Annual PhD Seminar: Democratic Practices of Unequal Geographies
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 the Annual 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 ACC Winter School on Democratic Practices of Unequal Geographies is an intense one-week seminar where we read political philosophy with and against Southern urbanism. 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 Winter School has been developed by Dr. Henrik Ernstson and Dr. Andrés Henao Castro, and in 2017 together with Dr. Ashley Bohrer, as a contribution to students and scholars interested in critical urban and political theory. 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 have 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.
We are planning for another “trilogy” of DemPrac-schools that will tentatively centre on racial capitalism, settler colonialism, and democratic practices. We are still not sure what dates and years these will run. We will keep all those who have been part of the PhD Seminar posted and also make announcement here at The Situated Ecologies Platform and on Henrik Ernstson’s twitter stream, @rhizomia. If you like to be added to the email list, please send an email to Henrik Ernstson.
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.
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
Dr. Henrik Ernstson is Lecturer at the The University of Manchester and Honorary Associate Professor at the African Centre for Cities at University of Cape Town. In teaching the seminar he brings his long interdisciplinary experience of intersecting political ecology, postcolonial urbanism, radical democratic theory and ethnographic practices. He is usually the main convenor of the Annual PhD Seminar and he co-initiated it in 2015 with Andrés Henao Castro after they met in 2014 at Slavoj Žižek’s London Critical Theory Summer School at the Birkbeck Institute. The Annual PhD Seminar has been funded by Henrik’s various research projects, including travel bursaries for students. He is also co-director and initiator of The Situated Ecologies Platform since 2010.
Dr. Andrés Fabián Henao Castro is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston and brings to the seminar his keen and long experience of Marxism, ancient and contemporary political theory (including Ranciére), and the literary and performative arts as radical democratic practice. He co-initated the seminar in 2015 with Henrik.
Dr. Ashley J. Bohrer is Assistant Professor of Gender and Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and 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.
Dr. Jacob von Heland is Research Fellow at KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory and co-director of The Situated Ecologies Platform with Henrik since 2014. He joined the team in 2019 to contribute insights on how film-based research practices intersects with critical theory and cinematic ethnography.