Appointed As

History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Society


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


Massachusetts Institute of Technology

PhD Field of Study

PhD, Environmental Sciences, Studies & Policy, University of Oregon

Dissertation Abstract

"Instigating Communities of Solidarity: An Exploration of Participatory, Informal, Temporary Urbanisms"

My dissertation examines the potential for informal, participatory urbanisms to build collaborative relations across ontological, cultural, and political difference. While everyday urban life in North America and Europe is marked by increasing alienation and precarity in relation to place, participatory urbanisms cultivate alternative social and spatial arrangements within the built environment of towns and cities (Awan et al., 2011; Escobar, 2018; Harvey, 2013). Temporary, informal urbanism in particular responds to immediate circumstances of disruption, displacement, and disaster (Hayden and Temel, 2006; Madanipour, 2017; Overmeyer, 2007; Oswalt et al., 2013), but Euro-Western conceptions of place and the physical world that assign only extrinsic value to non-human nature permeate the field (Deloria, 1970; Escobar, 2018; Meier, 2021). Ongoing colonial legacies and Indigenous land sovereignty are largely neglected in these movements that seek to assert collective rights to the spaces and places of the city (Dories et al., 2019; Natcher et al, 2013 Walker et al., 2013; Peters and Andersen, 2013). More broadly, urbanist theory and practice generally underemphasize ontological underpinnings and associated ethical obligations and opportunities, thereby contributing to increasing destabilization of everyday life.
This dissertation contributes to the field of urban environmental humanities by emphasizing four often underdeveloped aspects of participatory urbanisms. First, I examine the unique affordances offered by temporary, informal urban interventions. Second, I focus on the role of the material artifacts and places of participatory urbanisms in the development of communities of solidarity. Third, the project emphasizes approaches that address the ongoing colonial legacy of North American and European cities by foregrounding alternative conceptions of place and emphasizing how the development of North American and European cities is inherently tied to colonization and dispossession. Fourth, this project forms relays between theory and practice to excavate the typically unexamined ontologies that inform urban design, building, and dwelling.
This project examines how North American Indigenous-settler and refugee-European communities are working together in urban space to address commonly held social justice concerns and build communities of solidarity. I analyze recent scholarship and social activism at the intersection of North American, Indigenous philosophies of place (Atleo, 2011; Deloria, 1999, 2006, 2012; Deloria and Wildcat, 2001; Kimmerer, 2017; Norton Smith, 2014; Simpson, 2011; Watts, 2017) and Euro-western, posthumanist, new materialist theories (Barad, 2007; Braidotti, 2011, 2013; Deleuze and Guattari, 1987; Grosz, 2008; Haraway, 1988, 2016; Mol, 2002). I argue that these emerging fields neglect community participation in the built environment, despite their emphases on social justice, relationality, place, and material conditions. I test my hypothesis that informal, urban practices are critical spaces of social theory production through two case studies. First, “The Kitchen on the Run” is a project in Germany that supports refugee and local resident community-building through group cooking events held outdoors in public squares by way of a mobile shipping container kitchen. Second, “The Lummi Nation House of Tears Carvers Totem Pole Journey” is an Indigenous approach to building solidarity through public events in towns and cities centered around a totem pole temporarily installed at event sites. I examine the case studies through detailed ethnographies across several years.
Chapter one situates the conceptual orientation of the project. In chapter two, I develop my transversal theoretical methodology as an auto, material ethnography. I analyze and critique recent scholarship that seeks to create bridges between Indigenous and posthumanist, new materialist thought. Chapters three and four analyze each case study project against and with the conceptual figurations developed in chapters one and two. Chapter five develops a proposal for an ethics of alliances in support of urban resilience.
I argue that collective urban design interventions at small and momentary scales are experiments that test various methods for the co-production of space and subjectivity. Particularly in situations of disaster and disruption, engagement with the places of everyday life in experimental or novel activities creates moments that escape the confines of expectation. These moments open possibilities for new ways of living together. These activities can instigate cultures of solidarity that include urban places and the more than human world in support of urban resilience in the face of increasing climate chaos.

(Photo credit: Charlie Langton)