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Erik Swyngedouw

Despite heterogeneous epistemological perspectives ranging from Marxism to post-structuralism and beyond, political ecologists share the view not only that the ‘political’ matters in grasping and influencing trajectories of socio-ecological change and transformation, but also that ‘physical’ and ‘biological’ matter politically. This is felt to be particularly acute in an academic and policy environment that tends to ignore or disavow the political conditioning of physical processes. Nonetheless, relatively little attention has been paid to what precisely constitutes the ‘political’ in political ecology, and how it ought to be understood and rendered operational. In this chapter, I argue that there is an urgent need for political ecology to consider the ‘political’ more thoroughly in light of the twin forces of the de-politicization of environmental matters on the one hand and deepening understanding that socio-political processes co-shape geological and ecological processes on the other. I explore the political nature of the environmental conditions we are in, discuss the contours of the process of de-politicization in its current post-politicizing form and attempt to re-center political thought and practices at the heart of political ecology. I propose a series of theoretical tools as well as philosophical debates that political ecology must engage with in order to develop a better grasp of these epoch-making changes.

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Erik Swyngedouw

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Erik Swyngedouw

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Lazaros Karaliotas and Erik Swyngedouw

This chapter seeks to explore some of the questions and challenges that the proliferation of urban insurgencies across the globe since 2011 raises for urban theory and practice. The chapter interrogates the political performativity of the vast literature on (urban) social movements and urban activism in light of these recent urban mobilizations and considers these insurgencies to be incipient urban political movements. These incipient urban political movements, we argue, call for a re-centring of ‘the urban political’, invite us to rethink the urban as a site of political encounter, interruption and experimentation; and urban insurgencies as the performative staging of new forms of democratization that nurture radical imaginaries of egalitarian urban being-in-common. This move, we maintain, also involves a theoretical shift of focus away from institutionalized politics, including the tactics, strategies and principles of organized urban social movements, towards a vantage point that considers other forms of emancipatory contestation and disruption.

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Erik Swyngedouw and Maria Kaika

The chapter starts from the premise that it is vitally important to recognize that the rapid rate of planetary urbanization is the main driver of environmental change. Indeed, the “sustainability” of contemporary urban life (understood as the expanded reproduction of its socio-physical form and functions) is responsible for 80 percent of the world’s use of resources and most of the world’s waste. We wish to highlight how these urban origins are routinely ignored in urban theory and practice, and how feeble techno-managerial attempts to produce more “sustainable” forms of urban living are actually heightening the combined and uneven socio-ecological apocalypse that marks the contemporary dynamics of planetary urbanization. This chapter is, therefore, not so much concerned with the question of nature IN the city, as it is with the urbanization OF nature, understood as the process through which all forms of nature are socially mobilized, economically incorporated, and physically metabolized/transformed in order to support the urbanization process. First, we shall chart the strange history of how the relationship between cities and environments has been scripted and imagined over the last century or so. Second, we shall suggest how the environmental question entered urban theory and practice in the late twentieth century. And, finally, we shall explore how and why, despite our growing understanding of the relationship between environmental change and urbanization and a consensual focus on the need for “sustainable” urban development, the environmental conundrum and the pervasive problems it engenders do not show any sign of abating. We shall conclude by briefly charting some of the key intellectual and practical challenges ahead. Keywords: environmental politics; socio-ecological conflict urban political ecology; urban theory.

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Joe Williams and Erik Swyngedouw

The opening chapter of this book makes the intellectual and political argument for a more critical understanding of seawater desalination as an emerging phenomenon of water governance. Its purpose, in this sense, is to politicise seawater. The chapter provides an overview of the historic and contemporary development of desalting technologies and the global desalination industry. We argue that, rather than seeing desalination as a water management ‘solution’, it should instead be understood as a socio-technical and political ecological ‘fix’, which allows cities, regions and countries to overcome some of the hydrological barriers to growth and accumulation, while creating or intensifying other social and ecological contradictions. These contradictions, we demonstrate, revolve around the governance of water, privatisation and commercialisation, the water-energy nexus, and marine ecology. Finally, we summarise the substantive chapters included in the book.

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Erik Swyngedouw and Joe Williams

This concluding chapter returns to the overarching purpose of the book, which is to move beyond the reductionist and techno-managerial framings which have hitherto dominated debates on seawater desalination, and to make a concerted appeal for greater attention to be paid to the implications of desalination for the wider politics of water. Furthermore, we identify five areas for further political and intellectual engagement, particularly around the social and ecological contradictions of desalination, its implications for relative resource scarcities, the politics of supply-side water management, and unequal access to water services.

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Tapping the Oceans

Seawater Desalination and the Political Ecology of Water

Edited by Joe Williams and Erik Swyngedouw

Increasingly, water-stressed cities are looking to the oceans to fix unreliable, contested and over-burdened water supply systems. Desalination technologies are, however, also becoming the focus of intense political disagreements about the sustainable and just provision of urban water. Through a series of cutting-edge case studies and multi-subject approaches, this book explores the political and ecological debates facing water desalination on a broad geographical scale.