The group discussions were of perhaps the highest intellectual rigour and focus that I have ever experienced.
— Participant feedback in 2016, Cape Town.
I experienced the DemPrac seminar as the ideal of what education and communal learning can be. The literature, the role of the organizers/teachers, the format, the role of film, were all great. I also very much appreciate that there was space to talk about our own research one-on-one; this helped me a great deal!
— Participant feedback in 2019, Stockholm.
[The lecturers’] role as moderators and teachers was great. They guided the dialogue and debate, and provided extremely interesting presentations in each class.
— Participant feedback in 2019, Stockholm.
Welcome to the course website for our PhD Seminar on Democratic Practices of Unequal Geographies.
Below we provide an overview, but if you like to jump directly to the course outlines for each year, follow these links:
FIRST TRILOGY: Demos, Politics, Police
- DemPrac2015 — THE DEMOS: Reading Political Theory with Southern Urbanism
- DemPrac2016 — THE POLITICS: The Aesthetical and the Political of Unequal Geographies
- DemPrac2017 — THE POLICE: Understanding Capitalism in Unequal Geographies
The PhD Seminar on Democratic Practices of Unequal Geographies started at the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town as “The Winter School.” The format of an intense one-week seminar where we read and discuss selected texts has remained, but later we have also added to critically watch films. The first seminars in 2015 and 2016 was developed by Henrik Ernstson and Andrés Henao Castro with Ashley Bohrer joining from 2017 and Jacob von Heland in 2019.
Below you can find more information about the Winter School, its aims, content and reading lists for 2015, 2016, and 2017 when we worked through the themes of THE DEMOS, THE POLITICS, and THE POLICE. During these three years we had over 40 participants, with 12-18 participants per year, primarily from South African universities, but also from Kenya, Namibia, Sweden, Germany, UK, Canada and USA. In 2019 we introduced film and cinema as an equally important register for critical and democratic practices. This was made possible by organising DemPrac2019 in conjunction with the Crosscuts Film Festival in Stockholm. The theme for DemPrac2019 borrowed central texts from 2016 and combined it with a set of films to watch in beforehand and at the festival, including a Masterclass with postcolonial feminist and film-maker Trinh T. Minh-ha. The theme was: Nature, Capitalism, and Film as Decolonial Dialect. The core idea of reading political philosophy with and against Southern urbanism has remained where, rather than a geographical container, we are interested in the global South as an epistemological position and a field of experience that can trouble and re-new both radical urban theory and political theory.
The second “trilogy,” which we still don’t call a trilogy, is centring on racial capitalism, settler colonialism, and democratic practices. The first was held in 2019 and because of the pandemic and organisers chaning jobs and positions, it has taken until 2024 until we have been able to organise the next seminar. More information will be posted here at The Situated Ecologies Platform, on Henrik Ernstson’s social media accounts (LinkedIn, FB, and perhaps still twitter_x). If you like to be added to the email list that we use, please send an email to Henrik Ernstson at his KTH-address.
Overview of the course
- In 2015 we focused on THE DEMOS. The seminar was entitled “Reading Political Theory with Southern Urbanism” and focused on classic and contemporary political theory from Aristotle, Plato, Jacques Ranciére, Bonnie Honig and Wendy Brown, to Southern urbanism, including amongst others, Comaroff and Comaroff, Richard Pithouse, Edgar Pieterse, and Achille Mbembe.
- In 2016, THE POLITICS put focus on the ability to interrupt normalized orders with equality as principle. It was entitled “The Aesthetical and the Political of Unequal Geographies,” and included texts by Jacques Ranciére, Karl Marx, Walter Benjamin, and Elias Canetti with artist-related work from the Black Radical Tradition with Saidiya Hartman and Fred Moten, and interventions in Southern cities, including essays by Dominique Malaquais, Achille Mbembe, Asef Bayat, Filip De Boek, and Fiona C. Ross.
- In 2017, THE POLICE, we focused on the normalized and oppressive orders that are engendered by patriarchal, neocolonial and racist patterns of social relations. The seminar was entitled “Understanding Capitalism in Unequal Geographies” and meant to discuss essays from the Marxist tradition and works on intersectionality, including Karl Marx, Anne McClintock, Angela Davis, Silvia Federici, Iyoko Day and Jason C. Moore, with Southern urbanism work by Rosalind Fredericks, Gautam Bhan, Koni Benson and Faeza Meyer, Colin McFarlane and Jonathan Silver, amongst others.
- In 2019 we organised around NATURE CAPITALISM AND FILM. The PhD Seminar was organised in concert with the Crosscuts Film Festival in Stockholm with the first two days focusing on primitive accumulation and nature; and the third day, on the question of the conditions under which film could be part of a decolonial dialectic.
- In 2024 we are focusing on THE CARCERAL CITY AND ITS ABOLITION.
Who is it for? Who has participated?
The course is especially directed to PhD students and younger scholars from South African and African universities that wants to engage in a high-intensity reading seminar around critical theory and urban research. The aim is to provide the space to think with others about your own research and find ways to develop your work and thought in relation to contemporary critical and urban theoretical notions around equality, class, race, gender, power, capitalism and democracy.
In total we have had 44 participants during 2015, 2016, and 2017 with some taking the course more than once, and in 2019 there was another 18 students. These participants have come from South Africa, Kenya, Namibia, Botswana, Italy, Sweden, UK, USA, representing Durban University of Technology, University of Cape Town, University of the Western Cape, University of the Witwatersrand, Gauteng City-Region Observatory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The University of Manchester, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, New School (New York), and York University.
Feedback from participants
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.
— Participant in 2017, Cape Town.
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.
— Participant in 2016, Cape Town.
DemPrac 2019 helped me very much in orienting my research, which is still in its early stages. The literature was very relevant for my own research, although I had a slightly different point of entry. The combination of the others’ backgrounds and expertise helped me to situate my own research in a broader context and helped me to think of how good interdisciplinary research can be done.
— Participant feedback in 2019, Stockholm
Short on Convenors & Lecturers
Henrik Ernstson is Professor and Docent in Political Ecology at KTH R!oyal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Honorary Senior Researcher in Human Geography at The University of Manchester and Honorary Associate Professor at the African Centre for Cities at University of Cape Town. He has previously held lectureship positions at the universities of Manchester and Cape Town and was Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University. He has co-edited the two books Grounding Urban Natures: Histories and Futures of Urban Ecologies (2019, MIT Press) and Urban Political Ecology in the Anthropo-obscene (Routledge, 2019) and with Jacob von Heland, premiered two cinematic ethnographic films on the politics of knowing and owning in postcolonial cities, One Table Two Elephants (CPH:DOX Copenhagen, 2018, 84 minutes) and The Lindeka: When a City Ate a Book (SVA AAA Toronto, 2023, 66 minutes). He co-directs The Situated Ecologies Platform and the Situated Urban Political Ecology Collective and the PhD Seminar on Democratic Practices has been funded by his various research projects. To the seminar, he brings his long interdisciplinary experience of intersecting political ecology, postcolonial urbanism, radical democratic theory and ethnographic practices.
Andrés Fabián Henao Castro is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He has been Post-Doctoral Fellow of the Academy of Global Humanities and Critical Theory at the University of Bologna/Duke University (2018-2020), and a Karl Lowenstein Fellow at Amherst College (2014). His research seeks to rethink the relationship between politics and aesthetics in relation to gender-differentiated colonial logics of capitalist accumulation. He has published two monographs, Antigone in the Americas: Democracy, Sexuality, and Death in the Settler Colonial Present (SUNY Press, 2021) and The Militant Intellect: Critical Theory’s Conceptual Personae (Rowman, 2022). To the seminar he brings his keen and long experience of Marxism, ancient and contemporary political theory, and the literary and performative arts as radical democratic practice.
Ashley J. Bohrer is Assistant Professor of Gender and Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and cohosts the Pedagogies for Peace Podcast. She is the author Marxism and Intersectionality: Race, Gender, Class and Sexuality under Contemporary Capitalism (2021, Transcript) and devotes much of her time to social movements for intersectional and anti-capitalist liberation. To the seminar she brings core insights into intersectional feminism, Marxism and decolonial thinking. She joined Henrik and Andrés in 2017 to further develop the seminar’s teaching and curriculum.
Jacob von Heland is an interdisciplinary environmental studies scholars and film maker and Affiliated Research Fellow at the Environmental Science Department at KTH and co-director of The Situated Ecologies Platform. He joined the team in 2019 to contribute insights on how film-based research practices intersects with critical theory and cinematic ethnography.