International Development Planning Review 39.1: Featured Article

The editors of IDPR have selected ‘The Ecology of Citizenship: understanding vulnerability in urban Brazil’ by Robert Coates and Jeff Garmany as the Featured Article for the latest issue. It will be free to access for three months. You can access the article here.

When asked to describe the paper, and highlight its importance, the authors stated the following:

Robert Coates:
‘The Ecology of Citizenship: understanding vulnerability in urban Brazil’ began life in Nova Friburgo, a mountainous city inland of Rio. Everyone I spoke with knew a victim of the floods and landslides in 2011, and with a long history of such hazards, most were resigned to an uncertain future. I felt that ‘citizenship’ was left wanting in this context: it lacked purchase on interactions with the decisive elements of water, soil, and risk management infrastructure.

The article developed in collaboration with Jeff Garmany, and writing it stretched both our understandings of urban citizenship. In most guises, of course, citizenship is ‘supposed’ to reduce vulnerability: authors point to links between urban space and political development, and not least the role of urban peripheries in rights claims and national inclusion. But in Nova Friburgo, Brazil’s recent investments in poverty reduction and urban land rights could not account for non-human nature. How could residents feel at once more included in the city and state, and yet describe such uncertainty and vulnerability when it came to the future?

One of the article’s most interesting interventions concerns the way that clientelist forms of political engagement interact with the materiality of floods, landslides, and technologies designed to deal with them. Urban spatial governance via ‘clientship’ is shown to work through and on politicised flows of water, mud, and infrastructure.

The article, then, is part of a broader project to explore a more-than-human geography of citizenship, in conversation with urban political ecology and science and technology studies. Marked by cycles of recognition of the nature of disaster, and appeals for citizenship equality, both urbanisation and vulnerability in this case (and beyond) have become entrenched. The article introduces some new themes, and there is more to debate going forward.

Jeff Garmany:
One of the most interesting things about this article is the way citizenship is critiqued from political ecology perspective. The questions raised in this article help to challenge a number of long-time assumptions, and there’s a real focus on materiality and ecological factors. This helps provide new insight for citizenship studies as well as pushing nature-society debates in a slightly new direction.