CfP POLLEN20 – Plant spaces, vegetal places? Placing vegetal life in urban political ecology

Third Biennial Conference of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN 20)
Contested Natures: Power, Possibility, Prefiguration
Brighton, United Kingdom
24-26 June 2020

Session organizer

Marion Ernwein (University of Oxford) and James Palmer (University of Bristol).

Please send 250-word abstracts to Marion Ernwein ( and James Palmer ( by Monday 18th November 2019.

Session description

Efforts to “animate” Urban Political Ecology (UPE) are stemming from multiple directions, ranging from attention to processes of decay within waste infrastructures (Fredericks 2018; Doherty 2019), to the agencies and life histories of urban animals (Barua and Sinha 2019). In this session, we aim to further this agenda by exploring how a situated attention to plant life could open up research avenues for UPE. In short, the session aims to explore what a vegetal urban political ecology (cf. Fleming 2017) might look like, by examining in detail the differences that ‘the vegetal’ makes to our understanding of the politics of cities and urbanisation (Ernwein 2019; Gandy and Jasper 2020).

Recent advances in the plant sciences relating, for instance, to plant communication, intelligence, and memory, are not just spurring new reflections on the part of biophilosophers (e.g. Marder 2017). They are also reshaping practical modes of working with, and extracting value from, plants, in fields as diverse as landscape architecture, air pollution removal technologies, and so-called “nature-based” solutions to a host of urban socio-environmental problems.

In this session, we therefore want to explore how new scientific understandings of plants, as well as new situated social imaginaries of plant life, are reshaping the place of the vegetal in cities, and with what social, environmental, and political consequences. We also want to discuss how urban political ecology might engage with concepts of plant intelligence and communication, among others, to analyse the production not only of plant spaces but also vegetal places (after Wilbert and Philo 2000).

We would particularly welcome papers that address one or more of the following topics:

  • The place of plant intelligence and related concepts within urban “nature-based solutions” and experiments with “non-design” (Gandy 2013);
  • The role of the “smart” cities agenda in shaping (and being shaped by) vegetal political ecologies (Gulsrud 2018) – particularly the processes through which data-driven governance serves to extract value from vegetal life;
  • Modes of working with plants in urban environmental movements: from “seeing the city like a moss” (Gabrys 2012), to sensing pollution through lichens (Gabrys 2018), etc.;
  • How the re-scripting of parks and green spaces as biodiversity havens or green infrastructures is reshaping the biopolitics of plant life, particularly under conditions of advanced neoliberalism and austerity (Ernwein 2019);
  • What methods we, as scholars or scholar-activists, might devise to engage with the specificities of urban vegetal life. Here papers might address the use of (bio-)sensors, archives, filmic methods, embodied methods (Pitt 2015), etc.




Barua, M. and Sinha, A. 2019. Animating the urban: an ethological and geographical conversation. Social and Cultural Geography 20(8), pp. 1160-1180.

Doherty, J. 2019. Filthy flourishing: Para-sites, animal infrastructure, and the waste frontier in Kampala. Current Anthropology60(20).

Ernwein, M. 2019. Les Natures de la Ville Néolibérale: Une Ecologie Politique du Végétal Urbain. Grenoble: UGA Editions.

Fleming, J. 2017. Toward vegetal political ecology: Kyrgyzstan’s walnut–fruit forest and the politics of graftability. Geoforum79, pp. 26-35.

Fredericks, R. 2018. Garbage Citizenship: Vital Infrastructures of Labor in Dakar, Senegal. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Gabrys, J. 2018. Sensing lichens: From ecological microcosms to environmental subjects. Third Text 32(2-3), pp. 350-367.

Gabrys, J. 2012. Becoming urban: sitework from a moss-eye view. Environment and Planning A 44, pp. 2922-2939.

Gulsrud, N.M. 2018. Smart nature? Views from the cyborg tree. In Braae, E. and Steiner, H. (eds) Routledge Research Companion to Landscape Architecture.

Gandy, M. and Jasper, S. (eds) 2020. The Botanical City. Berlin: Jovis Verlag.

Gandy, M. 2013. Entropy by design: Gilles Clément, Parc Henri Matisse and the Limits to Avant-garde Urbanism. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 37(1):259–78.

Marder, T. 2013. Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life. Columbia University Press.

Pitt, H. 2015. On showing and being shown plants – a guide to methods for more-than-human geographyArea 47(1), pp. 48-55.

Wilbert, C. and Philo, C. 2000. Animals Spaces, Beastly Places. New Geographies of Human-Animal Relations. London/New York: Routledge.