Wastelands of difference? Urban nature and more-than-human difference in Berlin and Gothenburg

Wastelands of difference? Urban nature and more-than-human difference in Berlin and Gothenburg

Publication Type:
thesis
Date Issued:
2020
Authors:
Mathilda Rosengren
Publisher:
University of Cambridge
Language:
eng
DOI:
10.17863/CAM.57754
Abstract:

This thesis explores more-than-human entanglements of contemporary urban environments in order to develop a rearticulation of urban landscapes as spaces decidedly beyond the exclusively human. Taking its cue from the question “How do we live with urban difference today?,” such spaces, the thesis argues, emerge through, as well as change with, a variety of socio-ecological entwinements. It proposes that alternative ways of living in urban landscapes may be detected, as well as potentially fostered, if we turn our attention to other-than-human being, becoming, and belonging in the city. Subsequently, it investigates how this, in practice as well as in theory, changes the ways in which human city dwellers consider other-than-human urban expressions. Based on twelve months fieldwork in Berlin, Germany, and Gothenburg, Sweden – following a mixed methods approach of participant observation and in-depth interviews with urban planners, park managers, local activists, and decision-makers, complemented by a visual anthropological practice – the thesis examines several urban green spaces (recreational areas, ecologically protected nature-parks, industrial wastelands and old cemeteries) where other-than- human bodies have been given space and time to develop without direct or invasive human interference. These spaces, the thesis shows, have also become sites of potential contestation and change, challenging who and what belong in the urban milieu. On the one hand, the cities currently face increased influxes of human residents as well as acute housing shortages, with calls for intensified densifications and developments of interstitial urban land growing ever louder. At the same time, with the monocultural shaping of the rural areas outside the cities, spontaneous urban green spaces are being touted by local experts as increasingly important sites of biodiversity. Interlacing these empirical examples with a series of theoretical approaches on how to conceive of the urban, diversity, matter, and vitality – ranging from the scientific (urban ecology and biology) and empirically-grounded, social scientific (urban political ecology, more-than-human ethnographies, human-plant and -animal studies and so forth), to the philosophical (such as posthumanist and neo-vitalist concepts) – the thesis discerns some disparities in this research canon: One concerns the separation of theoretical reasoning and empirical study, where, as Donna Haraway notes, the “mud” of the world of actual multispecies living never truly seems to reach, nor to be included in, the “sublime” of philosophical thought. Another one is the lack of overarching empirical accounts tracing the implications of recognising everyday urbanities as contingent, yet multifarious, wholes of more-than-human socialities, as defined by anthropologist Anna Tsing. The thesis shows that through the formulation of an expanded notion of more-than- human urban difference, and an intimate ethnographic engagement with the urban other-than- human, these disparities may be addressed. Thus, in bringing intricate parts of more-than-human urbanities to light, the thesis provides not only a thick description of the everyday politics of urban nature planning and conservation of two Northern European cities, but in particular works toward developing perspectives, beyond the singularly human, of what being a contemporary urban dweller (human or otherwise) in actuality entails.

Keywords:
Berlin Gothenburg more-than-human ethnography multispecies ethnography more-than-human geography urban green space urban wastelands landscape architecture urban planning non-human agency affect Stadtbrachen Brachen Anita-Berber-Park St. Thomas Friedhof Natur-Park Südgelände Park am Gleisdreieck Göteborg Trollspisberget Högåsberget Frihamnen Mossen bostadsnära natur