Henrik Ernstson


Personal profile


Dr. Henrik Ernstson is Lecturer in Human Geography at The University of Manchester and Honorary Associate Professor at African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town. He has held research positions at KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Stockholm University with Postdoctoral Fellowships at Stanford University and University of Cape Town.
He is developing a situated approach to urban political ecology with a special focus on southern and postcolonial urbanism. He combines urban political ecology, urban studies, STS, and social movement studies, alongside interdisciplinary research in urban and landscape ecology. He is also developing film-based research practices using cinematic ethnography, montage and essay film to engage in the texture, embodiment, and situatedness of political and environmental practices, knowledges and politics. He has published two books that spans several of these interests: Urban Political Ecology in the Anthropo-obscene (Routledge 2019, edited with Erik Swyngedouw) and Grounding Urban Natures: Histories and Futures of Urban Ecologies (MIT Press 2019, forthcoming, edited with Sverker Sörlin). He has also released the cinematic ethnography film One Table Two Elephants (CPH:DOX 2018, with Jacob von Heland) that deals with race, nature and knowledge politics in the postcolonial city.
Research collaborations
He has extensive international collaboration with co-workers in South Africa, Uganda, UK, Italy, USA and Sweden and he has lead interdisciplinary research groups with studies in Cape Town, New Orleans, Stockholm, Kampala and Luanda. He is the founder of The Situated Ecologies Platform in 2010 with Joshua Lewis and Jacob von Heland, which explores the spaces between art, science and environmental politics, and co-founder of the Situated Urban Political Ecology Collective (#SituatedUPE) with Mary Lawhon and Jonathan Silver. 
Academic background
Before joining The University of Manchester he held research positions at KTH Royal Institute of Technology and their KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory (2013-2018), at Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University (2008-2013). He is a long-term Honorary Visiting Scholar at the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town (2012--), where he also held a Formas Postdoc position (2010-2011). He was the Stig Hagström Postdoctoral Scholar at the History Department at Standford University (2013-2015). He has been invited as keynote speaker at conferences and seminars at various African, North American, and European insitutions, including University of Witwatersrand, University of KwaZulu-Natal, X!hodes University, Stanford University, University of Washington in Seattle, Université Paris-Diderot, Rachel Carson Centre, Università Roma Tre, amongst others. His PhD thesis in 2008 received the Swedish Head of State Award for excellent workd in environmental studies and in 2017 he received the French AXA Research Award for his “innovative work on urban sustainability in the global South”. 
He teaches several courses at The University of Manchester, including:
  • GEOG70952 Political Ecologies (Co-convenor, Postgrad/Masters)
  • GEOG31211 Nature Society and Social Power (Co-convenor, Undergrad 3rd year)
  • GEOG10191 Key Ideas in Human Geography (Lecturer, Undergrad 1st year)
  • GEOG10251 Introduction to Human Geography 1 (Lecturer, Undergrad 1st year)
  • GEOG10432 Introduction to Human Geography 2 (Lecturer, Undergrad 1st year)
  • GEOG30702 Wildlife in the Age of Humans (Lecturer, Undergrad 3rd year). 
He has previously also taught and developed courses in urban ecology, ecosystem governance and the use of social network analysis in natural resource management. He developed the PhD course "Urban Ecology as Science Culture and Power" and "Social-Ecological Network Analysis." More recentely has convened (with Andrés Henao Castro) the PhD Winter School at University of Cape Town on "Democratic Practices of Unequal Geographies" that focused on Demos (2015), Politics and Aesthetics (2016) and The Polis (2017), structured as high-intesive reading of political theory with and against Southern urbanism.
He has supervised 3 PhD studens in urban environmental studies (from coastal ecosystem and infrastructrue politics in New Orleans (Joshua Lewis); nature conservation in postapartheid Cape Town (Marnie Graham); and urban waste management politics in South Africa (Kathleen Stokes, ongoing)) and many Masters and Honours theses. He has also hired, advised and collaborated with 7 Postdoctoral Fellows (Wangui Kimari, Ricardo Cardoso, Nate Millington, Suraya Scheba, Koni Benson, Mary Lawhon, and Anna Storm). He is keen to hear from students that have PhD projects that could strenghten research on urban political ecology, urban environmental movements, postcolonial urbanism, political theory/activism, and theoretical or practical studies on the relation between film- and text-based environmental research.
Interdisciplinary background
He has a thoroughly interdisciplinary background that started in Physics and Mathematics, through Systems Ecology, to critical social theory in Human Geography and Urban Studies. This includes a PhD in Systems Ecology (Stockholm University, 2008), MSc in Physics and Applied Mathematics (Linköping University, 1998), and BSc in Electrical Engineering (Jönköping University College, 1993). He worked for years as a theatre producer in Stockholm, but also high school teacher—and before that as electrical engineer in Sweden and Catalonia.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 2 - Zero Hunger
  • SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Systems Ecology (Natural Resource Management), Stockholm Universitet

1 Oct 200426 Sept 2008

Award Date: 26 Sept 2008

Master of Science, Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering, Department of Physics, Linköping University

1 Aug 19931 Jul 1998

Award Date: 1 Jan 1998

Bachelor of Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Hogskolan i Jonkoping - Jonkoping University

1 Aug 19911 Jun 1993

Award Date: 1 Jun 1993

External positions

Honorary Associate Professor, University of Cape Town

1 Nov 201831 Oct 2023

Areas of expertise

  • GF Human ecology. Anthropogeography
  • Urban Political Ecology
  • Political Ecology
  • environmental politics
  • GE Environmental Sciences
  • Urban Ecology
  • Social-ecological systems
  • ecosystem services
  • Ecosystem Governance
  • HM Sociology
  • Social Movements
  • Social Network Analysis

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global inequalities
  • Manchester Urban Institute
  • Manchester Environmental Research Institute


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