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Henrik Ernstson

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About me

Henrik Ernstson is a human geographer and political ecologist with a background in systems ecology and applied physics. He explores the confluence of urban and environmental issues, focusing on how societal structures—shaped by race, gender, and class—create barriers to infrastructure, shapes knowledge production and who can claim to be in the know, and how political claims can be constructed and made. Ernstson employs historical, geographical, and participatory approaches in his studies, which have spanned the politics of biodiversity in Cape Town, informal and heterogenous infrastructure in Kampala, the impacts of oil extraction on housing and infrastructure in Luanda, and infrastructural and ecological shifts in New Orleans. At KTH, he and his students integrate postcolonial, decolonial, feminist, and Marxist theories with case studies to examine uneven development and urbanization with a special focus on the global South as well as industrial capital's effects on environments and societies, highlighting resistance and pathways for socio-ecological justice, equality, and international solidarity. After a decade long contribution to urban political ecology and Southern urbanism, his recent work delves into the politics of low-emission energy transitions, focusing on electric car production's mining impacts in Chile, and a study on the political ecology of dredging across port cities in Europe and the USA, considering sediment movement as a capitalist force in urbanization.

Ernstson's contribution to political ecology and urban studies includes two edited volumesGrounding Urban Natures (2019, OpenAccess), which won the MIT Press Library Award, and Urban Political Ecology in the Anthropo-obscene (2019, Routledge)—and two innovative and collaborative ethnographic films produced in Cape Town and eThekwini-Durban—One Table Two Elephants (2018, CPH:DOX Copenhagen) and The Lindeka: When a City Ate a Book (2023, SVA AAA Toronto). His works have been published in leading journals, including Antipode, Environment and Planning A/E, Urban Geography, International Journal or Urban and Regional Studies (IJURR), Theory Culture and Society, and others. With co-authors he was awarded IJURR Best Article Award in 2023 and Urban Studies Best Article Award in 2018.

Henrik Ernstson is Professor in Sustainable Urban Development and Docent in Political Ecology at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. He is also Honorary Senior Research Scholar in Human Geography at The University of Manchester, where he previously worked as Lecturer. He has been Honorary Associate Professor at the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town, where he lived and worked for almost a decade and has been a Postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University in California.

For more about his research, films, publications, PhD courses and meetings he has organized, see The Situated Ecologies Platform which he founded and co-directs.


Publications and scholarly networks

Ernstson has published 50 peer-reviewed journal articles and chapters in leading journals, two major books that spans several of his interests, and two ethnographic films and several reserach-based videos.

Several of Ernstson's publications have become central in the broader urban environmental studies, including articles with colleagues on Situated Urban Political Ecology in Antipode (2014), heterogenous infrastructure in Urban Studies, which won the Best Article Award (2018), the performativity of "the political" in relation to global warming and the so called Anthropocene in Theory, Culture and Society (2019), environmental justice and ecosystem services in Landscape and Urban Planning (2013), urban transitions in Ambio (2010), and the use of network analysis in natural resource management in Ecology & Society (2006). In 2023 he and his colleagues were awarded the Best Article Award in the prestigous International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (IJURR) for their analysis of "petro-urbanism," how oil becomes housing and infrastructure in Luanda, Angola.

Ernstson has extensive international collaborations with co-workers, practitioners, and urban artists in South Africa, Uganda, Nairobi, Angola, UK, Italy, USA and Sweden and he has led various interdisciplinary research groups with studies in Cape Town, New Orleans, Stockholm, Kampala and Luanda. Ernstson is one the founders of The Situated Ecologies Platform in 2010, which he co-directs with Jacob von Heland and Joshua Lewis and that explores the spaces between art, science and environmental politics. He is the co-founder of the Situated Urban Political Ecology Collective (#SituatedUPE) with Mary Lawhon and Jonathan Silver, which has gathered junior and senior scholars interested in the politics of the urbanization of nature drawing on urban political ecology and postcolonial studies.

Books and ethnographic film making

Ernstson has consolidated his collaborative situated urban political ecology agenda across books and ethnographic film making.

Grounding Urban Natures: Histories and Futures of Urban Ecologies (MIT Press 2019, edited with Sverker Sörlin) won the MIT Press Library Award and published #OpenAccess. The book invites the reader to think with richly textured case studies by leading scholars with long experience of working in these cities and places. Urban environmental politics emerges from the textured case studies to theorise and understand urban socioenvironmental conflicts across a range of contexts, from Delhi, Yixing, Lagos, San Francisco, New Orleans, Berlin, and Cape Town, demonstrating and analysing the great variability under which the world is urbanizing. It also demonstrates the range of methods used by urban environmental scholars, from archival research, observation, ethnography and interviewing—and critical reading of landscapes and texts. The chapters are written in plain English where jargon has been kept to a minimum providing a book for teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students. Authors include leading thinkers from anthropology, environmental history, human geography, planning and sociology, including Amita Baviskar, Anne Whiston Spirne, Richard Walker, James P. Evans, Lindsay Sawyer, Joshua Lewis, Lance van Sittert and several others.

Grounding Urban Natures MIT Press

Urban Political Ecology in the Anthropo-Obscene: Interruptions and Possibilities (Routledge 2019, edited with Erik Swyngedouw) argues for combining environmental thought much more explicitly with political and radical democratic theory in order to face serious social, ecological and political challenges. Thirteen chapters from leading environmental and political thinkers, ranging from Roger Keil, Jodi Dean, Richard Walker, Malini Ranganathan, Garth Myers, Jonathan Silver, Andy Merrifield, Marco Armiero, Sapana Doshi, Andrés Henao Castro, Maria Kaika and several others. The book is jam-packed with crucial theory on how to re-politicize the environment. Giorgos Kallis, Professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, said of the book: "What can be done? This book is a must-read for activists, scholars and scholar-activists who struggle for a better and more equal world." The book is highly recommended for higher-seminar readings among postgraduate and PhD courses.

UPE in Anthropo-obscene Routledge

With my colleage Jacob von Heland, we have released two cinematic ethnography films in 2018 and 2023.

The film One Table Two Elephants (CPH:DOX 2018, 84 minutes) deals with race, nature and knowledge politics in the postcolonial city. The film is based on long-term ethnographic work in Cape Town on ways of knowing urban ecologies and developed further with collaborative film making. The film has been nominated to several prizes and screened at film festivals in Copenhagen, Cape Town, Tirana, Nijmegen and Stockholm, including nominated tothe Nordic Dox Award at CPH:DOX, Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival in March 2018 and nominated toBest Documentary Feature with African Premiere at Cape Town International Film Festival (CTIF&MF) in October 2018. The film is used in teaching at universities in England, USA, Australia, Sweden, and South Africa. We have created a teaching resoure at our lab groupThe Situated Ecologies Platform.

The second film,The Lindeka: When a City Ate a Book (66 min, 2023, SVA-AAA Toronto) is a cinematic ethnographic film on property, pollution, and difference in the postcolonial city that was filmed in eThekwini-Durban. It had its premiere at the Society for Visual Anhtropology at the American Anthropology Association Conference in Toronto in November 2023.

Ernstson has also released several shorter films from his research. One on the politics of waste management in Cape Town called Turning Livelihoods to Rubbish?, which has been used by civil society organisations in South Africa. Another shorter film traces the production of large-scale infrastructure and injustices in Angola's capital called Blocos Urbanism: From Oil to Infrastructure in Luanda, which received  a special mentioning by IJURR when the article with the same name was selected as Best Article in 2023.


Degree Project in Energy and Environment, First level (AL127X), teacher | Course web

Degree Project in Industrial Ecology, Second Cycle (AL227X), examiner | Course web

Degree Project in Strategies for Sustainable Development, Second Cycle (AL250X), examiner, teacher | Course web

Global Development and Political Ecology (AL2121), examiner, course responsible, teacher | Course web

States and Trends (MJ1501), teacher | Course web

Sustainable Development in theory and practise (AL2113), teacher | Course web

Sustainable Planning and Design (AG2150), examiner, course responsible, teacher | Course web