Most of my research in one way or another deals with decision-making concerning complex environmental issues – generally with a focus on urban and regional planning, policy and politics. In my work I often relate to, and find inspiration in research debates within the subject areas of Planning Studies, Human Geography, STS (Science- and Technology Studies) and Organizational Studies.
Generally I work out of the intuition that if we just look closely enough and pay some attention, basically any issue turns out to be limitless in its relational complexity and entanglements. An interesting recurrent question for me is therefore how such complexities are rendered manageable, actionable or somehow ’tractable’. What plays into and affects the unfolding of such processes of simplification – and with what consequences?
To understand this type of dynamics it becomes crucial to trace heterogeneous relations that traverse commonly defined boundaries between the domains e.g. ’nature’, ’culture’, ’technology’, ’society’, ’economy’ and ’politics’. Further, it is important not only to ’zoom in’ to study specific and concrete situations in the finer grain of ethnographic detail, but then to also ’zoom out’ to trace how unique events both form and are affected by broader, emergent patterns that can stretch far in both time and space, in ways that are sometimes quite difficult to predict. Finally, this type of research approach further demands a constant traffic between the type of thinking that is often categorized as either theoretical or empirical. The knack is to try to find mindful ways to conduct theoretically informed empirical work, while at the same time constantly developing new theory'with a basis in empirical insights.
Research interests (some of the topics I've been working on in recent years)
The fate of ‘ideas’ and ideas about knowledge in complex projects
I have a keen interest in how ‘ideas’ (for instace ontologies: conceptions of what ‘reality’ is made up of and how it hangs together) develop, mutate and travel across time and space – with a particular focus on how this happens in complex organizing endeavors related to territorial development, such as spatial planning processes. Relatedly, I am very curious about how actors involved in such processes define (and become defined through) and draw upon what they label as ‘knowledge’ – what could perhaps be called an ethnography of enacted epistemologies in complex projects.
The roles and functions of policy expertise in democratic societies
The definition of recognized and legitimate knowledge often involves struggles over who has the right to define what counts as a ‘fact’ or a relevant theory/perspective/method in a specific situation or context. Therefore I find it important to reflect over who (and how) certain actors become enacted as experts or legitimate knowledge holders in specific contexts or situations. Also, to think further about what effects the enactment of various practices involved in these processes have on the status of so-to-say ‘quotidian democracy’ in different societal contexts.
How places and regions become
It is tempting, and all-too-common, to lazily take for granted that how we partition the world into different geo-entities such as ‘countries’, ‘regions’ and ‘places’ has always been the way it is today. But by studying geographical entities in their often contested process of formation, or in situations when they become subject of controversy, we can learn a lot about how they are often the result of very messy and unpredictable processes of formation, evolution and sometimes dissolution. Further, by studying such processes we can learn a great deal about the practices that, always under spatiotemporally specific circumstances, may contribute to conserving or challenging the present configuration.
Alternative methods in spatial planning and regional development
I keep an eye out on innovative (or supposedly innovative) developments in current planning methodology, and I particularly follow and reflect upon (and to some degree participate in) the recent hype in art-related and aesthetics-focused approaches to planning and place-making, which not only offers new exciting prospects but also some difficult challenges and troubling tendencies.
More-than-human perspectives on spatial planning and regional development
I am passionately convinced that in our current era of the Anthropocene, practitioners and scholars in urban and regional development can no longer avoid confronting the wicked ecological challenges faced by our species, no matter their subfield or specialization. But this in no way implies that we must accept all the ideas and opinions currently being promoted through the rapidly growing science/policy juggernaut forming around these issues. Rather, we now collectively have to confront just how these issues must redefined other agendas – such as spatial justice, equity, democracy, etc. – without losing sight of these other crucial issues. Further, we must ponder just which tools and methods can be of help for our disciplines and related professions to tackle the monumental challenges we are currently findings ourselves facing. I am therefore currently exploring how political-ecological and ‘more-than-human’ perspectives can help give us new handles on planning and perhaps function as a foundation for a new planning sensibility. I am also interested in investigating the concrete challenges in trying to bring about ‘sustainable urban development’ – what would this imply if we are serious about it? What would it demand? And how can it be done?
Board of editors, Urban Affairs Review, international journal
Board of editors, European Planning Studies, international journal
Board of editors, Planning Theory international journal
Board of editors, Planning Theory and Practice international journal
Board of editors, Nordic Journal of Urban Studies, international journal
Board of editors, Fennia: International Journal of Geography
Board of editors, Environment and Planning A international journal (2013-2017)
International advisory positions
International working group member, Beyond the Process - Finding common ground for a discussion on planning’s substantial foundation, ARL Akademie für Raumentwicklung / Leibniz-Akademie
Karin Winter (main supervisor, co-supervisor: Karolina Isaksson, Tim Richardson)
Maja Frögård [@Konstfack, co-supervisor, main supervisor: Bosse Westerlund)
Julio Paulos [@Humboldt University/Berlin, co-supervisor, main supervisor: Ignacio Farías)
Jenny Lindblad (main supervisor, co-supervisor: Maria Håkansson)
Sherif Zakhour (main supervisor, co-supervisor: Maria Håkansson, Phil Allmendinger)
Gustav Fridlund (main supervisor, co-supervisor: Maria Håkansson)
Sofia Wiberg (main supervisor, co-supervisor: Karin Bradley)
Åsa Callmer (main supervisor, co-supervisor: Karin Bradley)
Zeinab Nour-Eddine Tag-Eldeen (co-supervisor, main supervisor: Associated Prof Inga-Britt Werner)
Iréne Bernhard (co-supervisor, main supervisor: Prof Hans Westlund)
Who develops the city of the future? Mapping the contested field of urban development expertise
Financed by FORMAS 2021-2023
In a rapidly urbanizing world increased attention is being paid to the development of urban environments. At the same time the array of experts who are expected to design and develop the cities of tomorrow is currently in a state of flux. New competencies are emerging, which all offer very different visions and trajectories for the development of cities. Therefore, it is today important to ask: ‘who shapes the city of the future – and to what effects?’. In order to address this question it is necessary to map and analyze the variegated landscape of expertise that currently contributes to shaping the cities of the future. The purpose of the project is therefore to analyze the patterns of competition and collaboration between assemblages of expertise within the urban development field in Sweden, and the effects of these patterns on the production of concrete urban environments. It develops a novel methodology of ‘collaborative field mapping’, working with practitioners to map different domains of expertise and their relations, showing how different formations of expertise build complementarity and/or competition at various stages of the urban development process. This material is supplemented by in-depth interviews and document studies to analyze how communities of expertise organize and legitimate their knowledge and practices.
Soft regional governance for housing provision
Financed by the Stockholm Region, 2021-2022
More info coming soon
Organizing sustainable cities: planning, strategy, governance, management
Financed by Vetenskapsrådet 2015-2017
The Organizing sustainable cities project aims at grasping how urban sustainable development becomes ‘translated’ as a concept and in practice through the networks and practice spheres of present-day city administrations. The project particularly focuses on the challenges faced by broad organizing ambitions, such as integrative strategies for sustainable urban development, when confronted with incongruent domains of practice that operate according to different protocols and in accordance with diverging values, norms and procedures. By following how actors in different spheres of practice in city administrations translate sustainability into practice in their own domain and make sense of it, the project will contribute to a better understanding of when, how and why this generates friction, incoherence and sometimes open conflict as to what constitutes sustainable urban development and how to ‘do’ it in practice.
Enacting legitimate concerns: constituting and managing stakeholder involvement
Financed by FORMAS, 2014-2017
The project investigates how rationales for stakeholder involvement in planning and decision-making processes interplay with concrete technologies of engagement. When participatory procedures are deployed in processes of decision-making and planning, the meaning of who is concerned as well as what issues concern them are by default translated in ways that are seen as manageable. Methods and techniques for engaging the public or stakeholders have concrete effects through enabling the inclusion, articulation and amplification of some voices, issues and concerns, at the expense of others - thus enacting democracy in practice in different ways. The research is based on a qualitative case study design. Cases are selected on the criteria that they enable ethnographic data and display a variety in how they relate to established models of stakeholder involvement. The cases are two processes of urban planning and a recent transformation of EU fisheries management towards increased stakeholder involvement. The project contributes to the understanding of how democracy and legitimacy come to be practically enacted in planning and decision-making processes, and generates concrete knowledge about the deeply political effects of techniques and technologies of deliberation and engagement.
Managing overflows of information in planning and decision-making processes: the case of Integrated Assessment Modelling @Gothenburg University (guest researcher).
Financed by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, 2015-2017
We live in the era of ‘big data’, and ‘big data’ is proving to be as much of a challenge as a resource. Just as often as having to deal with situations of limited information, contemporary elected representatives and decision makers repeatedly struggle with situations that are characterized by an overflow of seemingly relevant – and often contradictory and non-coherent – statements, figures and expert opinions. Such overflows of seemingly relevant but contradictory or non-coherent information can slow down action and thought, sometimes generating situations of direct paralysis. Under such situations, decision makers have to find ways to value the relative worth and relevance of available information in relation to a specific situation, and to decide what to take into account in the framing of a specific decision, and further how to legitimate the selection made. Such valuations of relevance and worth can be developed and performed ad-hoc, but can also be done with the support of various devices and technologies whose aim is to standardize models for what to take into account, thus facilitating more efficient decision making. Such framing technologies and devices can be relatively specific, local and/or informal, from simple devices such as organizational matrices detailing the tasks and mandates of various employees to charters and charts outlining rights and responsibilities of certain categories of beings. But they can also be very sophisticated. One such very sophisticated piece of technology is the Integrated Assessment Model (IAM). IAMs are economic models that have been developed to give guidance in a specific decision making area, considered to be especially marked by uncertainty and complexity – the development of climate change policy. Climate change IAM was pioneered in the early 1990s by William Nordhaus at Yale, but has since then come under much scrutiny in the climate change debate, specifically with regard to the Stern Report. An interesting Swedish example of such an IAM is the one being developed within the Mistra-SWECIA project, intended to provide a guide to decision-making in developing policy responses to the challenge of global climate change. What does this model really do? What sort of relative values does it assign to things? What sort of moral values become ‘hardwired’ into the model? What sort of decisions does it seem to promote? What sort of issues or considerations does it leave out or force into the background?
Robust decisions for managing climate risks in Sweden
Financed by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, 2016-2020
Planning and implementation of preventative measures relating to climate change requires the major uncertainties inherent in risk assessments relating to natural disasters and extreme weather events, and how these might change over time, to be considered. Uncertainties relating to changes in society must also be taken into account, including how vulnerabilities are altered and affected by complex dependencies between different systems and parts of society (e.g. indirect effects of climate change). If these uncertainties are not managed in a smart way, they could result in significant economic costs or increasing risks of accidents and disasters. One smart approach is to make more robust decisions, i.e. decisions that have acceptable results with respect to various potential outcomes and that avoid excessively costly or catastrophic outcomes. Robust decisions also encompass flexible or adaptive solutions, e.g. delaying costly or far-reaching decisions until more is known about how the uncertainty is developing. Robust decisions generally contribute to increased resilience, i.e. the capability to resist and resolve disruptions, recover and maintain and improve essential functions.