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When Ecotopia grows: Politicizing the stories of Swedish sustainable urban development


Abstract and Figures

Sweden is known worldwide for its achievements in the field of sustainable urban development. Due to this global recognition Swedish stories and policies of sustainable urban development are being spread across various spatial and institutional contexts. Focusing on SymbioCity and its approach as examples for such stories, this thesis seeks to elaborate on the de-politicization of urban environments through sustainable urban development policies. In doing so, this thesis synthesises urban political ecology and policy mobility literature to form a theoretical framework to investigate the mobilization and legitimization of such environments. Drawing on findings provided by methods of text analysis and interviews, it is illustrated that Swedish stories of sustainable urban development construct a de-politicized spatiality supported by capital, desires of influence and "the planner". The thesis concludes by arguing that planning research needs to critically address the process of de-politicization and support the articulation of a political Ecotopia. Adscheid, Toni (2017): When Ecotopia grows: Politicizing the stories of Swedish sustainable urban development. Urban and Regional Planning, advanced level, master thesis for master degree in Urban and Regional Planning, 30 ECTS credits Supervisor: Peter Schmitt Language: English
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When Ecotopia grows:
Politicizing the stories of Swedish sustainable urban
Toni Adscheid
June 2017
Supervisor: Peter Schmitt
Department of Human Geography
Stockholm University
SE-106 91 Stockholm / Sweden
Sweden is known world-wide for its achievements in the field of sustainable urban
development. Due to this global recognition Swedish stories and policies of sustainable
urban development are being spread across various spatial and institutional contexts.
Focusing on SymbioCity and its approach as examples for such stories, this thesis seeks
to elaborate on the de-politicization of urban environments through sustainable urban
development policies. In doing so, this thesis synthesises urban political ecology and
policy mobility literature to form a theoretical framework to investigate the
mobilization and legitimization of such environments. Drawing on findings provided by
methods of text analysis and interviews, it is illustrated that Swedish stories of
sustainable urban development construct a de-politicized spatiality supported by
capital, desires of influence and “the planner”. The thesis concludes by arguing that
planning research needs to critically address the process of de-politicization and support
the articulation of a political Ecotopia.
Adscheid, Toni (2017): When Ecotopia grows: Politicizing the stories of Swedish
sustainable urban development.
Urban and Regional Planning, advanced level, master thesis for master degree in Urban
and Regional Planning, 30 ECTS credits
Supervisor: Peter Schmitt
Language: English
Key words: sustainable urban development, policy mobility, urban political ecology,
urban planning, de-politicization, Sweden.
Table of Contents
Abstract ....................................................................................................................... 1
1. Introduction............................................................................................................ 3
1.1 Background: The Stories of Swedish Sustainable Urban Development................ 4
1.2 Situating the story of Ecotopia within academia.................................................. 5
1.3 Research Aim & Question................................................................................... 7
1.4 Limitations.......................................................................................................... 8
1.5 Disposition: Telling the story of a growing Ecotopia........................................... 9
2. A theory of Ecotopia: Mobilities of socio-material configurations......................11
2.1 Conceptualizing Ecotopia through Actor-Network Theory.................................11
2.2 The urbanization of Ecotopia – An urban political ecology narrative..................13
2.3 Policy mobility – the Growth of Ecotopia...........................................................17
2.4 The theoretical framework of Ecotopia...............................................................20
3. Approaching Ecotopia..........................................................................................21
3.1 Research design: The researcher as active practitioner........................................21
3.2 The Research Process: How to tell the tale of Ecotopia?.....................................23
3.3 Ethical Considerations........................................................................................29
4. Planting the seed - Exploring the roots of Sweden’s Ecotopia............................31
4.1 From “bad cities” to sustainable urbanization: The start of a Swedish story........31
4.2 Planning for “the sustainable City” – A contemporary narrative .........................34
4.3 Narrating urban sustainability: SymbioCity and the SymbioCity Approach........36
5. Grooming the tree - Plots of Sweden’s Ecotopia..................................................45
5.1 Introducing stories of common sense..................................................................45
5.2 The Protagonists – “We” and “the City”.............................................................46
5.3 The good, the bad and the sustainable - Stories about the development of urban
environments ...........................................................................................................47
5.4 Storylines of Swedish sustainable urban development: Two stories about “the
6. Extending the branches - Mobilizing the story of Ecotopia.................................51
6.1 Fuelling the sustainable urban development machinery ......................................51
6.2 Naturalizing urban sustainable development.......................................................53
6.3 “The Planner”: Becoming a better storyteller?....................................................55
7. Ecotopia: A discussion for the political................................................................58
8. Conclusion.............................................................................................................63
9. References..............................................................................................................66
1. Introduction
Ecotopia represents the vision of a society which is characterized through the “perfect”
balance between human beings and their environment. Contradictory to the practices of
the U.S. (during the 1970s) Ecotopia showcases itself as the alternative to a dystopian
present and as last refuge for everyone who is concerned about the environment
(CALLENBACH 1975). It is from this summary of the eponymous novel “Ecotopia”,
written by the Anglo-American author Ernest Callenbach, that this thesis will draw its
inspiration from.
While inspired by a fictional story, Ecotopia does also form everyday spatial reality.
Well-known models of urban development such as Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City or
Le Corbusier’s Ville Contemporaine can be regarded as utopian models since they
reflect desired visions about “perfect” human-nature interactions (see FISHMAN 2016).
These models positioned themselves towards a “dystopian present” of a growing and
increasingly polluted London and Paris. However, the Garden City and the Ville
Contemporaine should not be regarded as relicts of the past. These models continue to
be adopted in different spatial settings as the concerns they addressed remain prevalent.
Under the umbrella of neo-liberal politics and planning practices of the late 20th and
21st century (see ALLMENDINGER 2009) models of urban planning began to flourish. In
contrast to previous epochs however, the city does not present the exclusive sight of
dystopian narratives anymore. Hence, global phenomena have begun to create an
umbrella under which utopia and dystopia are continuously (re)imagined (see
SWYNGEDOUW 2009). These global phenomena are fostered by political and academic
discourses which emphasize a “planetary urbanization” process (see BRENNER 2014) in
the wake of climate change (BULKELEY ET AL. 2015). Given these global urgencies,
models of sustainable urban development became the new status quo. Introduced by the
Brundtland Report, the concept of sustainable development has been showcased as way
to tackle the challenges posed by climate change in a way that does not cause harm to
future generations (see WCED 1987). This development is achieved through a perfect
balance of ecological, economic and social factors. Hence, sustainable development
will be conceptualized throughout this thesis as the Ecotopia of “our time”, a story that
suggests the perfect balance between human interests and the environment. Since its
introduction, sustainability became an integral part of everyday life and consciousness.
A consciousness constantly (re)invoked by international events such as the Rio
Conference, the Paris Climate Summit or popular movies such as Al Gores: An
Inconvenient Truth.
In the same vein whilst “awareness” for climate change began to rise, cities also saw
themselves increasingly engaged in a global inter-city competition (PECK & THEODORE
2010; WARD 2013). As consequence, cities were caught up in a position where climate
change needed to be combated while a city’s attractiveness for capital investors needed
to be secured and enhanced. Out of this challenge grow urban development models
such as “The Sustainable City” (OHGAKI ET AL. 2008). This model (as its predecessors)
is not static across space and time but contains different foci and connotations across
various spatial contexts (HASSAN & LEE 2015). Although divergent in its spatial
application, the sustainable city model ought to position cities within a global neo-
liberal framework under the conditions and challenges posed by climate change. The
material articulations of this process can be observed in cities like Vancouver or
Barcelona which established themselves as models for sustainable urban development,
resulting in terminologies of: Vancouverism (MCCANN 2011) or the Barcelona model
(DEGEN & GARCÍA 2012). Whether such models advocate a city as “original” or as
hybrid (combining several development models), they all share the common narrative
of an urban sustainable environment to contradict a dystopian present and future (see
1.1 Background: The Stories of Swedish Sustainable Urban Development
When walking around the city of Stockholm in 2017, one seems to be caught up in a
melting pot of urban development models. Posters that promote the “sustainable city”,
the “eco-friendly city” or the “world class city” are ever present in the cityscape. The
spatial manifestations of these models can be encountered in areas like Kista,
Hammarby Sjöstad or Norra Djurrdsstaden. As a city that has been on the forefront
of sustainable urban development for several years, Stockholm has received world wide
recognition and praise (see LINDSTRÖM & LUNDSTRÖM 2013; BRADLEY ET AL. 2013).
Historically, Stockholm’s sustainable urban development was largely based on
extensive Swedish welfare state and sustainable branding policies (METZGER & OLSSON
2013: 198-199). These policies positioned Sweden and its capital as models for
sustainable urban development on the global market. This positioning led to labels such
as “Sustainable and Scandinavian” which were used to sell Swedish technology and
expertise. As consequence sustainable, economic and urban development became
increasingly intertwined. Hence, Swedish companies such as Sweco began to develop
urban planning concepts such as the Sustainable City Concept. Developed on behalf of
the Swedish government for the World Summit 2002 in Johannesburg, this concept
should showcase integrated ways of incorporating technology and urban development
to potential international investors (HULT 2013: 84).
On the basis of the Sustainable City Concept, SymbioCity was introduced in 2007 by
the Swedish government and the Swedish Trade Council (BRADLEY ET AL. 2013).
SymbioCity was established as a platform to link clean technologies to urban planning
in the name of urban sustainability (HULT 2015: 538). The innovations that SymbioCity
introduced were clustered around working models which should explore these linkages.
Hereby spatial references, including the housing exhibition Bo01 in Malmö
(MADUREIRA 2014) as well as Hammarby Sjöstad have been presented as “best
practice” examples. The “success story” of these best practice examples did not only
attract international but equally national interest. Thereupon the Swedish government
established a development fund for cities that aspired to follow the technological and
planning ideals that SymbioCity provided. This fund encompassed 340 million SEK
during the period between 2009 and 2010 (LINDSTRÖM & LUNDSTRÖM 2013). Several
Swedish cities followed this appeal and so Vaxjö, Kiruna and Malmö initiated their
own development projects inspired by the success of SymbioCity. Swedish sustainable
urban development was then put on supra-national display as Stockholm was awarded
with the title of the first European Green Capital in 2010 (BRADLEY ET AL. 2013). The
creation of this success fostered the cooperation within SymbioCity resulting in the
export of sustainable technologies to countries such as China, Mongolia, Russia, South
Africa, Canada, France, Ireland and England (see LINDSTRÖM & LUNDSTRÖM 2013).
While the Sustainable City Concept was picked up by the Swedish Trade Council (now
Business Sweden) to implement a marketing platform, the Swedish International
Development Agency (SIDA) used the concept to develop tools and methods for
sustainable urban development. These methods and tools have been summarized under
the SymbioCity Approach which was published in 2012. Based on SIDA’s previous
experiences and expertise the SymbioCity Approach aims to promote sustainable urban
development through institutional capacity building in low and middle income
countries (see DAHLGREN & WAMSLER 2014). Overall, SymbioCity stresses the
importance of “smart technologies” to transform the City itself while the SymbioCity
approach focuses on creating “the sustainable City” through institutional capacity
In sum, Sweden’s “stories of sustainability” are based on a socio-historical
understanding of sustainable urban development, influenced by neo-liberal notions of
competiveness, success and global development objectives. These stories do not only
form a spatially situated narrative of the “perfect” balance between human interests and
their environment but are also mobilized across institutional and spatial contexts. As
such SymbioCity and its approach form the story of Ecotopia, a story about the perfect
balance which can be achieved in various settings but which remains spatially and
discursively connected to Sweden. This context offers a perspective onto the floating
meanings and logics of urban sustainability and its mobilization across institutional and
spatial contexts. Hereby Sweden’s diversified narratives of sustainable urban
development present the entry points for a comparative assessment of the political
character and the normative connotations of urban sustainability.
1.2 Situating the story of Ecotopia within academia
Despite growing critique in academia that Swedish sustainable urban development
resembles a consensus oriented and post-political approach towards urban development
(TUNSTRÖM ET AL. 2016; TUNSTRÖM & BRADLEY 2014; HULT 2013) little civic protest
has been observed. Hence, debates about the structuring forces of urban sustainability
remain largely absent. As SWYNGEDOUW (2015a) argues in this context:
“There is no contestation over the givens of a situation, over the partition of the sensible, there
is only debate over technologies of management, timing of their implementation, arrangements
of policy and the interests of those whose voices are recognized as legitimate.”
(SWYNGEDOUW 2015a:138).
Over the last years, a vast body of research (mainly in the field of urban political
ecology) has evolved around the configurations of urban environments through the
politics of sustainable urban development (see SWYNGEDOUW 2015a, 2009;
SWYNGEDOUW & HEYNEN 2003; HEYNEN 2014; HAGERMAN 2007). However, this body
remains largely constrained regarding its conceptualization of: urban environments of
cities. Attempts by scholars such as COOK & SWYNGEDOUW (2012) and GUSTFASON ET
AL. (2014) to move beyond the city remain either restricted to mega-urban areas or refer
to cities under the rule of neo-liberalism (understood as global notion with little spatial
variation). In this respect the aspiration of urban political ecology, to investigate urban
environments as power laden assemblages (ROBBINS 2012: 73) becomes blurred due to
a mismatch between the universalism of processes and the particularity of sights.
In contrast, research conducted within the field of policy mobility has begun to
challenge the territorial limitations of the city (MCCANN & WARD 2012: 44). By
emphasizing a relational approach towards the mobile character of policies between
cities and institutions, policy mobility draws attention upon the mobilization and
mutation of policies across geographical scales (see MCCANN & WARD 2012; WARD
2013; BRENNER ET AL. 2010; PECK ET AL. 2013). As consequence of its relational
approach however, policy mobility remains limited in its local insights on policy
development and formation. Thus, while relational approaches still dominate the
research field, scholars begin to stress the importance of investigating local settings as
reflections of large scale political processes (see COCHRANE & WARD 2012; WARD
2013; MCCANN 2011; TEMENOS &MCCANN 2012). Hence policy mobility offers a way
to bridge the “particularity of sights” by applying a relational approach.
Simultaneously, due to its insights into policy mutation, policy mobility overcomes the
limitations of urban political ecology by offering a nuanced view into the
heterogeneous character of polices (see TEMENOS & MCCANN 2012).
Given their complementary character, these two schools of thought will form the
theoretical frame of this thesis. A frame constituted by an actor-network theory
approach which will provide an entry point for discussions about the conceptual
benefits and methodological dilemmas of combining urban political ecology and policy
mobility. Within this setting the theoretical framework will be laid out, aiming to forge
an understanding of the structuring processes and power relations that contribute to a
growing Ecotopia of and between cities.
It is within this relational yet situated understanding of Ecopotia that the thesis aims to
contribute to an increasing body of critical urban sustainability research (see JOSS 2011;
JOSS & MOLELLA 2013). Amidst the wide array of critical urban sustainability research
this thesis positions itself within an intellectual and conceptual gap. While the work of
scholars such as MCCANN (2011) and DEGEN & GARCÍA (2012) is based on a profound
understanding of how cities became sights of “best practice” the diffuse mobilization
and problematization of such urban environments is only marginally alluded to. On the
other side of the academic spectrum, scholars such as HÖGSTRÖM ET AL. (2013) and
TUNSTRÖM & BRADLEY (2014) who criticize the creation of sustainable urban
environments either refer to an overarching sustainability discourse or limit themselves
to the spatial manifestations of this discourse. In conceptualizing urban sustainability as
“floating signifier” (see BRENNER 2013; SWYNGEDOUW &KAIKA 2014), this thesis calls
for a recognition of the diverse stories told under the terminology of sustainable urban
development. By examining the dominant structures of power by which urban
sustainable development within SymbioCity and its approach are constituted,
legitimized and mobilized the author departs from previous research conducted on
Swedish urban sustainable development (see HULT 2013). In comparing two Swedish
stories of sustainable urban development the author tries to shed light onto the logics
and processes by which urban sustainability becomes translated, thereby creating
multiple, complementing and conflicting stories along the way.
Consequently, it is not a single element that is of interest but rather the discursive
composition of knowledge arrangements which tell stories about the sustainable City
(with a capital C). Moreover, in opposition to critical urban theorists such as
APPADURAI (2002) and CROSSA (2009) the author does not aim to foreclose the political
through a framing of the proper political. However, the author will point towards
diverse narratives within dominant discourses which present conflicting stories of urban
sustainability and thereby also challenge the author’s narration of sustainable urban
development as “Ecotopia”. In this respect the theoretical framing of post-political
narratives within SymbioCity and the SymbioCity approach should serve as an entry
point for (re)centralizing the political in debates around sustainable urban development.
Hence, this thesis wants to be recognized as an open invitation to challenge Ecotopia
through “politicizing” the stories of which it is comprised. Thereby “politicizing”
should be understood as the act of inviting dissent (in all forms and shapes) through
portraying the processes by which consensus and dissent around sustainable urban
development are formed (see TUNSTRÖM & BRADLEY 2014).
1.3 Research Aim & Question
Given its scientific and societal relevance, this thesis sets out to create a socio-historical
informed understanding of the relations that constitute and mobilize spatial realities. To
investigate this mobilization and construction of spatial realities the notion of Ecotopia
will be applied. Hence, within the upcoming analysis this notion is going to be used as
a conceptual tool to uncover the structures and processes which construct, legitimise
and mobilize the narratives of Swedish sustainable urban development and thereby
form the story of Ecotopia. Overall, in utilizing the notion of Ecotopia this thesis strives
to unfold the ways in which policies (understood as the outcomes of politics) of
sustainable urban development obscure the political and contribute to the global spread
of post-political environments; illustrated by the image of a growing Ecotopia. This aim
can be moulded around three different aspirations, eroded from the current state of
research, which also represent the structure of this thesis:
1) To identify the networks of relations which create and sustain the frame of
urban environmental production within SymbioCity and the SymbioCity
Approach (reflecting: politics)
2) To deconstruct the narratives about urban sustainable development created by
these relations (reflecting: post-politicization)
3) To reflect upon the mobilization of these narratives with special attention paid
to the role of the “planner” (reflecting: mobility of sustainable narratives).
Consequently the overall question that this thesis aims to answer is: How do mobile
policies stemming from SymbioCity and its approach shape, legitimise and
mobilize de-politicized urban environments? To break this hypothesis (of expending
de-politicized urban environments) down into analytical questions, the author proposes
the following categories, reflecting the analytical concepts of this thesis: politics, post-
politicization and mobility of sustainable narratives. It is however worth noting at this
point that these categories should not be regarded as separate entities; rather they are
mutually constituted through their relations with each other (see COOK &
Therefore it is important to mention that the proposed categories should be conceived
as strategic tools to structure the author’s argumentation and not as means to reinforce
their conceptual distinction.
To illustrate politics the following questions should be addressed: I) Which socio-
historical developments contributed to “the success story” of Sweden as a model for
sustainable urban development? II) What normative notions underlie current Swedish
sustainable urban development planning? III) Who are the actors involved within
SymbioCity and its approach? How can their relation be described?
Accounting for the notion of post-politicization these analytical questions are going to
be investigated: I) How is sustainable urban development argued for within SymbioCity
and its approach? II) Who and what is part of this sustainable urban environment? III)
How is such a sustainable urban environment conceptualized?
Lastly, the mobilization of sustainable narratives created by SymbioCity and its
approach will be focused upon. This focus will be set by posing the following
questions: I) How are notions of urban sustainability mobilized across spatial and
institutional settings? II) How are they perceived? III) What roles do planners take
within this process?
1.4 Limitations
The research that has been conducted for this thesis is characterized by several
limitations, mainly constituted by time restrictions and the positionality of the
researcher within a certain academic and spatial environment. First and foremost the
timeframe of twenty weeks limits the research in regard to its scope. By referring to the
aims of the research (outlined above) the thesis will not be able to capture the entirety
of networks that create and sustain the production of sustainable urban development
within SymbioCity and its approach. Instead, this thesis will focus on a selected group
of actors and their relations with each other. The selection of this group was influenced
by the amount of interviews that could be carried out given the limited timeframe.
Moreover, the composition of this group also depended on the availability of interview
partners. Hence, some possible interview partners were not able to participate due to
their involvement in other contexts.
Secondly, the positionality of the researcher as a German being educated in urban and
regional planning in Sweden also sets limitations upon the research (see BOSE 2015).
These limitations are mainly constituted by educational narratives within these two
spatial and academic environments which directed the author’s research into one
direction rather then into others. Hence, given the focus of this thesis the research could
have followed many different trajectories. The thesis could have compared different
spatial expressions of SymbioCity development across various spatial contexts from
The New Royal Seaport Area to development projects in Asia which followed the
SymbioCity approach. It could have also investigated local initiatives which contest
dominant sustainability narratives in the light of a Right to the City activism. However,
within the given frame the author tries to move beyond spatial constraints and thereby
takes an appeal formulated by METZGER (2011) into account. According to METZGER
planners should: “(…) again and again reconsider what we mean when we say
“normative” or “democratic” and this - if anything - must be important to us as
planning scholars” (METZGER 2011: 292). In this vein, the author deems it as important
to explore the different connotations of seemingly uncontested terminologies and to
deconstruct their underlying processes to offer a political narrative to current
sustainable urban planning research. Given the author’s limited resources this
perspective was chosen because it provides an academically fruitful ground of
The spatial positionality in contrast, binds the author to one research location (due to a
lack of resources) and hinders him to be physically present while investigating
SymbioCity and its approach outside of a Swedish context. As a consequence of his
constraint spatial mobility, the author used communication technologies to bridge
spatial distance to participants within but also outside of Sweden. In this regard the
utilization of phone and Skype conversations was deemed as useful tool as it allowed
for the application of a mobility perspective through facilitating the recruitment of
highly mobile research subjects. Further discussion upon these theoretical and
methodological limitations will be provided in the respective chapter.
1.5 Disposition: Telling the story of a growing Ecotopia
To structure this thesis, the author deemed it as insightful to deploy a metaphor which
will resemble the story of “a growing Ecotopia”. Hereby, inspiration was drawn once
again from Ernest Callenbach’s novel as the metaphor of a growing tree (as illustrated
on the cover of the novel) is going to be used to structure the author’s argumentation.
As such, the analytical chapters of this thesis will be divided into: Planting the seed,
grooming the tree and extending the branches. This metaphor has been developed in
direct correspondence to the aims and analytical questions of this thesis. Consequently,
to tell the story of Ecotopia (the growing tree) it is important to identify its narrators
and their relations with each other (reflecting: politics), their stories (reflecting: post-
politicization) and the process of storytelling (reflecting: the mobility of sustainable
urban narratives).
In laying out the theoretical framework upon which is thesis rests, the following chapter
“A theory of Ecotopia: Mobilities of socio-material configurations” will illustrate how
a theoretical conceptualization of Ecotopia can be achieved. As such, this chapter is
going to elaborate on the benefits of combining insights from urban political ecology
and policy mobility studies under the frame of Actor-Network Theory (ANT).
Building on the theoretical conceptualization, Chapter 3 “Approaching Ecotopia” will
outline the research design, address the methods that have been used to investigate the
story of Ecotopia and outline the ethical considerations of this research.
Chapter 4 called: “Planting the seed: Exploring the roots of Sweden’s Ecotopia” will
start exploring the tale of Ecotopia. However, before identifying the narrators of this
story and their relations with one another this chapter seeks to investigate the socio-
historical process of storytelling which shaped current practices of sustainable urban
development. In doing so this chapter explores Ecotopia as palimpsest comprised of
different stories.
Chapter 5 then addresses the stories told by the narrators. As such, the chapter
“Grooming the tree –Plots of Sweden’s Ecotopia” seeks to explore the storylines of the
two narratives of Swedish sustainable urban development thereby outlining similarities
as well as contradictions. The aim of this chapter will then be to uncover if the two
stories of Swedish sustainable urban development contribute to the process of post -
The process of storytelling will then be described in Chapter 6 called: “Extending the
branches - Mobilizing the story of Ecotopia”. In this chapter, special attention will be
paid to the processes by which the story of Ecotopia is spread across spatial and
institutional contexts. Hereby, emphasis shall also be put on the role of the planner
within the story of Ecotopia.
The last two chapters (Chapter 7 & 8) will then offer space for reflections on the story
of Ecotopia. These reflections will be guided by a critical discussion about the results
and about the author’s own narrative. Moreover, the scientific and societal contribution
made by this thesis will be outlined and promising directions for future research will be
2. A theory of Ecotopia: Mobilities of socio-material configurations
In the following chapter, a theoretical framework, comprised of the approach and
concepts, used to investigate Ecotopia is going to be developed. Hereby, the author will
draw on Actor Network Theory (ANT) as approach to set the frame in which the
analysis of urban political ecology and policy mobility literature is going to be
conducted. Within this theoretical setting the author will form an understanding of how
socio-material processes and structures interact to create a story about the perfect
balance (Ecotopia) and how such arrangements are mobilized across spatial and
institutional settings to make Ecotopia grow. To form this theory of Ecotopia the author
will address the following questions: Who makes Ecotopia grow? How does Ecotopia
grow? And ultimately, why does Ecotopia continue to grow?
2.1 Conceptualizing Ecotopia through Actor-Network Theory
ANT understood as theoretical approach emerged from poststructuralist Science and
Technology Studies (STS) of the late 1980s. Its conceptualisation bared the promise of
advocating for “a more than human perspective” within a socio-material world
(MÜLLER & SCHURR 2016). In this “more than human perspective” human and non-
human actors alike are perceived both as actors and enacted upon as well as part and
outcome of mutually constituted relations within heterogeneous networks (see LAW
2006). Over the past decades, Latour, Callon, Law and other scholars have established a
profound body of empirical case study research, thereby (re)shaping ANT considerably
(see MÜLLER 2015; METZGER 2011).
Why is ANT to be regarded as suitable approach for this thesis? The answer to this
question is twofold. First, the ontological claims made by ANT resonate well with the
overall aim of this thesis. ANT makes the assumption that nothing is able to exist
outside of relations (LAW 2009: 141). It further argues that it is only through the
formation of relations (between humans and non-humans alike) that acting is possible.
Following the argumentations of MÜLLER (2015) and Law (2009) ANT starts from the
premises that without relations (in a vacuum) human and non-humans would hold no
meaning and hence no power. Hereby, ANT puts emphasis on the co-creation of
realities, the multitude of relations which make up a heterogeneous network in which
socio-material environments are enacted (see MOL 1999). This characteristic of ANT
can also be traced down in the work of LATOUR (2005). The important contribution
made in his work concerns what LATOUR refers to as the five uncertainties of the
social sciences” (LATOUR 2005: 22). By critically stressing the generalizations made by
the social sciences LATOUR (2005) argues that there is no definite “social” and
consequently no “society” but rather multiple relations embedded in multiple networks
that constitute and shape various forms of societies. Consequently, he argues that
groups of actors should not be seen as pre-given constellation (such as society). Instead
LATOUR (2005) deems it as necessary to break down these groups of actors by
examining to whom they allude to, as all groups need someone or something to define
who or what they should be (LATOUR 2005: 31). Groups of actors and actors
themselves can then be understood as the ones who act (MOL 2010: 255).
Following this understanding and LATOURS (2005) perception of “societies” leads to
the conceptualization of actors, not only as the ones who create networks of relations
but who are also the outcome of these relations. Actors and networks are then multiple
constitutive and thereby constitute and shape realities through various relations.
Accordingly, networks are highly heterogeneous as they consist of actors (social,
technical and natural) and relations which are constantly (re)negotiated (LAW 2006:
51). The conceptualization of a multitude of socio-material environments, realities and
societies that overlap and interact allows for a cautious investigation of the ways of
translation in which these realities are defined, ordered, transformed and understood as
common overarching entity such as “Society” (see LAW 2009; MOL 2010).
Despite its ontological appeal, ANT was also chosen because it offers a variety of cases
to build upon. Being embedded in case study research, ANT serves as common frame
in which theories and methods from different disciplines can be creatively combined
(see LAW 2009; MÜLLER & SCHURR 2016). For example, case studies such as the ones
conducted by LAW (2006) and MOL (2010) create a foundation for reflections upon the
(re)construction of universal narratives over space, time and across networks.
Throughout its evolution, case studies contributed to the establishment of ANT as
normative approach which challenges perceptions of “the good” (METZGER 2011: 291).
“The good” is hereby exemplary for an overarching entity; the normative outcome of
relations that order, define and negotiate realties and ultimately create a common reality
which enacts the network and the actors within it. Hence, “the good” is not only
normative but also a simplification which obscures the relations that define, constitute
and legitimize it; “the good” becomes a black-box (see CALLON & LATOUR 1981). A
black-box (according to ANT) is to be understood as the outcome of translation, an
entity that has been transformed and packed into an overarching body of for example
“the good” or “the community” that lets heterogeneity appear as homogenate (CALLON
& LATOUR 1981: 299). Utilizing its adaptability and ontological insights, ANT will be
applied in the following literature review of urban political ecology and policy mobility
studies. Despite its rich amount of case studies, it has to be noted that ANT can never
by itself overturn the endless and partially connected webs that enact a certain reality
(see LAW 2009; Law & Singleton 2013). Hence, the purpose to apply ANT in this
thesis is not to change perceptions of spatial reality but rather to mobilize its concepts
of “translation” and “black box” to uncover the relations by which spatial reality is
In sum, the concepts of “translation” and “black box” will be used to conceptualize the
story of Ecotopia. According to ANT these two concepts (describing process and
outcome) have to be regarded as multiple constitutive. In this context, the frame which
constitutes of and is constituted by the narrative (black box) of “the perfect balance
between human beings and their environment” will be conceptualized as the outcome
and embodiment of transformation processes (translation) in which spatial realities
become obscured and simplified. Consequently, literature published in the field of ANT
will serve as cautious reminder about the interrelation and multiple constitution of
process and structure by which the black box of “Reality” is constantly (re)produced
and legitimized. In relation to the stories of Swedish sustainable urban development
ANT argues that what becomes political is a matter of what is made political through
relations (Müller 2015: 31). Hence, the frame of Ecotopia sets the stage in which
political relations are allowed to play out, thereby these relations influence the frame of
action and are influenced by it. In this regard the following review will be focused on
how processes of mobilization and post-politicization contribute to the creation of the
frame of action; to the creation of a black box which is urban sustainability.
2.2 The urbanization of Ecotopia – An urban political ecology narrative
Studies in the field of political ecology rest on two dialectics, namely the narration of
stories about winners and losers” as well as the mutual enactment of “humans and
non-humans” (see ROBBINS 2012). Similar to the work of LATOUR (2005), political
ecology scholars point towards the process in which realities (of winners and losers or
humans and non-humans) are made up, thereby emphasizing the relations which
constitute them. In correspondence with ANT, political ecology utilizes dialectics of
“humans and non humans”, “winners and losers”, “political and ecology” and
ultimately “utopia and dystopia” to investigate the conditions of their mutual
constitution and legitimization through hegemonic networks over time and space.
Based on this conceptual framework, urban political ecology emerged out of a growing
desire amongst environmental movements and academia to address political ecology
questions in cities (GABRIEL 2014: 38). In doing so, urban political ecology has created
a broad variety of studies which investigate the configurations of urban metabolisms
2006). Urban political ecology highlights these socio-ecological transformations as
products of contested, multi-scalar processes shaped by flows of capital and uneven
power relations (HOLIFIELD & SCHUELKE 2015). Most prominently amongst early urban
political ecology studies in this regard is the work of DAVID HARVEY (1993) who made
the controversial claim that:
“(…) in the final analysis [there is] nothing unnatural about New York City”
(HARVEY 1993: 28)
With this statement HARVEY (1993) alluded to a common misconception often yielded
by environmental research of the late 20th century, namely the framing of cities as anti-
ecological. In doing so HARVEY (1993) aligns himself with a particular political thought
as he acknowledges that arguments about nature are not innocent but rather reflect
power laden relations about who has the right to articulate narratives of urban-nature
futures. HARVEY (1996) further argues that within this conceptualization, the distinction
between the “natural” environment and the built, social and political-economic
environment is artificial (see HARVEY 1996). Consequently, in the world envisioned by
HARVEY (1996, 1993) the terminology of “urban political ecology” would be
redundant, as ecology is always political and the urban would not stand in any
contradiction to the non-urban. However, HARVEY (1996, 1993) acknowledges these
dialectics as intellectual basis from which to tackle and uncover the dominant relations
of power which form them (GABRIEL 2014). As such, the following review of
contributions made by urban political ecology scholars over the past decades will allude
to HARVEYS (1996, 1993) notion about the performative and enabling capacity of
Urbanization of “the City”
Before engaging with the main object of investigation a clarification has to be made.
This clarification concerns the difference between urbanization understood as process
and the city as material outcome of this process (HARVEY 1996: 436). These two
terminologies (with respect to ANT) are not to be viewed as separate from each other
but as mutually constitutive and as outcomes of diverse relations. Hence, cities
influence the process of urbanization and vise versa, thus they are also constituted by
multiple relations which enable them. To provide an example: the use of the subway
through people is part of the process of urbanization and is only possible through the
material arrangements that the city provides.
As mentioned previously, urban political ecology is concerned with the configurations
of urban metabolisms of cities, including metabolisms such as water, food or waste.
The terminology “configuration” hereby refers to a labour intense process of
transformation in which physical and social processes contribute to the modification of
environmental forms and understandings. Within urban political ecology literature, the
concept of “urban metabolism” draws on the need to address the transformation of
socio-ecological arrangements through the process of urbanization which is considered
as one of the driving forces behind environmental issues (HEYNEN ET AL. 2006;
LAWHON ET AL. 2013; HEYNEN 2014).
In acknowledging urban metabolic configurations as labour intense process urban
political ecology asks: Who produces what kind of social-ecological configurations for
whom? This question leads urban political ecology to take a political stance as it
challenges dominant narratives of “the Environment” or “the City”. Furthermore, it also
offers a lens to regard cities as material entities comprised of a wide array of
commodities, constituted and constantly (re)produced by mobile metabolisms that serve
the process of domination, subordination and capital urbanization (see HEYNEN ET AL.
2006). While it is out of question that metabolisms such as water and food are not
socially produced, their powers are thus socially mobilized to serve particular purposes
(SWYNGEDOUW & HEYNEN 2003: 902). Referring back to Ebenezer Howard and Le
Corbusier and their visions of urban development, urban political ecology argues that
these two architects co-modified the urban environment and hence did not invoke a new
sense of environment. In doing so, they translated the urban environment of cities by
leveraging a particular understanding of “the City” through the abolishment of others
and thereby they shaped the process of urbanization (see GANDY 2006; SWYNGEDOUW
&HEYNEN 2003).
Overall, the theoretical perspective on the configurations of urban metabolisms through
certain modes of labour sheds light upon the creation of “the City”. Through the social
mobilization and transformation of urban metabolisms, realities become obscured as
metabolisms get simplified, manageable and contextualized to serve particular
purposes. As such, urban political ecology advocates for an investigation of the
translation processes of urban metabolisms by which the black box of “the City” comes
into being and in turn translates urbanization. Picking up on this thought the next
section will address the question: How can such a transformation process be
characterized within current urban settings?
Urban Post-Political Ecologies
As stressed in its title, this thesis aims to politicize the stories of urban sustainable
development, a phrasing which suggests that current narratives of urban sustainability
are not political or de-politicized. What does this notion refer to? In a broad
understanding,de-politicization refers to the process in which the political is
increasingly occupied by politics (WILSON & SWYNGEDOUW 2014: 6). To understand
this notion of de-politicization the elements of which it is comprised should be
The political is understood as the act that undermines the given social orders
constructed upon it and leaves room for radical dissent and is therefore highly
democratic (see RANCIÈRE 1999). Hence, the political presents the practices which
pierce through the hegemonic frame of action; in this case Ecotopia. Politics in
contrast, is conceptualized as the institutions, strategies, actions and procedures by
which a diverse set of actors come together to define answers to an agreed problem (see
SWYNGEDOUW 2012). As such, politics presents the actor-network which constitutes the
frame of Ecotopia. Consequently, the notion of de-politicization describes a process in
which the frame of action can not be contested, given the answers provided through
politics. De-politicization manifests itself in diverse forms, today most visibly in the
form of post-politicization. Post-politicization can be conceived as apolitics in which
techno-managerial planning interventions, expert management and bio-political
administration displace ideological struggles (SWYNGEDOUW 2015b: 615). In such
conditions, the answers which politics provide become clustered around technological
and managerial fixes which can be contested and disputed. The term “post-
politicization” needs a brief explanation in this regard as it suggests that current urban
environments follow a former period in which these environments have been the
subject of political struggle. However, as stated previously (in regard to planning
models of the 19th century) this is not the case. Rather post-politicization should be
understood as dispositif which transforms the current urbanization process. A dispositif
can be regarded as the mechanisms and institutions which sustain structures of power.
Other forms of de-politicisation include for example what ŽIŽEK (1999) refers to as
ultra-politics mostly expressed in the “war of terror” in which the political is put aside
in favour of radical narratives that create imaginaries of: “us against them” (see Ž EK
Policies in the understanding of urban political ecology are consequently regarded as
spheres which set the stage for the process of de-politicization through the framing of
stakeholders, debates and institutional modalities (see SWYNGEDOUW 2015a). Policy
practice can then be identified according to RANCIÈRE (1999) as: “(…) an order of
bodies that defines the allocation of ways of doing, ways of being and ways of saying
and sees that those bodies are assigned by name to a particular place and task; it is an
order of the visible and the sayable that sees that a particular activity is visible and
another is not (…)” (RANCIÈRE 1999: 29). In sum, policies present a way of identifying
and legitimizing a frame in which hegemonic relations can be enacted. As such the
sphere of policies reduces politics and thereby sets a stage upon which black boxes can
be constructed.
In sum, transformation processes by which urban metabolisms are socially mobilized
can be conceptualized as post-political. Within these transformation processes, political
struggles over the conditions of a situation are translated into a set of technological and
managerial solutions. In such post-political urban environments consensus is achieved
in the argument over these solutions which simultaneously render the frame of action as
non disputable. As such, urban metabolisms become only debated in the context of their
technological and managerial optimization with the objective to create “the City”. As
such, these configurations do not only transform material outcomes but also the
urbanization processes by which these material constructions become constituted. Now
that the translation process of urban metabolism has been described, it thus remains
unclear how the frame of Ecotopia is constituted and by whom? To elaborate on this
issue the next section will provide insights.
Urban sustainability in urban political ecology
An increasing body of urban political ecology research has portrayed projects
implemented by sustainable urban development policies as nutrition for post-political
conditions (see KAIKA & SWYNGEDOUW 2012; CASTÁN BROTO & BULKELEY 2013;
SWYNGEDOUW 2009). The overarching argument of these scholars relies on the
premises that policies which promote urban sustainability are based on the consensus of
an “urgency to act” given the dangers posed by climate change (De Jong et al. 2015;
SWYNGEDOUW 2009). In this constant “state of emergence” sustainability presents the
only solution and is therefore not argued against. Rather modes of management and
production which proclaim neo-liberal notions such as eco-modernization become the
matters over which dissent is formed (see KAIKA & SWYNGEDOUW 2012).
Given the ideologies of neo-liberalization by which cities are positioned in a wider
inter-city competition, the urgency of sustainability serves as a valuable branding
opportunity (see HAGERMAN 2007; COOK & SWYNGEDOUW 2012). As illustrated in the
introduction of this thesis, cities across the globe portray themselves as front runners in
relation to urban sustainable development. As such, policies that advocate for urban
sustainability present not the mere outcome of local ad-hoc policies but rather reflect a
broader policy context across scales of space and time (CUGURULLO 2016). Within this
broader policy context, sustainability has been referred to as floating signifier or chaotic
term which is used to describe a variety of socio-spatial conditions, processes,
transformations, trajectories and potentials (see BRENNER 2013; HAGERMAN 2007).
This global process in which urban sustainability is made adaptable and mobile reflects
according to RANCIÈRE (1999) the doing of the demos: “The demos is that many that is
identical to the whole: the many as one, the part as the whole, the all in the all
(RANCIÈRE 1999: 10). The notion of the demos refers to the obscured reality, the reality
of the City, the Environment” or the Population. The actors who belong to the
demos could be described as demos-community. A community of practice which
becomes the community that is able to speak and act but which can only maintain in the
polis because of its position (see RANCIÈRE 1999; LATOUR 1999). As such, the demos-
community brings the obscuration of reality into being and can only exist because it
continuously draws on this obscuration to sustain its position. Policies of urban
sustainability (through their floating meaning and holistic understanding of
development) offer a platform for this community on which the urbanization process
can be translated into a win-win process in which radical disagreement becomes absurd
(see DEJONG ET AL. 2015). Consequently, policies of urban sustainability in relation to
the demos-community can be viewed as a necessary attempt to erase the ontology’s of
antagonism through the inclusion and invention of “the collective” so that the demos
community is able to exist, persist and expand (LATOUR 1999).
Overall, it became apparent that the frame of action (the frame of Ecotopia) is
constituted by the universal approach of sustainability. It is a frame in which actors
constantly legitimize themselves and their practices and generate the foundation for
post-political conditions. Through the creation of a floating frame in which universals
become particularized the demos-community is able to displace radical dissent to the
realm outside the realm. In doing so the demos is able to come into being as the
political is driven out of the polis.
To conclude, this chapter aimed to illustrate that Ecotopia is not a free imaginary; it is
staged in a frame of urgency. Within Ecotopia the urban environment becomes
(re)conceptualized and its metabolisms become translated under an overarching
consensus. In this process an “urban post-political ecology” narrative offers insights
into how “consensus communities” operate under contemporary urbanization processes
too urbanize the story of Ecotopia via the configuration of urban metabolisms. In this
vein, a cautious treatment and application of the notion of the demos-community can
offer a valuable line of thought for an investigation of the heterogeneous processes and
power structures by which a diverse set of actors tell stories about the black box of the
sustainable City. While this chapter mainly focused on policies as stages for de-
politicization the next chapter will elaborate on these stages in greater detail. By
drawing on insights from the field of policy mobility it will be emphasized how these
stages can serve as engines which run the machinery of post-political, urban
environmental production.
2.3 Policy mobility – the Growth of Ecotopia
The previous chapter provided a narrative that explains the processes of translation by
which the black box of the sustainable City is packed. This perspective however,
offered little theoretical consideration for the heterogeneous relations by which policies
(understood as stages for de-politicization) are enacted upon across geographical and
institutional scales. To address this phenomenon the author will draw on policy
mobility literature to answer the following questions: How can actors contribute to the
spread of post-political environments? How does this spread look like?
Policy mobility emerged from studies on policy transfer by advocating a diversified
spatial understanding in policy research (see PECK 2011; MCCANN & WARD 2012). As
field of research, policy transfer grew out of an academic desire for a comparative
assessment of polices across spatial contexts. As such, policy transfer is concerned with
the processes by which knowledge about policies, arrangement or institutions in one
time and/or place is used in the development of policies, arrangements or institutions in
another time and or place (DOLOWITZ & MARSH 1996: 344). In early contributions,
denoted by PECK & THEODORE (2010) as “orthodox literature”, policies have been
examined on a national scale in which good policies drive out bad ones in an effort to
create stories of success (PECK & THEODORE 2010: 169).
Over the past decades studies on policy transfer began to deploy categories to asses the
broad characteristics of transfer (see DOLOWITZ & MARSH 1996; ELLISON 2017). The
development of these categories illustrates the widening of the research field, a process
which ultimately led to the coupling of policy transfer with notions of policy
transformation and mutation (see PECK & THEODORE 2010; PARK ET AL. 2014). Out of
this development two trajectories arose which characterize current studies on policy
transfer. One branch emerged, based on a positivist understanding of policy in which
the success of policies can be measured by investigating different forms of policy
adaptation (see ELLISON 2017; PARK ET AL. 2014). On the other hand a constructivist
perspective has been established, which regards policy translation as a process of
constructed meaning and transformation (PARK ET AL. 2014: 399). Within the former
perspective consensus is desired as it creates successful policies for a wide array of
stakeholders and prevents political upheaval (see PARK ET AL. 2014; DOLOWITZ &
MARSH 1996). Given the constructivist approach of this thesis the author will focus on
insights provided by the later trajectory. Hence, the following perspective will not
provide an evaluation of the success of good or the failure of bad policies but will
rather focus on how this dualism is constituted, legitimized and translated over time and
Understanding growth through mobilities and mutations
In a century characterized by increasing inter-city competition policies and global
imaginaries such as Vancouverism are constructed beyond the apparatus of the nation
state (see PECK & THEODORE 2010). Given these circumstances, policy mobility
scholars deem it as necessary to consider the way in which policies travel across and
between cities as well as nation states. Thereby these authors question the simplistic
top-down perspective portrayed by policy transfer studies and call for a mobility
perspective onto the transformation of policies across different scales of space and time
(PECK & THEODORE 2010: 171). Following this appeal, studies on policy mobility
began to concern themselves with the process of knowledge translation and discourse
framing. Hereby, emphasis was put on the heterogeneous ways in which policies travel
across space by stressing that polices rarely travel in complete packages but rather in
bits and pieces around which political attention is mobilized (see PECK & THEODORE
2010; TEMENOS &MCCANN 2012; HEALEY 2006).
Through analysing the process of mobilization, policy mobility scholars point to the
labour which is required for the movement of certain narratives. In this vein HEALEY
refers to “the power to travel and translate” as labour intense process that requires
resources such as capital or time (HEALEY 2006: 532). She conceptualizes mobility not
as a pre-given characteristic of policies but rather as the outcome of labour intense and
power laden relations. Applying the notion of power onto policies enables policy
mobility research to understand policies as techniques that do not only serve a “public
interest” but also (re)produce it and thereby transform frameworks of meaning (KUUS
2014). When framing the notion of power according to ANT and urban political
ecology as the outcome and enactment of relations which translate knowledge and
meaning, KUUSS(2014) understanding of policies underscores the assumption of a
community which constructs overarching simplifications to legitimize its existence in
the polis. As FREEMAN (2012) observed in his studies on health policies: “Policy
changes as it moves, and the more it moves the more it seems to change (…) It must
change in order to move, and it must move in order to exist.” (FREEMAN 2012: 20).
This observation holds important implications to understand the mutual constitution of
actors and their enacted relations. Within the process of translation, mobility is not
regarded as an ongoing procedure but as a particular moment (see PECK 2011). Hence,
mobility is the necessary outcome of translation whereby the movement reflects the
mechanisms and simplifications made by actors to let policies move in one way rather
than another (FREEMAN 2012: 19). FREEMANS (2012) findings also support the
argument that policies do not travel in complete arrangements. As policies travel in bits
and pieces they transform relations and are transformed by them. Within this line of
thought it becomes apparent that mobility and mutation have to be perceived as mutual
constitutive (see COCHRANE & WARD 2012; MCCANN 2011). In their mutual enactment
they do not only legitimize policies but also the actors that mobilize them. Thus, in the
light of ANT it also has to be noted that policies are only able to travel because its
components (such as the knowledge it carries) are able to move.
In sum, this section highlighted that policies have to travel and mutate in order to exist.
In doing so, policies are not only made adaptable but also get transformed and
ultimately obscured as only parts of policies are able to travel. Hence, a policy that has
been moved from one spatial setting to another always entails a translation of reality.
Moreover, the elements of which polices are comprised have to be mobilized in order
for the policy to move. As such, the translations of urban metabolisms have to be
regarded as necessary and essential for the movement of polices which advocate
sustainable urban development. This perspective on the mutual constitution of mobility
and mutation also allows for the consideration of the overall frame in which these
mobile policies are positioned, a frame which will be outlined in due course.
Neo-liberalization: A frame for urban sustainable growth
As previously highlighted, an investigation about how real concerns regarding urban
environments are managed presents a way to reveal how dissent and consensus are
managed. When framing policies of urban sustainability as floating signifiers, their
mobilization and mutation across different contexts becomes apparent given the
adaptability of its components. However, policies are only able to travel if labour is
invested. Labour such as the generation of indicators or benchmarks than becomes
necessary for the translation process as it creates consensus over difference (see
TEMENOS & MCCANN 2012). In this labour process the imaginary geographies of model
cities create spatial linkages combined with good practice judgement which underscore
consensual agreement (WARD 2013). In this regard policies of urban sustainability have
to be considered as highly political (see TEMENOS & MCCANN 2012; MCCANN &
WARD 2012).
Current post-politicization processes however, render these policies apolitical as
sustainability is not regarded as the object over which political struggle and radical
dissent are formed. This phenomenon can be explained in relation to the overarching
process of neo-liberalization (see PECK ET AL. 2013; Peck 2015, 2011; BRENNER ET AL.
2010). Policy mobility scholars argue that neo-liberalization consist of a wide array of
processes which are not linked to particular policies but presents a market-disciplinary
regulatory restructuring with build in resilience and vulnerability (see PECK ET AL.
2013; PECK 2011). In his argumentation PECK (2011) refers to events which challenged
neo-liberalization such as Hurricane Katrina or the Financial Crisis of 2008. It was
broadly expected that these events should contest neo-liberal ideologies but instead
contributed to their renewal. Its resilience resides on the premises that neo-
liberalization mostly exists in a hybrid form which sustains it, for example in
combination with policies of sustainable urban development (see PECK 2015; PECK ET
AL. 2013). Hence, highly adaptable sustainable urban development policies fuel the
interurban competition over jobs, investment, shared discourses of growth and
development as well as the realities of increasing international economic integration
(PECK ET AL. 2013: 1096). Consequently, neo-liberal notions of competiveness and
economic growth have constructed a frame which creates consensus over the
possibilities of action thereby they translate policies of urban sustainable development
and foster their movement and mutation.
Overall, this section has revealed the frame under which policies of sustainable urban
development are mobilized and mutate across different spatial settings; thereby it
illustrated the process of a growing Ecotopia. It is through the combination of neo-
liberal notions of growth in combination with the adaptability of sustainable urban
development that the frame of Ecotopia is established and the relations which sustain it
become legitimized. In this frame, knowledge about the translation of urban
metabolisms gets mobilized and adapted into different settings to satisfy economical
and political desires by creating “the City” narrative.
2.4 The theoretical framework of Ecotopia
To conclude, policy mobility and urban political ecology literature help to
conceptualize the practices of translation and the frame by which the black box of
urban sustainable development is constructed. In asking the question of: “Who
produces what kind of socio-ecological configurations for whom?” urban political
ecology literature is going to be deployed to identify the narrators of the story of
Ecotopia and the translations that have been made to create its story. Moreover,
political ecology literature enables the author to look behind the shining lights of “the
City” and allow him to understand how this translation has been produced to create
stories about a de-politicized urban environment.
In contrast, policy mobility literature sheds light on the process of storytelling, the
process by which the story of Ecotopia is told across various socio-spatial and
institutional contexts. In asking the question of: “How do policies move and mutate
across institutional and spatial contexts?” policy mobility addresses the heterogenic
character of inter-scalar relations which sustain a frame under which certain policies are
regarded as good, a frame in which some policies move in certain ways while others do
not. Hereby, policy mobility literature offers conceptual insights into the mutation of
consensus and dissent as well as the creation and legitimization of de-politicized
conditions through a growing Ecotopia.
As such, the theoretical linkage of these two fields of research brings attention to the
processes which enact and are enacted by Ecotopia and its actor-network. Hence, such a
framework emphasizes the mutual constitution of process and structure as well as the
multitudes of actions embedded in an overall frame of consensus. To illustrate this
(co)creational process a perspective on the “power of translation” will be applied. This
perspective conceptualizes the translations of narratives about Swedish sustainable
urban development as outcomes of powerful relations, relations which shape the
conditions under which consensus and dissent are formed and mobilized across spatial
and institutional contexts. Moreover, it also sheds light onto how these relations direct
policy movements, movements which are continuously (re)producing the hegemonic
frame of action. Before utilizing this theoretical framework in the analysis of empirical
data, the methods which have been used to approach Ecotopia should be illustrated to
describe the second pillar upon which the work of this thesis rests.
3. Approaching Ecotopia
After the theoretical framework has been outlined, some critical questions remain
unanswered: How is Ecotopia to be investigated? Which methodological tools are
going to be utilized? And what part does the author play within in the research
process? These questions will be addressed within the following section to elaborate on
how “a theory of Ecotopia” can be methodologically thought through and empirically
approached. Hereby, the argumentation will start from the assumption that Ecotopia
should not be solemnly understood as construct of scientific reasoning but also as
enactment of everyday spatial realities.
3.1 Research design: The researcher as active practitioner
Over the course of this thesis, the author lays out a particular matter of concern, namely
Ecotopia. Thereby the author takes an ontological position within his research; he
selects what belongs to “the Real” (MOL 1999: 74-75). Acknowledging, this ontological
stance offers a way to question “the Real” and consequently reality itself. Questioning
“Reality” leads towards two essential onto-epistemological claims made within this
thesis. First, the choice of theory and method influences the kind of realties that
researchers are able to imagine and create (see GIBSON-GRAHAM 2008; LAW & URRY
2005). Secondly, realties do not precede the practices of the researcher but are shaped
within these (MOL 1999: 75).
What implications do these claims hold for the design of this thesis? These claims stress
that research methods are not value free entities but rather enact realities and have
effects on them. This line of thought highlights that knowledge production is not value
free either (see GIBSON- GRAHAM 2008) as it is based on previous research which has
also been the enactment of certain realities. In this regard LAW (2009) emphasizes the
(co)creation of realities through texts: If all the world is relational, then so too are
texts. They come from somewhere and tell particular stories about particular relations.
(LAW 2009: 142). LAW (2009) implies that the choice to write a scientific text which
applies certain theories and methods can be related to the researcher as academic
subject. As such, theoretical and methodological choices do not only reflect the
author’s own normative stance but also his academic understanding of which theories
and methods are best suited to uncover a particular phenomenon. Articulating this
consideration should not lead to the assumption that research is detached from a
scientific basis or that all research is per se path-dependent. On the contrary, this
consideration raises awareness for the multiple realities that exist beside the reality
envisioned by the author. Thereby it opens up the debate for a consideration of the
multitude of realities that coexist, overlap and contradict each other in the everyday, a
debate which is rooted in academic conceptualizations and problematisations of spatial
reality. This in turn implies that the context in which the research and knowledge is
produced matters. In this regard LAW (2004) argues that:
“Some classes of reality are more or less easily producible. Others, however, are not or were
never cobbled together in the first place. (…) Some classes of possibilities are made thinkable
and real. Some are made less thinkable and less real. And yet others are rendered completely
unthinkable and completely unreal.” (LAW 2004: 34)
LAWS (2004) argumentation alludes to ontological politics in which the conditions of
reality are not perceived as given but as shaped by multiple relations and practices. The
researcher then describes and shapes reality through research, making some realities
more real than others. Ultimately, the researcher has to be regarded not only as
academic subject but as an active practitioner of and within Ecotopia.
Recognizing the researcher as an active practitioner in the process of (re)constructing
Ecotopia draws attention to the approach in which methods are going to be applied.
Given its material-semiotic understanding of relations, ANT argues that theoretical
concepts and practices constitute each other. Consequently, the researcher always
creates theory while conducting case study research. The canon of publications
concerned with case study research is that case studies are suited to create a spatially
informed and an “in depth” understanding of social phenomena (see BIRCH 2012; YIN
2009; BRYMAN 2012; HEALEY 2011; 2010). Thereby, case studies can include one or
multiple sites and cases, qualitative as well as quantitative methods of inquiry and they
can rely on multiple sources of material and previous research.
By drawing on multiple sources of spatial realities, case study research offers space for
reflective considerations, as the researcher is acknowledged as an active part in shaping
practices, knowledge and spatial reality. Given the hermeneutic baseline of this thesis,
in which through the description of SymbioCity and its approach general concerns
about sustainable urban development should be articulated, a case study approach was
perceived as well suited. This perception is grounded in the assumption that if carefully
selected a case study can provide possibilities to make general assessments (FLYVBJERG
2006: 228). Hence, the case of SymbioCity and its approach should serve as vehicle to
do the archaeology of the larger process which is sustainable urban development.
In outlining the research design the author tries to account for the fact that while he is
identifying and describing post-political urban environments, he also contributes to
their existence. Simultaneously, the research design offers a glimpse behind this
dominant facade by describing how these environments are created and mobilized.
Consequently, in inviting the political, this thesis does little to underscore “dominant”
realities but rather points to their exclusive yet heterogeneous character through
portraying how consensus and dissent are managed.
3.2 The Research Process: How to tell the tale of Ecotopia?
Within the forthcoming chapter, the methods used to describe and build up the notion
of Ecotopia are going to be illustrated. When conceptualizing Ecotopia as the processes
and structures which create a story about perfect balance (underpinned by narratives of
Swedish sustainable urban development) a “methodological triad” opens up from which
this story can be investigated. Such a triad which consists ofthe narrators, their stories
and the process of storytelling will allow the author to (re)tell and deconstruct the tale
of Ecotopia. To be able to account for this triad and the mutual constitution of its
components the author will apply text analysis and semi structured interviews.Through
a focus on qualitative research methods the author wants to illuminate the
heterogeneous relations (between humans and non-humans) which constitute this
hegemonic frame of action and ultimately form the tale of Ecotopia.
Qualitative content analysis
A qualitative content analysis will be applied to address the following analytical
questions: Who are the actors involved within SymbioCity and its approach? How can
their relation be described? By addressing these questions, this method will reveal the
actor-network which is build up around SymbioCity and its approach (the narrators of
the story of Ecotopia). In this context BRYMAN (2012) refers to qualitative content
analysis as well suited to identify the main protagonists within a given network of
analysis (BRYMAN 2012: 295). Prior to applying a qualitative content analysis the
author tried to conduct a survey which should identify the actor-network through
snowball sampling. This method however, failed to achieve a sufficient response rate to
ensure validity of the generated data. Thus, exercising this method (to the possible
extend) provided valuable insights, as it allowed the author to get a first glimpse unto
the characteristics of the actor-network.
The decision to conduct a qualitative content analysis was then based on the premises
to reduce the bias of identifying a certain actor-network through an a priori definition.
To avoid this intellectual bias the author aimed to conduct “slow research”, research in
which the researcher takes away the lead and follows networks as they unfold (LAW &
SINGLETON 2013: 488). The process of following enables the researcher to identify the
manners by which actors define and associate the different elements and meanings by
which they explain their world (CALLON 1986). Drawing inspirations from social-
network studies (see LU 2013) the author selected a “seed document” as entry point for
this analysis, namely the SymbioCity webpage ( Further human and
non-human actors (documents) have been identified through snowball sampling based
on the identification by this initial source (BRYMAN 2012: 203). Hence, snowball
sampling allowed the author to identify the actor-network without an a priori definition
but through the cross-referencing process, carried out by the actors themselves.
In compliance with ANT, the qualitative content analysis provides a useful tool to
uncover the relations that are portrayed by and underlie the content of documents.
Despite offering a relational narrative, qualitative content analysis has also been chosen
because it is able to bridge the gap between theory and empery. Hence, this thesis
utilized a deductive approach of material sampling and main category definition and an
inductive approach to sub-category definition (see STAMANN ET AL. 2016; MAYRING
2000). While some scholars regard these two trajectories as distinct ways of conducting
a qualitative content analysis, the author deemed the combination of deductive and
inductive inquiry as well suited to secure adaptability as well as coding consistency (see
After selecting documents and the main category (institutions) through a deductive
approach (guided by the previous literature review) an inductive approach followed. By
using an inductive approach for the genesis of sub-categories the author wanted to
secure the adaptability of the main category to the respective documents. Therefore, the
names of different institutions which are mentioned in each document have been
incorporated into sub-categories. In documents where a wide array of institutions has
been mentioned the author grouped these institutions into larger units of analysis (e.g.
Swedish companies or foreign companies etc.). When a specific institutions however,
has been stated several times the author highlighted the respective institution within the
grouped sub-category. The quantitative counting of these sub-categories should then
reveal the intensity of relations between the institution which published the document
and the institutions mentioned in it. To identify the character of these relations,
qualitative sub-categories have been inductively developed. These sub-categories have
been identified through sequential text analysis which revealed the character of
institutional relations. While several relations between the respective institutions exist,
the author thus focused on portraying the most dominant qualities of relations between
them. To secure consistency of these qualitative sub-categories, they have been applied
in the analysis of every document to describe the relations between the respective
actors. The inductive and deductive categories have undergone a constant
(re)evaluation process in which multiple texts from the same source have been red
repeatedly to ensure validity and reliability of the generated data (see STAMAN ET AL.
2016). Moreover, through a detailed description of the research process the author aims
to make his findings inter-subjectively comprehensible (see MAYRING 2000). By
illustrating the institutional (co)referencing process, the author is able to map out the
members and relations of the “demos-community”. However the author is limited in
this regard as he can not portray the entire actor-network, for the results are only based
on the relations that the authors of the respective texts deem to be important. As such,
the network generated by the qualitative content analysis does not present a fully closed
network but rather portrays the most dominant actors regarding SymbioCity and its
Moreover, while a qualitative content analysis is able to argue for a “more then human
perspective” in data analysis, it is limited in the amount of relations that it is able to
portray. The process which led to the identification of the actor-network can be
followed in detail by looking at Fig. 1, presented on the following page. More than a
mere illustration of the sampling process Fig. 1 showcases some of the dominant actors
in relation to SymbioCity and its approach as well as their mutual referencing through
certain “key-documents”. As such, Fig. 1 forms the deductive basis from which further
analysis in regard to the relation between these actors has been conducted. In doing so,
Fig. 1 offers a short glimpse onto the main body of investigation, the hegemonic
community of practice which sustains the frame of the Sustainable City, the demos
community (see RANCIÈRE 1999; LATOUR 1999).
Overall, by a drawing inspiration from social-network studies a qualitative content
analysis enabled the author to identify an actor-network that could not have been
revealed through conventional survey studies. As such, it uncovers the narrators of the
story of Ecotopia and their relation with one another. Hereby, the qualitative content
analysis reveals the diverse actors who constitute the frame of politics.
Fig.1: Sampling and tracing process of key-documents and dominant actors in regard to
SymbioCity and its approach.
Source: Own illustration. Based on: SWEDISH MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS ET AL.(2013); SWEDISH
Published by: SKL
The SymbioCity Approach:
A Conceptual Framework
for Urban Development.
Published by: SKL
Get started move
forward. Leadership in
Sustainable Urban
Development. (2013)
Published by: SKL
Developing Sustainable
Cities in Sweden. (2011)
Published by: SKL
International SKL
Swedish Association of Local
Authorities and Regions
The SymbioCity
Approach. A
Conceptual Framework
for support to
sustainable urban
development in low and
middle income
countries. (undated)
Published by: SIDA/SKL
Evaluation of the
Development of the
Sustainable City
Approach. (2014)
Published by: SIDA
Government of
Sweden (including
Sustainable City Development
the Sweco Approach (undated)
Published by: Sweco
Sustainable Urban
Development. The
SymbioCity Approach.
(2011). Published by: Sweco
Samhällsbyggande för
klimatet. Kommuner och
landsting som visar vägen
Published by: SALAR
Published by:
Environmental technology-
13 Swedish Solutions (2013).
Published by: Swedish
Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
Ministry of Environment,
Ministry of Enterprise Energy
and Communication
t-agencies (retrieved: 2017)
Published by: Government
of Sweden
A Swedish Strategy for
Development –
Economic, Social and
Environmental (2003).
Published by: Swedish
Ministry of Environment
(retrieved: 2017)
Published by: Business
Note: Archive studies on
texts related to
References to dominant actors or “key-documents”
Discourse Analysis - A sociology of knowledge approach
Through the application of discourse analysis, the post-politicization of urban
environmental production through Ecotopia should be revealed. As such discourse
analysis should to reveal the stories told within the overall story of Ecotopia. Baring
this aspiration in mind, The Sociology of Knowledge Approach to Discourse Analysis
(SKAD) will address the following questions: How is sustainable urban development
argued for within SymbioCity and its approach? Who and what is part of this
sustainable urban environment? How is such a sustainable urban environment
conceptualized? In this context SKAD has been chosen because it provides insights
into the labour processes of circulation, production and translation by which narratives
about the sustainable urban environment are constructed. Moreover, SKAD
complements and expands on previous findings as it links actors to their discursive
translation of knowledge about sustainable urban development.
SKAD originates from German sociology studies, especially the work of BERGER &
LUCKMANN (1996) on the social construction of reality is considered as pioneering for
this approach to discourse analysis (see KELLER 2005). Grounded in Foucault’s work
on the discursive composition of knowledge (FOUCAULT 1972), SKAD promotes the
analysis of problematizations. By linking social actors to discursive practices SKAD
bridges the gap between language and its users; a gap which becomes most apparent in
studies on critical discourse analysis within linguistic studies (see FAIRCLOUGH 1995).
Hence, in contrast to critical discourse analysis SKAD puts emphasis on the production
of knowledge, as it investigates the process of generating, objectifying and
institutionalizing knowledge as objective reality (see KELLER 2005; BERGER &
Knowledge as conceptualized within SKAD refers to all kinds of symbolic orderings
and institutionalized symbolic orders, such as common sense. Hence, knowledge is
conceived as result of a process of interaction, a process in which action and structure
become multiple constitutive. Consequently, a discourse legitimizes the actors within it
but also enacts reality through the creation of knowledge. Within this conceptualization
of knowledge, language is conceived as part of a “conversation machinery” which
constructs a shared social reality (see BERGER & LUCKMANN 1996). Arguably language
has to be investigated in relation to its users as it translates diverse spatial arrangements
into knowledge about the City. As one of the most prominent advocates of SKAD
describes: “The sociology of knowledge analysis of discourse is concerned with
deconstructing the processes which occur in social constructions, objectification,
communication and the legitimization of meaning structures (…)” (KELLER 2011: 49).
Overall, SKAD in contradiction to Foucalt’s work on discourse regards actors not as
“masters of the discursive universe” but as (co)constituted by the existing structures of
discursive orders and formations (KELLER 2011: 52).
To conduct SKAD KELLER (2005) suggests four steps of discourse analysis. First,
Keller (2005) calls for an investigation of the interpretive schemes and frames
(Deutungsmuster) to uncover the creation of a coherent assemblage of meaning through
the usage of universal schemes and frames. Within the second step called classification
(Klassifizierung), the creation of groups of meaning should be analyzed to understand
the articulation of collective identities. The third step seeks to highlight the phenomenal
structure of a discourse (Phänomenstruktur) which reveals the normative setting of a
discourse; a setting in which some practices, actors and models are regarded as good
while others are rendered as bad. These three steps are connected through a story-line
which tells a particular story of an objective reality and legitimizes the actors in it (see
KELLER 2005). In drawing on such narratives actors who mobilize and are mobilized by
a discourse create an infrastructure of discourse production and problem solving as well
as the institutional foundation for this infrastructure, they create the so called
dispositifs” (KELLER 2012: 65).
KELLERS (2005) scheme of analysis will serve to analyse the dispositifs build around
the construction of sustainable urban environments in regard to SymbioCity and its
approach. Thereby a focus on the translation of urban metabolisms will provide insights
into the discursive labour process by which “the sustainable City” becomes constituted.
Based on the findings of the qualitative content analysis two discourses about
sustainable urban development have been identified. Given the narrow institutional
embeddings of these discourses, four texts could have been analysed (two for each
discourse) to portray these discourses. The respective documents of analysis are
illustrated in Tab. 1.
Tab. 1: Documents for discourse analysis.
Title Focus Type of document
The SymbioCity
Approach – A
framework for
sustainable urban
The manual for the
SymbioCity Approach
published by SKL
ANDERSON (2013) Get started, move
forward! Leadership
in Sustainable Urban
Guidelines for
institutions to
implement the
SymbioCity Approach
Report by SKL
RANHAGEN (2011) Sustainable Urban
Development: The
Illustration of Swedish
solutions through
Presentation held
withtin a
- Grow with the flow
- Offers: get ready to
Technical solutions that
SymbioCity can help to
Articles on a
Source: Own illustration.
To ensure validity of the data, each step of KELLERS (2005) analysis scheme has been
conducted several times. In this process the author narrowed down the object of
analysis from investigating the document as a whole (to investigate the interpretive
schemes and frames) into sequences of interest which have been used to fill the other
two categories. Finally the entire document has been read a final time to reflect upon
the storyline conveyed in it. These representations of dominant realities through
discourses however, have to be regarded as the product of practices; as such they are no
windows on reality but shape, translate and form reality (see LAW 2009). Similar to
ENGELHARDT (2015) who uses SKAD to deconstruct novelties within the field of art,
the author aims to showcase how meanings (of urban metabolisms) get translated (see
HEALEY 2006) to argue for sustainable urban development and thereby create the
conditions for post-politicization.
Overall SKAD presents a complimentary method to the qualitative content analysis. It
provides the researcher and the reader with the normative basis on which the actor-
network bases its legitimacy. As such, it unveils the stories told by the narrators of
Ecotopia by which they are sustained and legitimized. Hence, SKAD in combination
with a qualitative content analysis portrays the dominant actor-network and its
translation of spatial reality by which the conditions for post-politicization are created.
Semi-structured interviews
Semi-structured interviews have been applied in a wide array of contemporary policy
mobility and urban political ecology studies (see COCHRANE & WARD 2012; TEMENOS
& MCCANN 2012; EDWARDS & BULKELEY 2017). The decision to deploy semi-
structured interviews for this thesis was made to reflect on the mobilization of
sustainable urban development narratives. In examining the spread of these stories the
author wants to investigate how such mobile policies and narratives shape and contest
the frame of action by asking the following questions: How are notions of urban
sustainability mobilized across spatial and institutional settings? How are they
perceived? What roles do planners take within this process?
In striving for a critical reflection upon the mobility of policies, these three questions
have been utilized too structure the interviews, as well as the evaluation of their results
(see Appx. Fig. 1 ). The interviews are comprised of (more general) main and (specific)
sub-question which enable a high degree of flexibility during the interviews (see
BRYMAN 2012). As such, dividing the interview into main and sub-questions helped the
author to reveal how disagreement and consensus are managed and mobilized, or as
PECK & THEODORE (2012) argued, it helped to unveil the reasons for reasons (PECK &
THEODORE 2012: 26). Despite the distinction made between main and sub-questions,
opening and ending questions helped to provide guidance and clarity for the
interviewees during the interview process (see BRYMAN 2012).
All interviews have been recorded, transcribed and analyzed using a thematic analysis
based on the different categories in which interview questions have been grouped (see
Appx. Fig. 1). Hence, the coding scheme utilized policy mobility, urban political
ecology as well as planning studies. Overall, eleven interviews have been conducted
with actors who are part of the network identified through the qualitative content
analysis. Out of these eleven interviews, five interviews have been conducted in a face-
to-face setting and six have been conducted via phone and Skype. The later have been
carried out to address the methodological challenge when conducting research in the
field of policy mobility. This challenge is based on studies which argue for following a
policy as it moves in order to see how it mutates (MCCANN & WARD 2012; PECK &
THEODORE 2012). When conceptualizing mobility not as pre-given good but as labour
intense process that requires resources such as money and time (HEALEY 2006;
MCCANN 2011) the following of mobile policies becomes a resource intense task.
While trying to carry out this task, power relations between the interviewer and his
interview partners are laid bare due to their different possibilities to exercise mobility.
How should one overcome these different levels of power? MCCANN (2011) makes an
important allusion in this regard as he stresses that phone conversations and new ways
of communicating over geographical distances, such as Skype also enable the spread of
polices (see MCCANN 2011). These facilitators of mobility enable the author to utilize
the same process for his own advantage. Given the author’s lack of resources to follow
the “fast actors” and their mobile policies, he tried to “catch mobilities”. This shift from
following actors and their networks to a proactive approach was based on the lack of
time that the researcher had at his disposal. “Catching mobilities” was than made
possible through the usage of techniques which require few resources but can bridge
large geographical distances. While phone and Sykpe interviews are considered to carry
certain disadvantages (see STURGES & HANRAHAN 2004) the author did deem them as
useful to account for the use of a mobility perspective while remaining spatially
“bound”. In this respect, the inclusion of a broad variety of highly mobile research
subjects has been made possible without the investment of large amounts of resources.
Moreover, as the interviewees are highly mobile subjects phone or Skype interviews
enabled the author to interview participants as they move across geographical settings.
As such the benefit of face-to-face interviews to interview people in their everyday
environment was not of particular importance as their everyday environment is
characterized by a high degree of mobility.
In sum, the application of semi-structured interviews enables the author to reflect on the
mutual constitution of mobility and mutation. They also offer a perspective onto the
frame of action in which consent and dissent are enacted. As such, the semi-structured
interviews made it possible to expand on the findings generated by the previous two
research methods as they allowed too investigate how the story of Ecotopia gets
translated (mutate) when it moves. Thereby, semi-structured interviews revealed the
frame of consensus and dissent in which the process of “storytelling” takes place. This
spatial and institutional expansion (a growing Ecotopia) enabled the author to leverage
himself from a specific case and make general statements about the production of
sustainable urban development.
3.3 Ethical Considerations
According to GIBSON-GRAHAM every question about what to study and how to study
becomes an ethical opening (GIBSON-GRAHAM 2008: 620). With respect to this thesis
the author mobilizes theories and concepts of urban political ecology and policy
mobility to investigate how consensus and disagreement regarding sustainable urban
development are managed. Hence, trough his writing the author creates an ethical
opening, as he points towards struggles over meaning and knowledge. However, in his
normative stance the author considered a question posed by LAW & URRY (2005) as
crucial: “Which [realities] do we want to help to make more real, and which less real?
How do we want to interfere (because interfere we will, one way or another)?” (LAW &
URRY 2005: 69). While portraying dominant narratives in regard to sustainable urban
development the author also points towards the struggle, dispute and consensus within
these narratives to offer a picture on the diversity of realities that exist beside the
authors own narrative. In showcasing how consensus and dispute in relation to
narratives of urban sustainable development are managed and transformed the author
wants to illuminate the inherent political character of the “planetary urbanization”
process, a reality that he deems important to emphasize given current post-political
conditions (see TUNSTRÖM &BRADLEY 2014).
Whilst issues in relation to the writing process are important to consider, ethical issues
regarding the interaction with participants of this thesis should not be negated. Through
assuring informed consent and confidentiality in the processing of the interview data,
the author tried to avoid any kind of harm of the participants. After securing initial
contact, participants have been provided with a brief explanation of the goal of the
thesis as well with the interview questions (if they requested them beforehand). The
explanation of the research topic was done once again before the start of each interview
to secure that the participants have been well informed. After that, informed consent
has been tried to achieve regarding the participants involvement and their willingness to
be recorded. When the interviews were finished the author offered the possibility to
send the transcript to the participants to enable them to make further comments and to
ensure credibility of the findings (see CARETTA 2016). As compensation for the time
the interviewees spend for the interview, the author offered a copy of his work to be
sent to the respective participants. To prevent any particular exposition and harm of the
participants given the narrow network of actors and the sensible issues that this thesis
addresses, the author decided not to make any direct quotes related to the participants.
As such, the evaluation of the interviews only addresses the institutional context of the
respective participants and thereby focuses on patterns that emerged throughout the
interviews rather then on individual statements.
In the following analysis of Ecotopia these ethical considerations should serve as a
constant reminder about the cautious way in which Ecotopia has to be approached. This
approach will rest on the methodological triad outlined within this chapter.
Consequently, within the next chapter the author and the readers of this thesis will enter
the story of Ecotopia. In doing so, the first chapter of analysis will begin to unfold by
elaborating on the narrators of Ecotopia, their relations and the socio-historical
evolution of the small sustainable urban development seedling that later evolves into
“the tree of Ecotopia”.
4. Planting the seed - Exploring the roots of Sweden’s Ecotopia
To showcase the genesis of the narratives about Swedish sustainable urban
development, their socio-historical context shall be illustrated in due course to account
for LATOURS (2009) conceptualization of the spatial and temporal relationality of
stories. Therefore, the following chapter seeks to embed the narrators of Sweden’s
Ecotopia within a historical frame of meaning; it will explore the roots of Ecotopia. A
frame from which current planning narratives can be understood and in which diverse
stories of urban sustainability are enacted. As such, the following question will be
elaborated on: Which socio-historical developments contributed to “the success story”
of Sweden as a model for sustainable urban development?
4.1 From “bad cities” to sustainable urbanization: The start of a Swedish story
During the mid 19th century, Sweden’s capital Stockholm ranged amongst the poorest
cities in Europe. Its cityscape was characterized by small scale factories and a lack of
critical infrastructure (HÅRSMAN & WIJKMARK 2013: 14). In an attempt to address these
challenges, Sweden began to look at other countries for inspirations. As such, the UK
has quickly been identified as role model for industrial development due to its large
scale industries and highly developed infrastructure. The policy inspirations drawn
from abroad fostered a liberal transformation process which restructured the parliament
from a parliamentary system to a democratic elected system (see HÅRSMAN &
WIJKMARK 2013). Analogue to this political transformation process a redefinition of
urban planning goals and objectives was initialized. Hence, during the following
decades an increasing desire for inner-city development arose, especially in Stockholm.
This inner-city development was driven by ideas drawn from Berlin or Paris regarding
the development of boulevards, parks, plazas etc. In contrast, urban development
outside of inner-city areas was mostly inspired by the English Garden City model. A
model which was not simply adopted but transformed as row houses have been
remodelled into free standing single family homes, designed within the Swedish
tradition. Overall, Sweden’s and Stockholm’s political and urban development from
the mid 19th until the early 20th century showcases how inspirations and policies drawn
from other places have been mobilized and transformed to address Swedish political
and urban development desires. Consequently, the mobilization and adaptation of urban
development policies is profoundly rooted in Swedish urban development.
In the period between the two world wars, the great depression transformed Swedish
politics significantly. Through the incorporation of employers and unions in decision
making about wages, the private sector became increasingly involved in national policy
making. This development was accompanied by the resolution of class and labour
market conflicts and thereby signalised the evolution of the Swedish welfare state (see
HÅRSMAN & WIJKMARK 2013). Again, urban development responded to this change by
avocation for modernism planning as the new social aesthetic desire, inspired by
international examples.
After the Second World War, the Swedish welfare state achieved profound spatial
articulation as the model of the Garden City became increasingly employed. The
Garden City began to stretch over the city boundaries of Stockholm towards the
neighbouring municipalities. Thereby it extended visions about the “good urban
environment” and translated urbanization process. In this process the difference
between the inner-city and its “hinterland” became increasingly articulated (see
KUCHENBUCH 2016). Simultaneously to the articulation of the City, small and middle
scale industry disappeared and created space for large scale and knowledge intense
international companies (HÅRSMAN & WIJKMARK 2013: 25). Over the course of this
period, planners calibrated architectural practices to what they perceived to be the
social needs of the human being (KUCHENBUCH 2016: 1508). Supported by a period of
economic growth the notions of “the Social” and “the Good” have been materialized in
form of the Million Housing Program. Addressing the shortage in the existing housing
stock the Million Housing Programme should provide good quality housing for the
Swedish population and the increasing amount of workers from abroad (HÅRSMAN &
WIJKMARK 2013: 29-30). As such, welfare state policies became increasingly linked to
the Swedish nation state (see SCHALL 2016) resulting in the homogenisation of an
increasingly heterogeneous public through notions of the common good.
Throughout the mid 20th century, regional development plans started to get
implemented which were clustered around preservation of the “good environment” and
the expansion of urban infrastructure. The political desire to plan for regional level
development was accompanied by conflicts which arose from a mismatch between
nature preservation and infrastructure expansion. These conflicts resulted in the
implementation of technological solutions such as sewage and waste treatment plants,
which bared the promise of incorporation large scale urban development and
environmental protection. Alongside this development the Swedish welfare state put
increasing attention upon economic growth rather then economic distribution as
response to global crises (ORRSHOG &BRADLEY 2006: 126).
“The Swedish way” of incorporating environmental technology and urban planning
became globally recognized as concerns in the Western world about the responsibility
for global concerns grew (HÅRSMAN & WIJKMARK 2013: 38). The global recognition in
combination with efforts undertaken by the Swedish government led to the
establishment of the first UN conference on environmental protection, held in
Stockholm in 1972. The outcome of this conference (a declaration on global
environmental protection also known as “Stockholm Declaration”) manifested Sweden
as role models for environmental protection and development. Following this
conference and global concerns about a changing climate, Swedish urban development
programmes began to point to towards concerns of the future of the city and the region.
To address these concern the Building and Planning Act of 1987 stressed a focus on
environment and climate policy approaches to physical planning. This focus aimed to
support the sustainable urban development goals, identified by the Brundtland Report
(HÅRSMAN & WIJKMARK 2013: 43). Spatially this development in combination with the
increasing focus on the service and knowledge sector led to the branding and labelling
of Stockholm (such as “The capital of Scandinavia”). This label sought to manifest the
imaginary of the world class and sustainable Stockholm metropolitan region to enhance
economic growth. Hence, (while still in its early stages) Swedish notions of urban
sustainability have been closely linked to ecological protection and economic
development. This linkage encompassed a holistic approach which had a clear focus on
technological solutions to tackle urban development and economic growth (see HILDIG-
RYDEVIK et al. 2011).
The combination of environmental concerns, technology innovations and knowledge
sector based development led to the translation of environmental challenges as issues of
common concern. To address this common concern, an increasingly decentralised state
apparatus provided municipalities with the possibility to implement their own
sustainable urban development programs. These programs should increase public
awareness but also promote the economic development of Swedish municipalities. This
development led to the integration of middle class values about environmental
protection and economic growth. Hereby, dissent gradually disappeared. This
development in compliance with the presentation of the Sustainable City Concept
(illustrated in the introduction of this thesis) ultimately made Stockholm Europe’s first
Green Capital in 2010 and increased Sweden’s reputation as model for sustainable
urban development.
In sum, Swedish sustainable urban development has to be regarded as the result of
policy adaptation, strong welfare states notions of “the good City” and capital
investments. As such, the establishment of Sweden as model for sustainable urban
development reflects a labour intense and highly engineered process. In this process the
“bad city” becomes cleansed through a sustainable urbanization process characterized
by the promotion of the common good. To achieve this common good urban
metabolisms have become manageable commodities which create the good City.
Overall, “the good City” can be referred to as the outcome of long standing cultural
socialization rooted in desires of economic prosperity and worker representation (see
HARVEY 2007). A cultural socialization which is grounded in the protection and
preservation of the good urban environment too contradict dystopian images of the
present and future. After the socio-historical evolution of Sweden’s sustainable urban
development narrative has been outlined, the focus will now be drawn upon the notions
which underlie current urban sustainable planning and development. By addressing this
issue the next chapter aims to answer the question: What normative notions underlie
current Swedish sustainable urban development planning?
4.2 Planning for “the sustainable City” – A contemporary narrative
“Swedish planning is internationally known as being at the forefront of environmental
technologies and planning for sustainability.” (TUNSTRÖM ET AL. 2016). This narrative,
outlined by TUNSTRÖM ET AL. (2016) is exemplary for the development of Swedish
planning in regard to sustainable urban development over the last years. Through an
erosion of this narrative, TUNSTRÖM ET AL. (2016) highlight the international desire for
Swedish technological and sustainably oriented urban development. This urban
development is not a new phenomenon but runs in line with processes of the late 20th
century. The longstanding narrative of the Swedish tale about urban sustainability can
not only be traced down in the work of TUNSTRÖM ET AL. (2016) but across a wide
range of studies concerned with Swedish sustainable urban development (HULT 2013;
conceptualization, planning is driven by the international demand for urban sustainable
solutions as well as Swedish expertise and policies which can deliver them. This broad
consensus amongst scholars raises questions about the norms which underpin these
Swedish solutions. To address this concern, the normative baseline of current Swedish
urban development policies will be described in due course.
Through providing spatial insights from a sustainable urban development project in
Stockholm, TUNSTRÖM ET AL. (2016) highlight that constructions of “the City” have an
undisputed status while other constructions are given the role of problems to be solved
(see TUNSTRÖM ET AL. 2016). In presenting their findings TUNSTRÖM ET AL. (2016)
bring attention to the spatiality which is created by sustainable urban development
projects. This spatiality draws boundaries within “the City” through the process of
“sustainable urbanization”. As consequence the binary of “the sustainable City” and
“the unsustainable City” are continuously (re)produced through material and spatial
references. As such the sustainable City describes the imaginative creation of a
common sense ideology, a disguise which obscures inherently social problems under
the face of cultural prejudices about what is debatable (see HARVEY 2007).
HARVEYS (2007) conceptualization of the common sense ideology can also be traced
down in the work of ANDERSSON (2016). Simultaneously, ANDERSSON (2016) expends
on the thought articulated by TUNSTRÖM ET AL. (2016) by pointing towards the effects
of sustainable urban development policies. According to ANDERSSON (2016) such
policies serve as stages for the construction of the common sense which allows the
binding of social and financial capital to a certain place (ANDERSSON 2016: 1196).
Consequently, the creation of a sustainable common sense narrative leads to inter-city
competition over capital investments and accumulation via the socio-material
construction of “the City” (see ANDERSSON 2016). As such, “the sustainable City”
becomes a manageable commodity in which policies and planning practices serve a
global neo-liberalization process. In Sweden, this phenomenon becomes apparent in
two ways: On the one hand competitive logics enhance the international exchange of
planning expertise and polices, on the other hand it provides policy makers and
planners with benchmarks to make sustainability comparable (see ANDERSSON 2016).
These measurements (such as the global footprint) are increasingly referred to in the
argument for Swedish sustainable urban development solutions (see HÖGSTRÖM ET AL.
Ultimately, notions of “the good City” are still prevalent in current Swedish planning
practices, whereby “the good” becomes synonymously with sustainability and
economic growth. In this context LELE (2015) argues that planners have limited
reflexivity concerning alternative imaginaries of the future (LELE 2015: 243). As such,
common sense ideologies or “universals truths” are rarely the subjects of dissent (see
Parr 2009). Consequently, Swedish planning becomes an advocate for the common
good and sets the frame in which neo-liberalization processes of completion and private
sector involvement can be enacted within a legal frame of action (ORRSHOG &
BRADLEY 2006). In sum, a planning environment unfolds in which sustainability and
economic growth when brought into symbiosis with environmental aspects and legal
frames do not become subjects of dissent. In such an environment “the good City” is
created as location for everyone and everything, as location for consumption in which
planning serves to create a “natural” city character (see TUNSTRÖM &BRADLEY 2014).
The genesis of “the sustainable City” was not only supported through planning but
received equal legitimization through administrative decisions. Such decisions included
the decentralization of planning within the Planning and Building Act of 1987 that
determined the scales of action (MADUREIRA 2014). This decentralization marked a
change from large scale comprehensive plans to “planning projects” (for example the
Bo01 in Malmö). These projects, serve as mental anchor points from which the
sustainable City is continuously (re)confirmed (see MADUREIRA 2014; TUNSTRÖM ET
AL. 2016). A few of these anchor points have been leveraged on national level and
thereby linked the Swedish nation state with stories of the sustainable City. The
outcome of this narrative linkage and the international compliance with it, have been
crucial for the creation of SymbioCity and its approach (see HULT 2013). OLSSON &
METZGER (2013) describe this current planning system as a political palimpsest
comprised of past and present welfare state policies, environmental protection, human
welfare, prosperity and sustainable branding and marketing (OLSSON & METZGER: 198-
199). In such a palimpsest neoliberal notions and welfare state policies are not distinct
from one another but mutually enact each other. Within this mutual enactment “the
sustainable City” that protects the environment, serves human welfare and enhances
economic growth is able to persist, transform and expand.
To conclude, this chapter argued that current Swedish planning stories are a
combination of welfare ideologies combined with neo-liberal “truths” of economic
growth and competitiveness. In contrast to the narrative outlined by ORRSHOG &
BRADLEY (2006) the author highlighted that the common good has not vanished but
transformed and spatialized in the form of “the sustainable City”. As such, “the
sustainable City” performs a process of “othering” through the creation of common
sense ideologies (“the City”, “We, etc.) and a respective outside (see TUNSTRÖM &
BRADLEY 2014). In such an othering process urban metabolisms become translated into
commodities which can be labelled and thereby create “the City” that is managed
through certain socio-material arrangements. These arrangements are set within a
holistic approach (see HILDIG-RYDEVIK 2011) in which certain urban metabolic
configurations e.g. of environmental protection or waste management serve economic
and social prosperity. As such, “the sustainable City” becomes the imaginative place
for anyone who wants to live out his/her life in the good environment”. Thereby the
sustainable City becomes a post-political narrative in which the frame of action is
agreed upon and the dispute over the givens of a situation is moved outside of the
political realm of the City (the polis).
Now that the normative notions of current and historical Swedish urban development
and planning have been outlined the following chapter will focus on SymbioCity and
the SymbioCity approach. To uncover the actor-network of SymbioCity and its
approach, the following analytical questions should be addressed: Who are the actors
involved within SymbioCity and its approach? How can their relation be described?
4.3 Narrating urban sustainability: SymbioCity and the SymbioCity Approach
As outlined in the introduction of this thesis SymbioCity and the SymbioCity approach
can be regarded as expressions and translations of Swedish sustainable urban
development goals and objectives. The actor-network of these translations which has
been eroded from the initial deductive sampling of the literature body is now illustrated
in Fig. 2 (to be found on the next page). As such, Fig. 2 presents the methodological
extension of Fig.1, illustrated within the method chapter of this thesis. Departing from
the actors who contributed the documents for this analysis the focus should first be paid
to the Swedish actors, based in a national frame of norms and legislation regarding
sustainable urban development.
Since the initiative to implement SymbioCity came from the Swedish government (see
HULT 2013) the government and its ministries are essential actors within the network of
SymbioCity and its approach. As such, these institutional bodies articulate national
norms on how Swedish sustainable urban development should be performed (see
DAHLGREN & WAMSLER 2014). The Swedish government also sets the budget for the
ministries and state agencies and thereby determines their respective agendas regarding
sustainable urban development. The agencies, which are under the supervision of the
respective ministries (Foreign Affairs; Environment & Energy, Enterprise) are then
responsible to articulate these “governmental wishes”. In the case of SymbioCity and
its approach the government agencies which have been tasked with the spread of
Swedish sustainable urban development are the Swedish International Development
Agency (SIDA) and Business Sweden (an agency aimed to support the international
expansion of Swedish companies).
Fig. 2: Actor-Network of SymbioCity and its approach.
Source: Own illustration. Based on: SWEDISH MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS ET AL.(2013); SWEDISH
World Bank/other
European Union
Swedish Government
Swedish Ministries
(Foreign Affairs;
Environment and
Energy; Enterprises)
Swedish Governmental
(SIDA; Energy Agency;
Environmental Protection
Agency; Business Sweden)
SKL International
Association of
Local Authorities
and Regions
Swedish Industries
(Sweco; Ericson;
Energy Companies)
International Centre
for Local Democracy
Foreign Government
Companies Foreign Government
EU “Norms”
(such as benchmarks and emission limits)
National “Norms”
(such as benchmarks and emission limits)
Actors from which documents
have been evaluated
The Swedish
Society for
These two agencies however, work (to a large extend) independent from each other as
they have different mandates to fulfil. As such, Business Sweden is primarily focused
on business development and cooperation while SIDA’s objective is to promote
international development cooperation. Hence, SymbioCity has first been established as
marketing platform from Business Sweden (see BRADLEY et al. 2013). This marketing
platform has linked Swedish companies and businesses to their foreign counter parts,
mostly through Swedish embassies in the respective foreign countries (see Fig. 2). This
process was further enhanced through the embeddings of Business Sweden in various
spatial contexts around the world. The export of sustainable technology was also
fostered by foreign government leaders and elected city officials who secured
implementations. To gain their support best case examples from Sweden (municipal
level) are showcased by also drawing on technology innovation, provided by Swedish
On the other hand, SIDA has started to pick up SymbioCity and utilized its
international appeal to develop tools and methods for institutional capacity building and
development (see DAHLGREN & WAMSLER 2014). SIDA then initialized a search for
institutions that could develop such methods. This selection process resulted in the
selection of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR). This
decision was motivated by SALAR’s experience in Swedish municipal development
combined with their previous work in international contexts (through their international
unit: SKL International) (DAHLGREN & WAMSLER 2014: 7). Through the linkage of
experiences from Swedish municipalities with SIDA’s and SKL International’s
development experience, the SymbioCity approach has been developed. As such, this
approach was presented to foreign government authorities to be implemented with local
community support. To get into contact with these foreign government authorities
Swedish embassies in the respective countries serve as facilitators. To provide these
officials with the required knowledge in regard to Swedish sustainable urban
development, training programs from the International Centre for Local Democracy
(ICLD) and the Untied Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) have
been implemented.
These two stories of Swedish urban sustainable development and their narrators are
embedded in a frame which is constituted by European norms such as benchmarks
regarding CO2emissions. Moreover, each country (to which one of the stories of
Swedish urban development is told) has its own national norms which can also be
differently influenced by larger institutional bodies. To legitimize their stories, the
narrators and advocates of SymbioCity and its approach draw upon the knowledge,
benchmarks and models advocated by supra-national and global institutions such as the
WWF, the EU or UN-Habitat (see Fig. 2).
Now that Fig. 2 has illustrated the actor-network, the character of the relations between
the “story tellers” will be focused on. The illustration of these relational characteristics
can be observed in Fig. 3 - Fig. 8. To describe these relations three categories have been
identified: representational/marketing relations; knowledge/knowledge exchange
relations and administrative/financial relational. These categories have been
qualitatively eroded from the wider context of the respective documents. Overall, these
relations revealed that while the two Swedish stories of sustainable urban development
shared the same origin (Sustainable City Concept), they do not share many ideological
similarities anymore.
The Actor-Network of the SymbioCity Approach
The actor-network which forms around the SymbioCity approach forms a knowledge
based framework, in which experiences (from Swedish municipalities and universities)
and training programs (ICLD, UNITAR) are used to develop institutional capacities to
enable sustainable urban development. On the same note, knowledge and benchmarks
drawn from global institutions (WHO, UN-Habitat, etc.) are used to embed Swedish
practices within a global framework of action (see Fig. 3-4).
Fig. 3: Institutional relations of SKL International in regard to the SymbioCity approach.
(Intensity and dominant quality of relations)
Source: Own illustration. Based on: SKL INTERNATIONAL & BUSINESS SWEDEN (2017); RANHAGEN &
GROTH (2012); ANDERSSON (2013); ANDERSSON ET AL.(2011).
As such, Fig. 3 illustrates that SKL International also engages into representational and
marketing oriented relations. Thereby, SKL International utilises the experience from
SALAR to argue for institutional capacity building in the light of Swedish municipal
sustainable urban development. As such municipal examples are presented to foreign
government authorities to argue for solutions inspired by Swedish experience.
Financially and administratively SKL International relies on SIDA (as funding
institution) and the Swedish government as they set the mandate and provide the arenas
to facilitate work in foreign countries (through embassies).
Fig. 4: Institutional relations of SIDA in regard to the SymbioCity approach.(Intensity and
dominant quality of relations)
Source: Own illustration. Based on: SIDA & SKL INTERNATIONAL (n.d.); DAHLGREN & WAMSLER
Fig. 4 confirms these relations as SIDA engages with SKL International in an
administrative fashion through the monitoring and financing of practices. Furthermore,
SIDA relies on relations (knowledge and knowledge exchange) with Swedish research
institutions (Mistra, Swedish Universities) but also on global knowledge clusters
(WHO, IPCC, UN-Habitat). SIDA (such as SKL International) also enacts
representational relations with SALAR in which their expertise with Swedish municipal
development is drawn upon to be presented to foreign government authorities.
Moreover, SIDA also has build