Detailed information about the course

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Urban Political Ecology and the Anthropocene: Scrutinizing Human-Environment Relationships in the Contemporary City


March 14-15, 2024


Prof. Dr. Madlen Kobi, UNIFR


Dr. Raúl Acosta, University of Frankfurt

Dr. Silke Oldenburg, UNIBAS


Research in urban anthropology has long focused on topics such as multiculturality, migration, citizenship, interethnic coexistence or public space use. Recent trends in the subdiscipline go beyond these human-centered approaches as urban life has become the epitome for challenges related to the Anthropocene and global climate change. Desires of urban living (e.g. air-conditioning, car ownership, electronic devices, food provision) come along with an ecological footprint. Anthropologists have engaged, for example, with waste and environmental pollution (Jaffe 2016), carbon emissions (Knox 2020), infrastructural inequalities (Silver 2015), urban heat (Kobi 2023) or urban floods (Oldenburg and Neville 2021) but also with the ways in which activists develop alternatives to environmental challenges (Acosta 2019). All these studies critically engage with the intersection of society, environment, and infrastructures in cities. They also re-emphasize the intertwined relations of city and countryside as urban areas depend on the continuous flow of resources from rural areas to sustain the workings and built structures of the city. Power relations and governance define access, distribution and quality of infrastructural services in the fields of electricity, transportation, or housing. While resources from outside are consumed in the city, emissions and pollutions of urban activities often spread beyond urban areas.

This workshop explores human-environment relations in the contemporary city with a particular focus on power relations when responding to ecological challenges related to climate, water, plants, biosphere and resources. Rather than separating society from nature, urban political ecology assumes urban environments to be formed by the social, political and economic context. Anthropological approaches are apt to outline the complex and stratified ways in which urban society affects and interacts with the ecologies surrounding them. Investigating everyday social practices and institutional responses to environmental challenges outlines the varied ways in which people from different places and with different social status contribute to or are affected by the Anthropocene. Possible topics to be explored in the workshop can include or go beyond the following themes:

- Power relations, governance and social inequalities related to accessing and managing urban resources and infrastructures that help mitigating climate change or environmental degradation

- Environmental justice issues related to urban natural disasters and access to resources such as water, clean air or energy

- Alternative movements and environmental activism proposing changes in consumption or mobility patterns (e.g. climate youth, bicycle organizations, collective housing, eco-villages, groups against food waste, slow city movements)

- Critical engagements with ecomodernist discourses and technical fixes of environmental challenges (e.g. circular economy, ecosystem services, sustainability strategies)

This workshop will be of interest for PhD students conducting research in a broad range of fields: urban anthropology, nature-culture relationships, development and sustainability studies, infrastructure studies, waste anthropology, human-material relations, (post-)disaster studies, climate change research, energy studies




Acosta, Raúl. "'Toma-La Ciudad': Intersubjective Activism in Guadalajara's Streets and City Museum." The Journal of Latin American and Carribean Anthropology 24(1) (2019): 221–41.

Jaffe, Rivke. Concrete Jungle. Urban Pollution and the Politics of Difference in the Caribbean. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Knox, Hannah. Thinking Like a Climate. Governing a City in Times of Environmental Change. Durham: Duke University Press, 2020.

Kobi, Madlen. "Urban Energy Landscape in Practice: Architecture, Infrastructure and the Material Culture of Cooling in Post-reform Chongqing, China." Urban Studies (2023).

Oldenburg, Silke, and Laura Neville. "Navigating the Archipelago City. Everyday Experiences and Socio-Political Imaginaries of Urban Floods in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia." Cahiers Des Amériques Latines 97 (2021): 139–63.

Silver, Jonathan. "Disrupted Infrastructures. An Urban Political Ecology of Interrupted Electricity in Accra." International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 39 (2015): 984–1003.



Information on invited guest experts


Raúl Acosta is currently a substitute professor and researcher in the ERC funded project NoJoke at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Frankfurt. Raúl's research focuses on urban anthropology with a particular focus on political ecology, environmental politics, urban mobility and STS. He has conducted fieldwork in Mexiko, Brasil and Spain.

NoJoke (


Silke Oldenburg is currently a Landhaus Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center in Munich and researcher at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. Silke is interested in the intersections of the urban and the political, focusing particularly on the spatialization and materialization of power, urban environment, and sociality within cities of the Global South. She has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Colombia, DR Congo, and Rwanda. 


Schloss Ueberstorf


Participation fee: CHF 60 


For students of the CUSO universities (Geneva, Lausanne, Neuchâtel and Fribourg) and from the universities of Bern, Zürich, Luzern, Basel and St. Gallen, accommodation and meals are organised and covered by the CUSO doctoral program in anthropology. 


Travel expenses will be reimbursed via MyCUSO based on half-fare train ticket (2nd class) from the student's university to the place of the activity.



Deadline for registration 05.03.2024

 Prof. Dr. Madlen Kobi ([email protected])

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