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Fri, 06 May


HKU-USF Webinar Series

Between the colossal and the catastrophic: Planetary urbanization&the political ecologies of emergent infectious disease

Prof. Neil Brenner & Mr. Swarnabh Ghosh

Between the colossal and the catastrophic: Planetary urbanization&the political ecologies of emergent infectious disease
Between the colossal and the catastrophic: Planetary urbanization&the political ecologies of emergent infectious disease

Time & Location

06 May 2022, 10:00 am – 11:30 am HKT

HKU-USF Webinar Series

About the event


Against the backdrop of contemporary debates on the transcendence of city-centric epistemologies in urban theory, this article proposes a theoretical framework for exploring the connections between processes of planetary urbanization and the political ecologies of emergent infectious disease (EID).  Following a brief overview of research on cities and the coronavirus pandemic, we elaborate a critical interrogation and heterodox synthesis of two distinct lines of investigation—1) research by Roger Keil and his collaborators on the embeddedness of EIDs within processes of extended urbanization; and 2) work by radical epidemiologist Rob Wallace and his colleagues, which productively situates EIDs in relation to the geographies and political ecologies of agribusiness under neoliberalizing capitalism. We direct attention to the ways in which processes of planetary urbanization are remaking the non-human eographies 

of non-city spaces, causing infectious pathogens to be unmoored from previously localized ecosystems and catapulted into broader territories of circulation.  This line of analysis requires rigorous application of dialectical methods that can illuminate the internal relations through which cities dynamically co-evolve and co-transform with 

the non-city spaces, more-than-human territories, and multispecies political ecologies that support their metabolic operations, including at the microbiological scale of novel pathogens. The elaboration of such an approach yields an interpretation of the urbanization/EID nexus as a medium and expression of the agro-ecological crisis-tendencies of neoliberal capitalism. A concluding section outlines three emergent arenas of agro-industrial transformation in which processes of extended urbanization have created new spatial congurations and infrastructural pathways for the production and proliferation of EIDs.

About the Speakers

Neil Brenner, University of Chicago

Neil Brenner is Lucy Flower Professor of Urban Sociology at the University of Chicago. Brenner’s writing and teaching focus on the challenges of reinventing our approach to urbanization in relation to the crises, contradictions and struggles of our time.  Brenner’s books include New Urban Spaces: Urban Theory and the Scale Question (Oxford, 2019) and Critique of Urbanization: Selected Essays (Bauwelt Fundamente, 2016), as well as the edited volume Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization (Jovis, 2014).  

Swarnabh Ghosh, Harvard University

Swarnabh Ghosh is a PhD candidate at Harvard University working at the intersection of geographical political economy, infrastructure studies, and environmental history. His doctoral research focuses on the historical geographies of enclosure, irrigation, and primary commodity production in late-colonial and postcolonial South Asia. His broader research interests include the history of capitalism, critical urban theory, and the relationship between urbanization and agrarian change. He holds degrees in architecture and urban studies from Yale University and the University of Cambridge. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Urban Studies, Environment and Planning A, and The Avery Review. 

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