Henrik Ernstson (PhD) is an ecologist/sociologist, who draws on systems ecology, sociology, and political ecology to explore the governance and politics of urban ecologies. Currently he is on leave from Stockholm Resilience Centre to work as Postdoctoral fellow at the African Centre for Cities (ACC) at University of Cape Town in South Africa.
He remains as Co-Theme Leader of the Urban Theme at Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) and through ACC he is involved in various projects at SRC as Principal Investigator, and project member.
Presentation of research and projects
In his research he combines social movement theory, social network analysis (SNA), actor-network theory (ANT), and principles from systems ecology to analyse ecological, political and cultural dimensions of contemporary urban ecologies.
Ernstson's aim is to participate in dialogues on how more equal urban conditions can be forged, and the role that wetlands, parks, forrests and other ‘green areas´ play in such ‘social´ procesess. Entry point has mainly been civic actors mobilizing to protect or rehabilitate urban ‘green areas´/ecosystems with empirical case studies from Stockholm and Cape Town.
Recently he developed the concept of ‘transformative collective action´, which is a collective action-oriented approach based on social movement theory that aims to become a tool to better trace, analyze and understand how social, cultural, political and indeed ecological change can be forged in contemporary cities. A longer-term question is how political emancipatory projects are constructed that merges ecology and justice, especially in and through the contested spaces of contemporary cities that are hihgly interlinked with global flows of capital, commodities and energy flows. For more information, please visit Ernstson's blog In Rhizomia and his twitter Rhizomia.
Ernstson is currently involved as Principal Investigator or project member in three research projects with extensive international collaboration:
1. Ways of Knowing Urban Ecology (WOK-UE)
This project seeks to critically examine the social, cultural and political dimensions of urban ecology and natural resource management in city spaces. Our analyses draw on diverse case studies, from Cape Town, New Orleans, Stockholm and Sydney, and are paralleled with extensive literature reviews from various disciplinary contexts that engage notions of urban ecologies. While research has demonstrated how functioning ecosystems can support safe and healthy urban environments, as well as spaces for recreation and food production, this project situates urban ecologies, and the ways of knowing and valuing them, in relation to unequal urban geographies of which they historically form part.
The project draws upon Urban Political Ecology, Southern/African Urbanism, Environmental History and Cultural Geography to examine notions of power, identity, participation and the politics of knowing in relation to urban ecologies. As a collaboration between Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University and the African Centre for Cities at University of Cape Town, we study a range of urban environmental issues that provide context for examining these notions, including food security, waste handling, green space struggles, biodiversity conservation and the 'ecosystem services' concept. We analyse the complex interplay between how animals, plants, 'green spaces', ecological processes and urban waste are enrolled on one hand into modes of empowerment by the marginalised, and on the other hand as part of powerful forms of governing and ‘silencing´ alternative understandings of urban natures.
Key questions are: Who can claim to be ‘in the know´ regarding urban ecology? What potentially liberating and/or oppressive roles do conventional understandings of urban ecology play in cities? How can urban ecology and the conventional practice of natural resource management be re-thought so as to better serve emancipatory agendas towards sustainable and more just cities? These questions are of pressing concern, not least in cities of Africa and the global south. In engaging community groups, civil servants and academics we bring in-depth case studies to inform and unsettle mainstream policy discourse towards reimagining how just and sustainable forms of urbanisation might be made possible.
The programme is divided in three major themes: "Urban Ecology as History, Culture and Empowerment", "Provincializing Urban Political Ecology through Southern Urbanism", and "Rethinking Urban Natural Resource Management". Academic outputs: two special issues and one edited book.
Principal Investigator: Dr. Henrik Ernstson
Participants: Dr. Jane Battersby, Dr. Mary Lawhon, Dr. Anna Storm, Professor Sverker Sörlin, Marnie Graham (Phd student), Joshua Lewis (Phd student), Jessica Rattle.
2. Social Movements and Urban Ecosystems: The Role of Civic Environmentalism in Transformative Urban Change
This project builds on a ‘transformative collective action' approach to study urban ecology and civic-led urban change (Ernstson 2011). The study compares how civic organizations in Cape Town and New Orleans, two port-cities with a long history of systematic apartheid and racial segregation, have produced both cultural and political changes, and indeed ecological changes. Through a co-learning mode of engagement with historically marginalized Black/'Coloured' people of Cape Town, and African American in New Orleans, we trace how each ‘civic network' has engaged local green areas such as protecting and rehabilitating wetlands, urban farming, and tree planting, to forge ties, access state resources, and produced biophysical changes. This projects builds and complements the 'Ways of Knowing' project above.
Principal Investigator: Henrik Ernstson supported by Thomas Elmqvist
Institutional Partners: African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town, and Centre for Bioregional Research at Tulane University, New Orleans.
Project Start: June 2011.
3. SUPER - Sustainable Urban Planning for Ecosystem services and Resilience
This project focuses on integrating ecological functions — often translated as “ecosystem services" — into urban spatial planning as a means to enhance human wellbeing, and cities´ ability to withstand and recover from chocks and surprises. The project engages multiple case studies in Stockholm, Berlin, Cape Town, Nijmegen, and Istanbul to identify critical aspects in current modes of spatial planning to sustain urban ecological functions.
Principal Investigator: Johan Colding (SRC and Beijer Institute)
Institutional Partners: Wageningen University in The Netherlands, and Istanbul Technical University in Turkey.
Project Start: Phase I from 2009-2010. The project received continued funding for Phase II that started in Jan 2010.
Other Projects and Networks
Ernstson has worked in several other projects, including the ‘MODS´-project aimed at developing novel approaches to represent and analyze social-ecological systems, mainly through using network analysis. Institutional partners has been with Dept of Sociology at Stockholm University, Michigan State University, and Arizona State University.
More generally Ernstson has participated in the rapid development of using SNA in social-ecological studies, co-founded the growing e-community around using network analsysis in social-ecolgoical studies (called NASEBERRY), and he was one of the first to combine social movement theory and urban ecology.
He has published in various international journals from Environment and Planning A, Ecology and Society and Biogeography, and currently supervise two PhD students, function as assisstant supervisor for on PhD student.
He has supervised several MSc students since 2005. Click here for full Publication List and CV.
Previous occupations include theatre producer, project manager, and teacher, and he holds an MSc in Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering (1998). He has been invited as moderator and speaker at various public debates and seminars. In 2011 he was invited to co-found the not-for profit Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation in Cape Town.