SITUATED ECOLOGIES gathers art, design and research collaborations to contest and democratise ecologies.

Grounding and Worlding Urban Infrastructures (GROWL, 2018-2021)

The Grounding and Worlding Urban Infrastructures (GROWL) aims to develop in-depth case studies and astute mid-level theory of urban infrastructure at the intersection of political ecology and postcolonial urbanism focusing on “petro-urbanism” in Luanda with comparative infrastructure studies in Salvador in Brazil and Nairobi in Kenya. The project is funded by an AXA Research Award to PI Henrik Ernstson and builds in part on the PhD thesis work of Co-I Ricardo Cardoso.

GROWL will contribute to two recent turns in urban environmental studies. One is the strong move within urban studies to situate and learn from cities of the global South about environmental risks and their politics (Ernstson, Lawhon, and Duminy 2014; Lawhon, Ernstson, and Silver 2014; McFarlane, Desai, and Graham 2014; Myers 2016; Simone and Pieterse 2017; Ernstson and Sörlin 2019). The second is to engage with how critical geography has explored how global environmental risks and challenges—e.g., climate change, habitat destruction and energy provision—are tied to urbanization as an expanding planetary scale phenomenon (Harvey 1996; Heynen, Kaika, and Swyngedouw 2006; Ruddick 2015; Ernstson and Swyngedouw 2019). Placed in tension between these literatures, the GROWL project responds by developing rich, textured and historically rooted case studies from urban regions in Africa to contextualize and better understand how colonial legacies, racial and class politics, and world-spanning capitalist dynamics and its effects on ecosystems, shape contemporary urbanization, infrastructures and futures for urban sustainability.

During four years we aim to develop:

  • One in-depth, multi-sited case study of ‘petro-urbanism’ in Luanda with linkages to Brazil and China;
  • A comparative case study of urban infrastructure based on ongoing research of ‘autoconstructed’ and ‘heterogenous infrastructure’ in Kampala and Nairobi; and
  • A film-based scholarly engagement that situates our grounded findings of petro-urbanism in Luanda within wider oil- and infrastructure geographies and understandings of climate transformation, risks and sustainability.
  • Henrik Ernstson (PI), Geography, The University of Manchester and Honorary Associate Professor at African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town
  • Ricardo Cardoso (Co-I), Yale NUS College, Singapore
  • Wangui Kimari (Postdoc), African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town, and Honorary Visiting Scholar at the Department of Geography, The University of Manchester
  • Jia-Ching Chen (Co-I), Global Studies, University of California Santa Barbara
  • Tiffany Liu (Field work), York University, Canada.

Funding for this project is from the AXA Research Foundation based in France. The funding was provided to PI Henrik Ernstson as a AXA Research Award in recognition of his “innovative work on urban sustainability in the global South”.

For updates in the project, please visit RG-page here and choose Project Log.

A popular description of the project was posted on the AXA Reserach Foundation webpage.

All photos by Jia-Ching Chen and Henrik Ernstson (2018).