The Politics of Urban Climate Risks: Theoretical and Empirical Lessons from Methodological Cosmopolitanism?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 10:45 AM
Room: Booth 52
Oral Presentation
Anders BLOK , Sociology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
In the face of global climate risks, world cities are increasingly being positioned, in academic and policy discourse, as strategic spaces for orchestrating the expertise and governance capacity needed to steer societies towards more sustainable and low-carbon futures. This paper reviews existing theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of urban climate politics, by way of asking what contribution Ulrich Beck’s theory of world risk society – and principles of methodological cosmopolitanism – make to such epochal conversations? Three existing analytical frameworks are singled out for their importance: low-carbon transitions literature highlight generic socio-technical dynamics of ‘greening’ urban infrastructures; urban policy mobility approaches document growing inter-city networks around climate and sustainability; and actor-network theory (ANT) work on architectural controversies engage the localized politics of specific urban ‘riskscapes’. While each framework point to local-global interdependencies manifest in urban climate risk politics, this paper suggests that all of them remain under-theorized from the point of view of their specific dynamics of ‘cosmopolitization’. To counter this deficiency, the paper draws on Beck in outlining the contours of new ‘cosmopolitan urban risk communities’, seeking to define their main analytical constituents and point to emerging empirical realities. To this effect, on-going studies into major European and Asian port cities – positioned as ‘ambitious’ spaces of political experimentation on climate risks – is used to illustrate how a shared transnational risk imaginary (e.g. of future sea-level rises) may help spur new forms of trans-boundary solidarity, while reworking existing patterns of urban competition and inequality. Reflecting on such research practices, the paper points to the need for reworking methods of multi-sited ethnography and comparison as central parts of a ‘cosmopolitan’ approach to urban climate risks.