • How are those urban spaces transgressed, circumvented, rearranged, reimagined, etc., so as to trouble the very limits of what can be perceived and sensed in the city?
  • How do these spatial contestations take place today, under what kind of aesthetic practices?
  • And how could this possibly lead to processes of political subjectivization, a politicization of collectivities, bodies, and spaces in the name of equality?

In light of 2015 and the student movement of South Africa, questions of democracy, decolonization and profound emancipatory change have brought these questions into even sharper focus. And this does not mean to forget other recent women, workers and community rebellions, nor the slow-grinding and incremental institutional changes of empowerment that is also ongoing. Indeed, we hope this seminar/course will provide a chance for all participants to think about these recent events and processes. We hope it will contribute material and discussions through which you can re-think and sharpen your own research projects.

Seminar Methodology

Our seminar focuses on readings of political theory that interrogate the relationship between the aesthetical and the political, across a variety of philosophical approaches. Yet it explores such relationship with a particular and rather unusual emphasis on urban and non-urban geographies of the global south. We want to discuss questions about representation, intervention, performativity, sensuousness, visibility, audibility, occupation, inscription, by placing these theories within uneven geographies that should trouble existing theoretical findings and help us to reformulate our research questions, methodologies approaches and theoretical assumptions. In the readings we have chosen to place more emphasis on political philosophy as these are less known to most of us, and since this makes best use of Dr. Andrés Heano Castro’s visit here at ACC in Cape Town. The texts on global south urbanism will bring in contextual and theoretical aspects into the seminar, but we also rely on participants’ wider readings and their own research on urbanization, global south and decolonization. Below you will find the current list of readings, which will be updated.

Schedule and Readings

We will meet for 3 hours every day. Andrés will talk for the first 30 minutes, in order to provide context for the theoretical discussion: what is at stake in the texts, where does the text stand in relation to intellectual debates, and summarize main points, etc. Then we open the floor for discussion in which the global south urbanism literature will enter as ways to unpack and think about the seminar questions, how our empirical work are helped by these texts, while challenging them and ‘speaking back’. Through this we will have a chance to re-think our own research and case studies. For each day we will provide questions to orient your reading, and serve as starting point for our discussions. Based on this you can write down and raise your own questions to further give direction to the seminar. We will have a short 10 minute break two hours into the seminar and then we will return for another 45 minutes of discussion. Coffee and tea will be served during the seminar. (NB: Global south urbanism reading and questions will be complemented later alongside points 1-3 in the list below.)

How to Apply

The seminar/course is organized by Dr. Henrik Ernstson and Dr. Andrés Henao Castro. It forms part of the ACC’s new project NOTRUC, Notations on Theories of Radical Urban Change, which is lead by Dr. Henrik Ernstson and Professor Edgar Pieterse and it provides a terrain towards critical and radical (re)thinking on global south urbanism at ACC and beyond.

Application—Letter of interest

The seminar/course is open to PhD students and scholars. Please send an e-mail to Henrik Ernstson no later than 6 May 2016 including a 500 word motivation letter (why you would like to take this course) and a 2-page CV (not longer please). We will have between 12-18 seats available. You will know if you have been accepted a week after.

No course fee

There are no course fees. During the seminar there we will arrange coffee and tea every day, and one dinner. The rest of food items and other costs will be on your own account.

Short on the organizers

Dr. Andrés Fabián Henao Castro is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Massachusetts Boston. His research interests are the relationship between ancient and contemporary political theory, particularly in reference to democratic and de-colonial theory and practices, the question of political subjectivity and the distribution of political agency. Currently he is working on a book that explores the kind of subject-positions and forms of agency that are imagined and unimagined in the theoretical reception of Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone. As a member of the international research network on Performance Philosophy he is also developing a new project on radical interpretations of Plato’s allegories. He is also working on the relationship between text and textile by putting in conversation ancient and contemporary political weavers through their reception in contemporary feminist theory. Read more on his website: http://works.bepress.com/andres_fabian_henao_castro

Dr. Henrik Ernstson is a Research Fellow and Principal Investigator from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, and an Honorary Visiting Scholar at the University of Cape Town, where he has been since 2010. His theoretical and empirical work is focused on the politics and collective organizing around urban ecology, from urban land and wetlands to waste and sanitation. With others, he is developing a situated approach to urban political ecology drawing upon upon critical geography, global South urbanism, postcolonial theory and postfoundational political thought. For more information, see http://www.situatedecologies.net and http://stanford.academia.edu/HenrikErnstson.

Readings

(to be updated)

Day 1 [Monday]: The Political and the Aesthetic

We will introduce the seminar and all participants will introduce themselves.

  1. Formulation of the problem (to be added)
  2. Leading questions to guide the reading (to be added)
  3. Key concepts (to be added)

— Readings Day 1 —

  • Required: Jacques Rancière The Politics of Aesthetics.
  • Recommended: Chapters 9 and 10 from Rancière’s Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics.
  • Readings from global south urbanism literature (to be added).

Day 2 [Tuesday]: Critical Theory and the Question of Ideology

  1. Formulation of the problem (to be added)
  2. Leading questions to guide the reading (to be added)
  3. Key concepts (to be added)

— Readings Day 2 —

  • Required
    • Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,”
    • Elias Canetti’s “Hitler According to Speer,”
    • Martin Jay’s “‘The Aesthetic Ideology’ as Ideology: Or What Does it Mean to Aestheticize Politics. ”
  • Recommended: Fredric Jameson’s “Postmodernism and the Market.”
  • Readings from global south urbanism literature (to be added).

Day 3 [Wednesday]: The Performative and the Political 

This seminar will focus on the relationship between the political and the performative, particularly with regards to the theater.

  1. Formulation of the problem (to be added)
  2. Leading questions to guide the reading (to be added)
  3. Key concepts (to be added)

— Readings Day 3 —

  • Required:
    • Selections from Hannah Arendt’s “Human Condition”, “Labor, Action, Intellect”
    • Selections from Paolo Virno’s “The Grammar of the Multitude”
    • Selections from Judith Butler’s “Notes Towards a Performative Theory of Assembly”, “The Scandal of the Performative”
    • Selections from Shoshana Felman, and
    • Jacques Rancière’s Chapter 1 from “The Emancipated Spectator”.
  • Recommended:
    • Sybille Krämer “Connecting Performance and Perfomativity: Does it Work?”
    • Geoff Boucher “The Lacanian Performative: Austin after Zizek.”
  • Readings from global south urbanism literature to be added.

Day 4 [Thursday]: Decolonial Aesthetics

  1. Formulation of the problem (to be added)
  2. Leading questions to guide the reading (to be added)
  3. Key concepts (to be added)

— Readings Day 4 —

Required:

  • Walter Mignolo’s “Decolonial Aesthetics,”
  • Selections from Gayatri Spivak’s “An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization”,
  • Selections from Anne McClintock’s “Imperial Leather”
  • Readings from global south urbanism literature to be added.

Day 5 [Friday]: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition

  1. Formulation of the problem (to be added)
  2. Leading questions to guide the reading (to be added)
  3. Key concepts (to be added)

— Readings Day 5 —

  • Required:
    • Selections from Saidiya Hartman’s “Scenes of Subjection”
    • Selections from Fred Moten’s “In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition”,
    • Selections from Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman’s “Against the Closet”
  • Readings from global south urbanism literature to be added.

(More information to be added later on the course page.)

 

 

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Course description for 2015

Annual ACC Seminar/PhD course:

Democratic Practices of Unequal Geographies:

Reading Political Theory with Southern Urbanism

This is an annual week-long literature and discussion seminar organized by Dr. Henrik Ernstson and Dr. Andrés Henao Castro at the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town. The first seminar was held 27-31 July 2015 and the next is scheduled for 11-15 July, 2016. It invites PhD students and Early Career Scholars in particular from UCT, UWC, Stellenbosch and other South African universities. For 2016 we also hope to have some travel bursaries for non-Cape Town based participants. Some changes will be made to 2016 version of the seminar, but the outline below from 2015 gives a good indication. If you are interested, please send an email to Henrik Ernstson (henrik.ernstson[!at!]uct.ac.za). Course days: Monday to Friday, 9 – 12 am; Thursday longer with CityLab discussion and dinner in the evening. 

Some feedback from 2015 participants

“The group discussions were of perhaps the highest intellectual rigour and focus that I have ever experienced.”

“The readings from both sides – political theory and Southern urbanism – were well-chosen [and] Dr. Henao Castro and Dr. Ernstson created a nurturing space for collective reflection on specific local cases and popular debates that were generously shared by all participants.”

“The system of having intensive group meetings during the morning (allowing time in the afternoon for individual reading and reflection) suited my style of working.”

“Planning next year: Bit more people from different disciplines.”

“Participants should also be encouraged to relate the readings to their own work, with the opportunity for each to give a short presentation on how they relate the reading material to their own research projects.“

“I have tremendously enjoyed participating in the above seminar. It was well prepared, comprehensibly structured and intellectually stimulating. The guiding questions for each reading also came in very handy, especially when tackling the longer and more complex texts.”

Description 

This seminar emerges out of an interest to put into conversation two bodies of literature: political philosophy and global south urbanism. By gathering a seminar we want to understand and problematize the meaning and practices of democracy by attending to their often-neglected contentious spatial materializations. Our effort is that of relating questions about the doing and undoing of the demos to the interrogation of its material spaces of appearance and disappearance. By pairing democratic theory with the work of critical geographers and urbanists, our objective is not that of supplementing a theoretical abstraction with a concrete spatiality in the global south, but that of thinking about political subjectivity, collective agency and the distribution of power from the perspective of their embedded urban and non-urban settings. We want to ask, for example, how does the private (oikos) vs. public (polis) division of spaces in the classic Greek city helped to constitute the phone (voice) vs. logos (speech) division of rationality by which gendered and racialized bodies were depoliticized in the original making of the demos? How were those urban spaces transgressed, circumvented, rearranged, reimagined, etc., so as to trouble the very limits of the demos itself by these agents? How do these spatial contestations take place today, as our own theories of democracy change to signify conflict rather than consensus,orafuture-to-comeratherthananalreadypresentreality? Theseminarispartofa new ACC project on Radical Incrementalism and Theories/Practices of Emancipatory Change (RADINCSUPE) lead by Henrik Ernstson and Edgar Pieterse. The objective is also to use the seminar as a theoretical laboratory to elaborate a framing for a new ACC CityLab around “Democratic Practices in Unequal Geographies”.1 We hope this combination can contribute to the theoretical terrain of ACC and beyond.

Seminar Methodology 

Our seminar follows a rather usual historical trajectory as it moves from the origins of democracy in the ancient Greek polis to the current challenges democracy faces under neoliberal conditions of globalization. Yet it explores such historical transformation with a rather unusual emphasis on urban and non-urban landscapes in the global south. We want to discuss questions about speech, action, property, governmentality, the political, and the construction of the other, by placing these theories within uneven geographies that should trouble existing theoretical findings and help us to reformulate our research questions, methodologies approaches and theoretical assumptions.

In the readings we have chosen to place more emphasis on political philosophy as these are less known to most of us, and since this makes best use of Andrés’ visit here at ACC. The texts on global south urbanism will bring in contextual and theoretical aspects into seminar, but we also rely on participants’ wider reading and research on urbanization, global south and post colonialism. One of the participant’s reflected on how profoundly the seminar managed to create a collective space for thinking hard about fundamentals:

“Prior to the seminar I had not engaged with some of the foundational aspects of political thought. I tended to take certain political ideas for granted, without viewing these concepts, institutions or categories as having histories of their own. As a result, the seminar has enabled me to think more carefully and critically about contemporary political debates (e.g. around foreign migrants and neoliberalism). The seminar sharpened my awareness around what we can consider to be ‘political’, whether in objective reality or in the thought of key influential people. For example, I had never considered that Marx and Foucault (the heroes of many in the intellectual left) could be regarded as not having much to say about politics and the political. This has been a welcome challenge.”

Schedule and Readings 

We will meet for 3 hours every day. Dr. Andrés Henao Castro will start with talking for about 30-40 minutes to give context of the theoretical discussion, and make use of his long experience with these texts: what is at stake in the text, how the question changes the problematic, and summarize the main points, etc. Then we open the floor for discussion in which the global south urbanism literature will enter as ways to unpack and think about the seminar questions, how our empirical work are helped by these texts, while challenging them and ‘speaking back’. For all these will be a chance to re-think our own research and case studies.

Below follow questions to orient your reading, and serve as starting point for our discussions. Based on this you can write down and raise your own questions to further give direction to the seminar. We will have a short 10 minute break two hours into the seminar and then we will return for another 45 minutes of discussion. Coffee and tea will be served during the seminar. (NB: Global south urbanism reading and questions will be complemented later this week.)

Day 1 [Monday]: Origins of Democracy 

We will introduce the seminar and all participants will introduce themselves. Andrés will then talk about the origins of Democracy in Greece, and the definitions given by Plato and Aristotle. After that we will open for discussions. Outline:

  1. Formulation of the problem: a. The paradox of democracy: undoing distinctions and the subject of equality. b. Philosophy versus democracy and the problem of colonialism. c. The relationship between democracy and the urban space.
  2. Leading questions will be given to the reading
  3. Key concepts: democracy, political regime, citizenship, and freedom.

Readings Day 1: Plato’s Book VIII and Aristotle’s Books I-III. The rest of these books are recommended.

Day 2 [Tuesday]: Modern Critique of Democracy (Democracy in Modernity) 

We will focus on Marx (On the Jewish Question) and Rousseau (Second Discourse on Inequality) and the question of property and link this with a reading on critical geographies in the global south during the period of the bourgeois liberal revolutions. Outline:

  1. Formulation of the problem: a. The citizen versus the human: the ideological masking of inequality; b. Capitalism and Democracy; c. On private property and the improperty of the commons; d. The relationship between political power and space
  2. Leading questions to guide the reading will be given.
  3. Key concepts: democracy, capitalism, political, and social emancipation.

Readings Day 2: Compulsory reading is Marx’ “On the Jewish Question.” Rousseau’s text recommended. Compulsory reading is also Loftus, A., & Lumsden, F. (2008). Reworking hegemony in the urban waterscape. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 33(1), 109–126.

Day 3 [Wednesday]: The Paradox of Democracy (Democracy and Foreignness) 

This seminar will focus on the political function of the foreigner as what paradoxes foreigness help democracy to solve.

  1. Formulation of the problem: a. The inversion of the question; b. The political functions of the foreigner, or the foreigner as deux ex machine; c. Storytelling and democratic founding; d. Territorial unrest and the mobility of the people
  2. Leading questions to guide the reading will be given.
  3. Key concepts: democracy, foreignness, paradox, foundings.

Readings Day 3: Compulsory Chapters 1, 3 and 4 from Bonnie Honig’s book Democracy and the Foreigner. The other chapters are recommended. Compulsory reading is also Comaroff, J., & Comaroff, J. L. (2001). Naturing the Nation: Aliens, Apocalypse, and the Postcolonial State. Social Identities, 7(2), 233–265. Recommended reading is: Mbembe, A. (2002). African Modes of Self-Writing. Public Culture, 14(1), 239–273; Mbembe, A., & Nuttall, S. (2004). Writing the World from an African Metropolis. Public Culture, 16(3), 347–372.

Day 4 [Thursday]: The Hatred of Democracy

This seminar focus on Jacques Ranciére’s work on democracy, proper political sequence, and the distritbution of the sensible and how that translates into contexts of cities and societies of the South.

  1. Formulation of the problem: a. Democracy versus consensus; b. Democracy as a form of political subjectivation; c. Democracy and theatricality: on the aesthetics of the political; d. The (non)space of democracy: on the redistribution of the sensible;
  2. Leading questions to guide the reading will be given.
  3. Key concepts: democracy, police, supplement, scandal of equality.

Dinner in the evening!

Readings Day 4: Compulsory reading is Jacques Rancière’s Hatred of Democracy; Recommended reading is Rancierés Democracy and Consensus. Compulsory reading is also Pithouse, R. (2008). A Politics of the Poor: Shack Dwellers’ Struggles in Durban. Journal of Asian and African Studies, 43(1), 63–94. Recommended reading is Ernstson, H. (n.d.). Situating ecologies and re-distributing expertise: the material semiotics of people and plants at Bottom Road, Cape Town. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.

Day 5 [Friday]: Democracy and Neoliberalism
Neoliberalism

  1. Formulation of the problem: a. The demos as “homo politicus”; b. Politics versus economics; c. Neoliberalism as governmental rationality; d. The imagination of political spaces.
  2. Leading questions to guide the reading will be given.
  3. Key concepts: democracy, neoliberalism, rationality, homo economicus/politicus.

Readings Day 5: Compulsory reading is Chapters 1, 3, 4 and 6 of Wendy Brown’s book Undoing the Demos. Compulsory reading is also Simone, AboduMaliq (2004). People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg. Public Culture, 16(3), 407–429. Recommended reading is Gandy, M. (2005). Learning from Lagos. New Left Review, 33, 37–52.

Reading list for the seminar 2015

Note that * indicates compulsory reading.

Political Philsophy 

PLATO. 2004. “Book II, Book VII and Book VIII*,” in: Republic, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.

ARISTOTLE. 1996. “Books I*, II*, III*,” in: Politics, Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press

BROWN, Wendy. 2015. Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution*, New York: Zone Books (all of it is compulsory; but it is difficult to access; see note below).

HONIG, Bonnie. 2001. Democracy and the Foreigner, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press (Compulsory: Chapters 1*, 3* and 4*; Chapter 2 recommended).

MARX. Karl. 1978. “The Jewish Question”*, in: The Marx-Engels Reader, Norton, pp. 26-52. RANCIÈRE, Jacques. 2006. Hatred of Democracy*, Verso, New York (all of it).
ROUSSEAU. Jean-Jacques. 1985. “Second Part,” in: Second Discourse on Inequality, New York:

Penguin Classics. (Recommended)

Global South Urbanism 

Comaroff, J., & Comaroff, J. L. (2001). Naturing the Nation: Aliens, Apocalypse, and the Postcolonial State. Social Identities, 7(2), 233–265.

Gandy, M. (2005). Learning from Lagos. New Left Review, 33(May June), 37–52.
Loftus, A., & Lumsden, F. (2008). Reworking hegemony in the urban waterscape. Transactions 

of the Institute of British Geographers, 33(1), 109–126.
Simone, A. (2004). People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg. Public 

Culture, 16(3)

Recommended reading is: 

Ernstson, H. (n.d.). Situating ecologies and re-distributing expertise: the material semiotics of people and plants at Bottom Road, Cape Town. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.

Mbembe, A. (2002). African Modes of Self-Writing. Public Culture, 14(1), 239–273. Mbembe, A., & Nuttall, S. (2004). Writing the World from an African Metropolis. Public Culture, 16(3), 347–372.

 

 

 

Short on the organizers 

Dr. Andrés Fabián Henao Castro is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Massachusetts Boston. His research interests are the relationship between ancient and contemporary political theory, particularly in reference to democratic and de-colonial theory and practices, the question of political subjectivity and the distribution of political agency. Currently he is working on a book that explores the kind of subject-positions and forms of agency that are imagined and unimagined in the theoretical reception of Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone. As a member of the international research network on Performance Philosophy he is also developing a new project on radical interpretations of Plato’s allegories. He is also working on the relationship between text and textile by putting in conversation ancient and contemporary political weavers through their reception in contemporary feminist theory. Read more on his website: http://works.bepress.com/andres_fabian_henao_castro (Also found in our seminar folder.)

Dr. Henrik Ernstson is a Research Fellow and Principal Investigator from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm; and an Honorary Visiting Scholar at the University of Cape Town, where he has been since 2010. His theoretical and empirical work is focused on the politics and collective organizing around urban ecology, including urban land and wetlands, with his new projects focusing on the access to clean water, sanitation and electricity. His recent studies in Cape Town, South Africa, has been an ethnographic study about ‘who can claim to be in the know’ of urban ecology, and a large social network study that interviewed over 130 civil society organizations to understand different modes of collective action around the highly unequal urban environment of Cape Town. With others, he is developing a situated approach to urban political ecology drawing upon upon critical geography, global South urbanism and postcolonial theory, social mobilization theory and environmental history. Theoretically he has recently tried to think with Jacques Ranciére’s ideas of democracy, politics and the political through everyday settings in Cape Town and the city’s of the global south. For more information, see http://www.situatedecologies.net and his publications at https://stanford.academia.edu/HenrikErnstson.