INDUSTRIOUS ECOLOGIES: Reclaiming the subjectivity of the city

Conference, Plymouth University, Plymouth, UK

31st of May 2014


After the collapse of the European industrial city about 30 years ago, there has been a constant pressure to find a new engine for urban redevelopment. There has really been only one (hegemonic) model: the neoliberal one. Its foundation is very simple: the surplus of global financial speculations is invested into real estates; this then causes a dramatic increase in housing prices, which in turn pushes a cities’ inhabitants into the mortgage trap. This mechanism increases the cost of living and ultimately produces people who are slaves to the banks, or who become a kind of under-class. This is coupled with the ongoing environmental crisis. The result is that improving individuals’ quality of life is linked only to a generalised (but usually uneven) economic growth, which furthers inequality and further damages the environment. The problem is that the neoliberal model is only a mechanism for exploitation of people and environments, which does not build an urban subjectivity, but rather supports economical actors located beyond the city (and its control). After 2008 this model has become a ‘ zombie’ – it is intellectually and morally dead but is still kicking. So, what are the alternatives?

This conference will extend ideas first presented at the conference ‘Re-industrialisation and a progressive urbanism‘ organized by the Master of Architecture Programme, Plymouth University in June 2013. It is inspired by a number of connected themes: urban re-industrialisation; industrial ecology; and the circular economy; it looks at how these themes result in different structures creating a theoretical and practical framework for urban regeneration and building design.

The idea of industrious ecologies is inspired by the notion of ‘industrial ecology’ which consists primarily of finding synergies between different elements of the production processes in different, often completely unrelated, technologies and companies. Rather than a linear process, from raw material to product / waste, industrial ecology is looking for a symbiotic relationship in which the waste of one process is a resource for another. This kind of thinking about industry should obviously appeal to everybody seriously interested in environmental issues. However, we believe that the potential of this approach is a lot bigger. In the term industrious we go beyond conventional notions of industry and production to describe our relationship between an individual and their work, looking for a sustainable, democratic and inclusive socio-economic structure, able to re-create a city as a political subject. In using the term ecologies we are interested not in a single set of relationships between different material flows but in the wider connections between individuals, society, technology and nature that include all human and non-human actors.

The idea of industrious ecologies is fundamentally connected with an idea of a knowledge based economy, occupying the gaps between academia, design studio, research laboratory and consumers. It focuses on a knowledge produced in-between, in a process of translation from one economical entity to another.

This conference will also seek a further understanding of the concept of a circular economy as a ‘functional service’ model in which manufacturers or retailers increasingly retain the ownership of their products and, where possible, act as service providers-selling the use of products, not their one-way consumption’ (The Ellen MacArthur Foundation). An industrious ecology could become a ‘machine of inclusivity’ constructing urban subjectivity that cannot afford to ‘waste’ its citizens or their environment. The concept of industrious ecologies is also a tool to stimulate urban synergies in any field: social, cultural, economic and political; and to build a city as a political, democratic and egalitarian subject.

We welcome papers seeing re-industrialisation and urban synergies as a path leading to a better, more just and equal but also economically and environmentally more effective city.

Please send your abstract (300 words) by 15th April 2014 to:

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