(PANEL) Critical Urban Methodologies in Political Ecology: Empirically Grounded Research Applications in Louisville and Beyond

Political ecology has been traditionally applied in rural contexts such as Appalachia, and a glance at this year’s sessions shows that this continues to be the case.  In contrast, this panel follows a more recent trend in Anglo-American Geography to consider the political ecological dimensions of the urban (Zimmer, 2010).  In so doing, we interrogate the enduring binaries of society-nature and city-countryside (Wachsmuth, 2012) to show how urban political contestations continually reshape society’s interface with nature. The research showcases a range of critical methodologies we find aptly suited to DOPE’s project.  This research recognizes the complexity of the urban socio-ecological environment, and employs mixed methods that are all grounded, iterative, and reflexive.

Two projects employ agent based modeling (ABM), a technique developed in ecology to understand coupled human and natural systems, which has more recently gained footing across urban studies.   It aims to challenge the deterministic mindset that often accompanies traditional theory and statistics.  In contrast to traditional statistical models, ABM explicitly models endogeneity, path dependency, feedback loops, nonlinearity, heterogeneity and interactive processes that lead to emergent phenomenon (Wilensky, 2015).  One project examines housing demolition as a techno-green fix in Chicago, Illinois and the other a variety of formal and informal water supply networks in Faisalabad, Pakistan. The ABM perspective promotes an integrative understanding of how political aspirations and phenomenon (such as corruption or community) might play out in these two concrete socio-ecological environments.

Two more projects continue the theme of critical methodologies by applying mixed methods to urban processes in Louisville, KY.  The first applies the concept of geographic imaginaries to an urban context in order to document how residents of the historically redlined neighborhoods of Louisville’s West End District conceptualize and internalize spatial segregation.  A combination of qualitative GIS, content analysis, and quantitative methods provide intense contextualization, which demonstrates how racial inequality manifests itself at multiple scales resulting in empirical outcomes such as food deserts and the uneven distribution of green spaces.  Finally, another Louisville study employs qualitative methods, such as interviews and participant observation to examine local foodscapes.  The research considers how political and community organizations shape the local food environment whose boundaries are constantly shifting as the food environment expands or contracts.

Wachsmuth, D. (2012). Three Ecologies: Urban Metabolism and the Society-Nature Opposition. The Sociological Quarterly, 53(4), 506-523. doi:10.1111/j.1533-8525.2012.01247.x


Wilensky, Uri and William Rand. 2015. "An Introduction to Agent-Based Modeling : Modeling Natural, Social, and Engineered Complex Systems with Netlogo." Cambridge, Massachusetts ;: The MIT Press. Retrieved. 

Zimmer, A. (2010). URBAN POLITICAL ECOLOGY: Theoretical concepts, challenges, and suggested future directions. Erdkunde, 64(4), 343-354. 


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