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More than flowers!: On the transformative practice of commoning urban gardens
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Sustainable development, Environmental science and Engineering, Strategic Sustainability Studies.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-9338-360x
2023 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Urban gardening is a burgeoning practice that increasingly takes place in urban centres of the world. In this thesis, I define urban gardens as socially mediated yet materially rooted phenomenon through which social and material relations are elaborated in common through time and space. And, I understand the garden not as an object, but as an entity that emerges out of the relationships between gardeners and non-human nature. I draw on the recent turn in commons’ theory shifting the focus on commoning, and not, as in earlier commons research, on the commons as structure. Grounded in the case of a new wave of urban gardening initiatives in the City of Stockholm, Sweden, I examine how commoning urban gardens transforms the people doing the gardening, the commoners, including their agency, subjectivity, and identity. But also how the commoners shape their structural environment.

Ontologically, I deploy a critical realist social theory perspective which means that I acknowledge the a priori existence of structures and agency and their conditioning by each other relationally. This means that I (i) look at how spatial, societal and temporal structures affect the agency of gardeners (ii) how those gardeners are affecting their structural environment through the practice of urban gardening, as (iii) well as how their agency is conditioned by the practice.

I deploy a qualitative mixed methods approach, comprising of interviews, a questionnaire, observations, participatory dissemination and poetic inquiry and find that high green public space availability in the City of Stockholm, municipal policies in favour of urban gardening, and a rich historic culture of associational life in Sweden provide a supportive context for urban gardening. I find that commoning gardens in public spaces bring together people and build collective relations despite a context of neoliberal individualisation. It emancipates individuals by reorganising the management of urban space, and changes how the City of Stockholm is urbanising towards more collective organising. Among those that partake in urban gardening, some remain grounded in a need-fulfilment (“I want to garden to be more in nature”), whereas others change through the commitment of being part of an urban garden, become political and collective subjectivities with a social identity that overlaps with their personal identity. This shows that structures condition people differently, and do not deterministically affect agency in the same way for everyone. Yet many remain entirely excluded from the new urban garden commons, such as people of colour, indicating that urban gardening, while it can be transformative for those that partake, is reproductive of structures of whiteness in urban public space. At the same time, historical structures of patriarchy in public spaces are being transformed. At the expense of the unpaid social reproductive labour of female gardeners, who make out the majority of urban gardeners, public green space is being transformed into spaces of care and community.

I conclude that urban gardening deserves a critical analysis of its immanent contradictions to safeguard against unwanted and unintentional reproduction of injustices and for the promotion of practices that emancipate and empower people.

Abstract [sv]

Urban stadsodling är en spirande praxis som i allt större utsträckning äger rum i stadskärnor i världen. I denna avhandling definierar jag urbana trädgårdar som allmänningar som uppstår genom kollektiva sociala praktiker som manifesterar sig rumsligt. Jag bygger på den senaste tidens vändning i commons-teori som flyttar fokus på commons, och inte, som i tidigare commons-forskning, på commons som struktur. Med utgångspunkt i fallet med stadsträdgårdsinitiativ i Stockholms stad, Sverige, undersöker jag hur gemensamma stadsträdgårdar förvandlar commoners (deras handlingskraft, subjektivitet, identitet) och vice versa, deras strukturella miljö. Ontologiskt använder jag ett kritiskt-realistiskt och socialteoretiskt perspektiv som innebär att jag erkänner a priori existensen av strukturer och agency och deras relationella betingning av varandra relationellt. Detta innebär att jag (i) tittar på hur rumsliga, samhälleliga och tidsmässiga strukturer påverkar agenter, såsom invånare som vill ägna sig åt urban trädgård, (ii) hur dessa stadsodlare påverkar sin strukturella miljö genom utövandet av urban stadsodling, (iii) samt hur deras agens är betingad av praktiken.

Jag använder mig av en kvalitativ metod med blandade metoder, bestående av intervjuer, enkät, observationer, deltagande spridning och poetisk undersökning och upptäcker att en hög tillgänglighet till gröna offentliga utrymmen i Stockholms stad, kommunal politik till förmån för urban trädgårdsskötsel och en rik historisk kultur av föreningslivet i Sverige ger ett stödjande sammanhang för urban trädgårdsskötsel. Jag finner att gemensamma trädgårdar i offentliga utrymmen för samman människor och bygger kollektiva relationer trots ett sammanhang av nyliberal individualisering. Den frigör individer genom att omorganisera förvaltningen av stadsrum, och förändrar hur Stockholm city urbaniserar – det vill säga på ett kollektivt och bruksvärdebaserat sätt. Bland dem som deltar i stadsträdgårdsskötsel förblir vissa grundade i ett behovsuppfyllelse ("Jag vill odla för att vara mer i naturen"), medan andra förändras genom engagemanget att vara en del av en stadsträdgård, blir politiska och kollektiva subjektiviteter med en social identitet som överlappar med deras personliga identitet. Detta visar att strukturer betingar människor på olika sätt och inte deterministiskt påverkar agency på samma sätt för alla. Ändå förblir många helt utestängda från urban stadsodling, såsom people of colour, vilket indikerar att urban stadsodling, även om det kan vara transformerande för dem som deltar, är reproduktivt av strukturer av vithet i urbana offentliga rum. Samtidigt förvandlas historiska strukturer för rationell maskulinitet i offentliga rum. På bekostnad av kvinnliga stadsodlares obetalda sociala reproduktiva arbete, som utgör majoriteten av stadsodlarna, förvandlas offentliga grönområden till utrymmen för omsorg och gemenskap.

Jag drar slutsatsen att urban stadsodling förtjänar en kritisk analys av dess immanenta motsägelser för att skydda mot oönskad och oavsiktlig reproduktion av orättvisor och för att främja praktiker som frigör och stärker människor.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2023. , p. 48
Series
TRITA-ABE-DLT ; 2338
Keywords [en]
City of Stockholm, transformative practices, emancipatory mechanisms, commoning, structureagency dialectic, urban gardening.
National Category
Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology) Human Geography
Research subject
Planning and Decision Analysis, Strategies for sustainable development
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-338017ISBN: 978-91-8040-725-0 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-338017DiVA, id: diva2:1804485
Public defence
2023-11-13, Kollegiesalen, Brinellvägen 8, KTH Campus, public video conference link https://kth-se.zoom.us/j/68724820205, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Funder
KTH Royal Institute of Technology
Note

QC 20231019

Available from: 2023-10-19 Created: 2023-10-12 Last updated: 2023-11-06Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Acknowledging Contradictions – Endorsing Change. Transforming the Urban Through Gardening
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Acknowledging Contradictions – Endorsing Change. Transforming the Urban Through Gardening
2022 (English)In: Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, ISSN 1045-5752, E-ISSN 1548-3290, p. 1-19Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The contradictions of commoning practices have recently gained increasing attention in critical research. As such, research has shown that collective practices of gardening in common produce contradictory effects not necessarily in line with progressive ideas of the common. Instead of a general dismissal of commoning due to its documented contradictions, I suggest looking beyond the naïve wishing away of contradictions by way of deploying Marxist dialectics as a research perspective from which to explicate and understand underlying processes. Rather than undermining the common's potential as a post-capitalist alternative, this article uses contradictions as an analytical lens through which the meaning of six contradictions of urban garden commons identified in the academic literature is explored. This article concludes that a conceptual focus on contradictions allows for a reflexive and critical research practice revealing the complexity of dialectical relations through which the practice of gardening propels changes but also the reproduction of existing relations.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Informa UK Limited, 2022
Keywords
urban gardening, Marxism, dialectics
National Category
Economic Geography
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-319673 (URN)10.1080/10455752.2022.2129399 (DOI)2-s2.0-85139712384 (Scopus ID)
Funder
KTH Royal Institute of Technology
Note

QC 20221010

Available from: 2022-10-05 Created: 2022-10-05 Last updated: 2023-10-12Bibliographically approved
2. Preparing the grounds for emancipation. Explaining commoning as an emancipatory mechanism through dialectical social theory
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Preparing the grounds for emancipation. Explaining commoning as an emancipatory mechanism through dialectical social theory
2022 (English)In: Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, ISSN 2514-8486, E-ISSN 2514-8494 , p. 1-20Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

While there is evidence that commons have the potential to counteract socio-spatial injustices unleashed by neoliberal and capitalist forms of urbanisation, less is known about how commons lead to emancipatory change. Anchored in dialectical social theory, this article explains commoning as a mechanism through which people reproduce/transform their structural context and agency, arguing that the potential for emancipation through commoning lies in the commoners’ ability to induce processes of structural/agential transformation. Empirically grounded in interviews with urban community gardeners in the City of Stockholm, Sweden, we show that collective gardening conceptualised as practice of commoning contributes to structural change in that female volunteer labour collectivises the mandate over municipally managed public space, transforming socio-spatial relations. Yet, garden commoning proves to reproduce structural whiteness and middle-class agency in public space, fails to establish autonomy from waged-labour relations, and is unable to abolish the separation from the sources of reproduction and subsistence.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
SAGE Publications, 2022
National Category
Human Geography Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-311359 (URN)10.1177/25148486221092717 (DOI)000849094000001 ()2-s2.0-85138286471 (Scopus ID)
Funder
Swedish Research Council Formas, 2016-00331
Note

QC 20220425

Available from: 2022-04-25 Created: 2022-04-25 Last updated: 2023-10-12Bibliographically approved
3. Cultivating commoner subjectivities and transforming agency in commoned urban gardens
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Cultivating commoner subjectivities and transforming agency in commoned urban gardens
2023 (English)In: Geoforum, ISSN 0016-7185, E-ISSN 1872-9398, Vol. 141, article id 103725Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Commoning as a mechanism for transforming agency and subjectivities is relevant in a contemporary urban context structured by neoliberal capitalist relations that work to alienate people, suppress agency and enclose spaces. Despite wide agreement that commoning practices mediate subject formation and agential change, little has been written on the epistemological and ontological grounds for understanding how commoning practices achieve this. Grounded in the social realist theory put forward by Archer (2000), which suggests understanding transformations linked to agency and subjectivity as outcomes of the dialectical relation between agency and structure, mediated by practice in space and over time, this paper analyses the burgeoning practice of urban gardening in common in the City of Stockholm, Sweden, with respect to its potential to transform agency and subjectivity. I find that (i) conditioned by structural context, gardeners assume a variety of (contradictory) subjectivities (the commoner, the white encloser, the unpaid public manager and hobby gardener), and (ii) that through the collective nature of the gardens, roles are created and a corporate agency emerges, which (iii) allows some gardeners to become social actors whereby they can live out their personal identities and change the structural context for others.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Elsevier BV, 2023
Keywords
Feminist theory, Agency, Commoning, Urban gardening, Subjectivity, Critical realism
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-326037 (URN)10.1016/j.geoforum.2023.103725 (DOI)000957646200001 ()2-s2.0-85150272056 (Scopus ID)
Note

QC 20230424

Available from: 2023-04-24 Created: 2023-04-24 Last updated: 2023-10-12Bibliographically approved
4. The reproductive fix: urban gardening and gendered relations of social reproduction under patriarchal capitalist urbanisation
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The reproductive fix: urban gardening and gendered relations of social reproduction under patriarchal capitalist urbanisation
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In the City of Stockholm, for more than a decade, engaged women transform public green spaces collectively into commoned urban gardens, based on affective relations and care. Drawing on Sylvia Federici’s work on the role of oppression and marginalisation of female subjects and the destruction of the commons, I discuss, in this paper, how collective forms of urban gardening condition current processes of urbanisation, and, how patriarchal capitalist urbanisation conditions urban gardening as collective practice of social reproduction. Based on the case of a greening city that draws on the free labour of women, and by making use of the feminist method of poetic inquiry, I contribute to the debate on the gendered and spatial forms of urbanisation through a dialectical analysis of the relation between public forms of social reproduction and urbanisation. I argue that urban gardening can be understood as a ‘reproductive fix’ of capitalist urbanisation that continues to exploit subjects of social reproduction – in an invisible manner. 

Keywords
commons, capitalism, minor theory, care, urban theory, feminist theory.
National Category
Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology) Gender Studies Human Geography
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-338018 (URN)
Note

QC 20231013

Available from: 2023-10-12 Created: 2023-10-12 Last updated: 2023-10-13Bibliographically approved

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Bergame, Nathalie

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