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Environmental Science and Policy 96 (2019) 70-76 


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Enhancing urban resilience knowledge systems through experiential r® 


Zbigniew J. Grabowski a,b ’*, P. Zion Klos c , Chad Monfreda 

a Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, 2801 Sharon Turnpike, Millbrook, NY, 12545, United States 
b Urban Systems Lab, The New School, 79 Fifth Ave, 16thFloor, New York, NY, 10003, United States 
c Department of Environmental Science and Policy, Marist College, Poughkeepsie, NY, 12601, United States 
d Princeton Mellon Initiative, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, 08544, United States 




Urban resilience 
Knowledge systems 

Epistemological pluralism 
Experiential pluralism 
Climate change 

Urban resilience to climate change scholarship has increasingly focused on increasing its salience for existing 
decision making processes. At the same time, large inequalities in vulnerability to climate change mirror in¬ 
equalities in the social power of different urban residents. Existing approaches have improved epistemological 
pluralism and reflexivity in knowledge systems research, yet remain hotly contested by urban communities. 
Conceptual gaps have become evident on how knowledge systems research addresses highly unequal forms of 
decision-making largely responsible for the problems that resilience research now paradoxically seeks to address. 
Because of these dynamics, knowledge systems research continues to grapple with the fundamental and poli¬ 
tically charged question of what constitutes ‘knowledge,’ in urban systems. Drawing upon our own experiences 
as resilience researchers and a select review of literature on the philosophy and politics of knowledge produc¬ 
tion, we offer the concept of ‘experiential pluralism,’ defined as the acknowledgement of the inherent validity of 
individual and collective experiences in framing knowledge needs despite their seeming contradictions, to ex¬ 
plore how knowledge systems may address issues of social alienation prevalent in cities. We offer concrete 
examples of how such a shift makes ethics explicit in research, places greater emphasis on relationship building, 
and place based creativity in addressing urban climate resilience challenges. In closing, we discuss the role of 
addressing alienation through experiential pluralism in order to create more democratic modes of urban gov¬ 

1. Conflicted histories of urban knowledge systems 

In an era of rapid environmental, social, and infrastructural change, 
cities are test beds for research methods seeking to transform social, 
environmental, and technological systems (Gieryn, 2006). The inter¬ 
locking threats of anthropogenic climate change, extreme weather 
events, induced rapid sea level rise, and their systemic consequences, 
make clear that technological infrastructures and the consumption they 
support have emerged as dominant threats to sustainability, and yet 
have highly unequal consequences for urban residents (e.g. Bennett 
et al., 2016; Anguelovski et al., 2016). Within this context, cities have 
mobilized knowledge systems to advance urban climate resilience and 
sustainability (Munoz-Erickson et al., 2017). There is little evidence, 
however, that knowledge systems research adequately addresses the 
various forms of social alienation undermining trust in democratic in¬ 
stitutions (Stoker, 2016), and in the social value of resilience research 
(Kaika, 2017). 

Here we argue that knowledge systems science can better advance 
urban sustainability by going beyond narrow definitions of knowledge 
and decision making to include the diversity of experiential knowledge 
emerging from long standing struggles to survive in the city. Simply 
put, we call for a praxis that identifies, empathizes, and incorporates 
experiential knowledge to collaboratively envision and enable new 
forms of daily life. 

2. From resilience to transformation: what role does knowledge 

Fortunately, knowledge systems research already recognizes the 
need to reference and integrate knowledge from a wide variety of dis¬ 
ciplinary practices, government agencies, and private sector entities 
(Miller et al., 2008). Such knowledge pluralism increases the salience of 
analyses and models in existing decision-making arenas (Ernstson et al., 
2010; Fink, 2011; Munoz-Erickson et al., 2017), representing an 

* Corresponding author at: Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, 2801 Sharon Turnpike, Millbrook, NY, 12545, United States. 
E-mail address: (Z.J. Grabowski). 


Received 20 August 2018; Received in revised form 11 February 2019; Accepted 9 March 2019 

Available online 15 March 2019 

1462-9011/ © 2019 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. 

Z.J. Grabowski, et aL 

Environmental Science and Policy 96 (2019) 70-76 

evolution of the ‘loading dock’ and ‘information deficit’ models of sci¬ 
ence (Callon, 1995; Cook and Overpeck, 2018). However, uncritical 
adoptions of the language of ‘co-production,’ calling for closer colla¬ 
borations between ‘decision-makers’ and researchers (e.g. 
Weichselgartner and Kasperson, 2010), may further centralize knowl¬ 
edge production and utilization in unequal ways (Scott, 1998). These 
fears appear justified by the present emphasis in resilience and sus¬ 
tainability research on strengthening relationships between research 
institutions, existing government agencies, and powerful private sector 
actors (Campbell, 1996; Escobar, 1998; Lawhon and Murphy, 2012; 
Martin et al., 2018). These recent trends continue a long history of 
urban research using scientific expertise in non-democratic and highly 
problematic ways of thinking about and managing cities (Scott, 1998; 
Light, 2009; Kingsland, 2005; Lachmund, 2013). Expert efforts to ‘im¬ 
prove’ cities have instead exacerbated the racialized real estate market 
segmentation and uneven development that plague US cities to this day 
(Smith 1978, Rothstein, 2017; Massey and Tannen, 2018), standing in 
stark contrast to universal narratives of urban progress. These long 
standing inequalities in political power, wealth, socio-economic con¬ 
ditions, and their relationship with racial and ethnic identities funda¬ 
mentally shape urban trajectories, urban form, and vulnerability 
(Brenner, 2009; Purcell, 2013, Steele et al., 2012). 

As community level rejections of resilience and green infrastructure 
in various US cities (e.g Monteverdi, 2017; Kaika, 2017) make clear, we 
must pay attention to opposition to what has become construed as the 
‘resilience agenda.’ Such ‘dissensus’ indicates the problematic persis¬ 
tence of inequity and exclusion in urban decision-making and knowl¬ 
edge production, and underlies calls for ‘just transitions’ (Newell and 
Mulvaney, 2013). Attending to ‘dissensus,’ or disagreements over the 
framing urban resilience and sustainability is a viable research method 
for uncovering how cities continue to be transformed and by whom 
(Kaika, 2017), setting the stage for negotiations over what constitutes 
relevant knowledge. To correct this imbalance, knowledge systems 
scholars must reverse the social alienation that results when (relatively) 
privileged researchers promote highly-specialized, disciplinary ways of 
knowing the city over the lived knowledge of its residents. 

3. From working on to working with: engaging experiences of 
urban residents 

He we argue for the need to address social alienation and improve 
knowledge systems by engaging a more robust and representative set of 
experiences in the process of producing knowledge, which we call ex¬ 
periential pluralism. Experiential pluralism assumes that all human and 
non-human experiences are equally valid—in the sense that each ex¬ 
perience is equally ‘real’ and every experience is itself an act of kno¬ 
wing—regardless of their subjective evaluation by others. Experiential 
pluralism forms the basis for epistemological pluralism but goes further 
to acknowledge that the ways we contextualize past and present ex¬ 
perience mediate what knowledge we consider valid and useful. It also 
grounds knowledge systems in affinity scholarship (Mason, 2018), 
which treats often contradictory imaged futures as forms of experiential 
knowledge. Affinity and imagination are particularly relevant to resi¬ 
lience research because they co-produce emotion, knowledge, and 
meaning making in times of loss and change (Marris, 2014). 

This essay thus serves as a provocation to urban resilience scholars. 
We think that the relatively privileged social position of urban re¬ 
searchers makes us well suited to address deep issues of equity and 
alienation should we so choose. Such choice begets great responsibility; 
while research is not immune to its own internal political struggles, our 
relative privilege facilitates interactions within powerful institutions 
and marginalized social settings. Our effectiveness within and across 
these domains determines the accuracy and representativeness of our 
research (our groundedness), and its relevance to different social actors 
(our situatedness). Here we present issues encountered in our own re¬ 
search experiences in climate adaptation and mitigation programs, and 

elaborate the conceptual and pragmatic basis for appreciating experi¬ 
ential pluralism as a method for addressing social alienation. While not 
exhaustive, the following discussion explores four types of alienation 
often encountered in urban research and two example strategies for 
resilience researchers to develop a more empathetic and effective 

4. Alienation as an obstacle to equitable urban transformation 

We define alienation as the disjuncture between an individuals’ 
sense of self and their identity as constructed by the dominant society 
(modified from Purcell, 2013). This definition expands upon Marx’s, 
(1961) original definition of alienation—the estrangement of a laborer 
from the means and fruits of their labor— to include how socially 
contextualized individuals make ‘sense’ of their emotional, intellectual, 
and physical states (Marris, 2014), and the effects of such sense making 
on behavior and cognition (Seeman, 1959; Schacht, 2015). Seeman 
(1959) identified five distinct but complementary forms of alienation: 
powerlessness, meaninglessness, social isolation, normlessness, and 
self-estrangement. While distinct, each refers to the experience of a self 
separated from the larger society—a separation that cannot be healed 
by personal action alone. Such alienation can only be mended by either 
a change in the dominant values of the society or acceptance by a sub¬ 
culture with its own set of norms and values (Becker, 1967). 

Alienation provides a productive lens for resilience research by 
demanding new methods for engaging the creative human capacities 
required for the just and effective cultural, cognitive, and psychological 
transitions we seek. Knowledge systems that fail to address alienation 
inevitably misrepresent the conditions of the city as experienced by 
urban residents. Such epistemologically inaccuracy engenders poorly 
framed, ineffective, and potentially pathological interventions, risking 
public opposition and mistrust, and undermining future success. Below 
we examine how resilience research can alienate urban communities 
and residents, who often are the targets for resilience interventions. 
Each section identifies alienation in one of four domains: expertise; 
socio-economics/class; racial-ethnic/cultural identity; and norms 
around sensory capacity and physical dis/ability. 

4.1. Experts as aliens and alienating experts 

The alienation of expertise is two-fold. First, intellectuals are often 
seen as alienated in their non-adherence to dominant social values and 
customs (Seeman, 1959), and isolation from the broader social milieu 
because of their privileged social position, often manifest as distrust and 
jealousy among the broader public (Backstrand, 2003; Lesen, 2016). 
Second, experts themselves can alienate individuals and communities 
by failing to recognize their experiences as valid forms of knowledge, 
perpetuating the technocratic management of society divorced from the 
lives and living conditions of everyday people (Wynne, 1992; Scott, 
1998; Jasanoff et al., 2004; Kaika, 2017). 

An a-priori boundary between ‘experts’ and the ‘public,’ however, 
emphasizes the formal training and institutional position of experts, 
while failing to understand the more fundamental process by which 
human experience generates useful knowledge. Such an understanding 
must confront a culturally entrenched Newtonian worldview that says 
we are separate beings whose subjective experience is not really real, 
living in a dead, insentient world. This paradigm, grounded in a naive 
and outdated scientific reductive materialism, legitimizes much of our 
public knowledge and discourse. It is a view that not only privileges the 
physical sciences but also urges the social sciences to be similarly hard, 
quantitative, and objective. Yet, the view goes largely unchallenged, 
despite its tenuous philosophical and empirical justification 
(Whitehead, 1925) and reliance on an indefensible conception of sin¬ 
gular ‘rationality’ (James, 1879). Modern philosophers of science such 
as Nancy Cartwright (1999) have also identified the impossibility of 
creating a unified science out of different disciplinary practices 


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Environmental Science and Policy 96 (2019) 70-76 

possessing incompatible and often hidden core assumptions. Cognition 
research likewise challenges the idea of a singular reality, finding that 
shared cognitive exercises produce shared experiences of a given event, 
through cognitive pathways deeply conditioned by upbringing, 
training, and life experience (Hardin and Conley, 2001). These parallel 
conclusions of philosophers and cognitive scientists and debunk the 
supremacy of empirical science as de facto authoritative source of social 
knowledge (Feyerabend, 1993). 

These observations underlie calls for epistemological equity in in¬ 
terdisciplinary science (Miller et al., 2008) and coincide with social 
scientists increasingly questioning how uncritical adoption of the on¬ 
tological and epistemological assumptions of the Newtonian paradigm 
conditions their work. In a rigorous and provocative book, titled 
Quantum Mind and Social Theory, international relations theorist Alex¬ 
ander Wendt (2015) makes the case that a radical shift in perspective is 
overdue and likely to open new possibilities for how the social sciences 
understand and engage the world. This bold, new questioning includes 
climate change adaptation scholars like Karen O’Brien (2018), (2016); 
also see Fazey et al., 2018), who, following Wendt, asks us to be open to 
the possibility that our most deeply held beliefs about the workings of 
the world are wrong, and that a paradigm shift may offer a route to 
“conscious and intentional transformations to sustainability.” As a final 
consideration, as such transformations require deep material interven¬ 
tions, we must avoid the privileging of abstract and generalizable in¬ 
tellectual labor over embodied and contextual labor required to actu¬ 
ally build the world (Sohn-Rethel, 1978), a form of labor discrimination 
often falling along socio-economic class boundaries. 

4.2. Class discipline, social status, and economic alienation 

Economic alienation refers to Marx’s, (1961) classical definition of 
alienation as the purposeful separation of the exchange value of labor 
from its wages to abstract a profit, and the distributed social processes 
that tie social position to economic status. Socio-economic alienation 
thus stems from privileging the economic dimension of social life; all 
other aspects of social value become reduced to economic metrics. 
Urban transformation projects perpetuate such alienation through 
practices that reduce the uneven, contextual, and experiential ways 
people value urban space to metrics such as property values, green 
space indices, levels of education, and income, etc.Knowledge sys¬ 

tems that reduce human experience to simplified metrics in order to 
make populations ‘knowable’ pose a fundamental conceptual and po¬ 
litical problem (Scott, 1998). Most troublingly for urban research is the 
uncritical acceptance of the financial calculus of real estate valuation 
and risk categorization in defining and mapping urban space, a logic 
long utilized to fuel racist and uneven real estate development and 
infrastructure financing (Smith, 2008; Rothstein, 2017; Gould and 
Lewis, 2012). Even cities explicitly embracing social equity goals, such 
as Portland, OR, have not escaped this logic. The now globally exported 
Portland EcoDistricts development strategy utilizes ‘investment attrac¬ 
tion’ language to market new developments as sustainable due to a 
combination of energy efficiency, green infrastructure, and amenity 
features in walkable zones (Bennett, 2010). Such a framework com¬ 
modifies space in two ways. First, a focus on ‘real estate’ and traded in 
local, national, and international financial markets purposefully com¬ 
modifies land (Smith, 2008). Secondly, these ‘renewed’ environments 
are aggressively and explicitly marketed towards new classes of urban 
professionals, often in racist ways and through new digital platforms 
(Davidson and Lees, 2010; White, 2017). In response, a number of 
community based organizations have pursued their own visions of 
sustainability and quality of life in Portland, which over the last decade 
has included discussion of the relationship between current housing 
prices, historical marginalization, opportunities for meaningful em¬ 
ployment, and racist policies and city planning (Lubitow and Miller, 
2013; Gibson, 2007). 

More fundamentally, economically flattened space alienates 

individuals from the contextual ways their identities are woven through 
an urban fabric that supports social life (Bourdieu, 1998). Resilience 
scholarship cannot escape the contestation and negotiation of more 
deeply held values and aspirations for the future, and far from tota¬ 
lizing, the variation and paradoxes inherent in the neoliberal project of 
distributing governance and centralizing capital provides numerous 
opportunities to mobilize alternate values and identities for positive 
social change (Brenner et al., 2010). However, resilience scholarship 
that does not acknowledge how socio-economic inequities alienate 
urban residents can unconsciously recreate those problematic dynamics 
and undermine its engagement with urban residents. 

4.3. What ‘we’ do you speak of? Racial, ethnic, and cultural alienation 

In the USA, economic segregation and stratification are bound up 
with beliefs about racial, ethnic, and cultural identities, especially if 
those beliefs support one’s class positionality (Sakai, 2014). Thus, while 
socio-economic inequality has strong racial and ethnic corollaries, ra¬ 
cial and ethnic alienation is also a process by which some groups are 
seen to have more social value than others, manifest in various forms of 
illegal and legalized discrimination, as well as the ways in which a 
perceived or realized sense of belonging to a given racial and ethnic 
group affects one’s ability to communicate and collaborate with others 
outside of one’s own group (Ramos and Hewstone, 2018). 

Across cities in the USA institutionalized and personalized forms of 
racial and ethnic discrimination have shaped patterns of socio-eco¬ 
nomic and political inequality, which persist to this day (Rothstein, 
2017) and have profound consequences for differential urban climate 
vulnerability. In Baltimore, MD and Portland, OR, for example, racist 
housing covenants restricted home purchasing to specific racial and 
ethnic groups from the 1920s into the late 1960s, mirroring broader 
patterns of institutionalized ‘red lining’, leading to systemic institu¬ 
tional disinvestment in communities categorized by race and ethnicity 
(Gibson, 2007; Pietila, 2012), with unequal occupational and environ¬ 
mental risks associated with climate change (Kinney, 2008). Within our 
own research praxis, we must pay careful attention to our own racial 
and ethnic situatedness and its influence on how and why we categorize 
different parts of cities according to racial and ethnic groupings and 
their attendant feelings of belonging, anxiety, stress, and intergroup 
competition (Ramos and Hewstone, 2018). While acknowledging these 
tensions requires emotional and psychological labor, failing to ac¬ 
knowledge them perpetuates the violence of a false-color blindness 
(Wise, 2010), deeply problematic for genuine dialogue, compassionate 
co-presence, and collaborative research. 

4.4. Co-inhabitance and Othering: latent ableism and sensory alienation 

The ways in which urban spaces have are designed to accommodate 
the sensory capacities of some people, while denying the capacities of 
others, highlights the limitation of the Habermasian speech ideal and its 
derivative of public discourse in overcoming the various ways that in¬ 
dividuals suffer alienation. In the turn towards epistemological plur¬ 
alism, sustainability and resilience science continue to rely on notions 
of ‘public talk’ or an expanded discourse space (Moore, 2006). How¬ 
ever, a focus on 'rational discourse,' defined in the pragmatist sense of 
individuals discussing how to best meet their ‘interests’ vis-a-vis other 
social actors, is yet another way of circumscribing the political, while 
excluding other modes of experiencing urban space and relationships. 
Aside from ignoring the very real language barriers of contemporary 
metropolitan areas, the rational speech ideal and its derivatives assume 
that individuals are able to articulate their experiences and aspirations 
in ways that conform to the definition of sensible and rational discourse 
held by some community at large (Ranciere, 2013; Cooren, 2000). 
However, these definitions of rational and sensible are not impartial 
modes of reasoning; rather, they are inherently normative con¬ 
ceptualizations of appropriate inference (Harman, 2002). Disability 


Z.J. Grabowski, et aL 

Environmental Science and Policy 96 (2019) 70-76 

scholars have identified the ideal as a primary strategy of perpetuating 
ableism in a diversity of social spheres (Cherney, 2011). Yet oral speech 
is but one communicative medium, and the largely visual language of 
planning (Fraser, 2019) also assumes that the visual dimension is the 
primary way in which urban space is experienced. 

Sensory alienation results when we assume that individuals inhabit 
the same perceptual realm, and that quantitative differences in per¬ 
ceptive capability (e.g. receptivity to sounds of different decibels, visual 
acuity of different types of objects at different distances) automatically 
translate to qualitative differences in cognition and experience. Notions 
of differently abled individuals as inherently ‘less than’ those with other 
sensory capacities are an extreme form of sensory alienation, which is 
nevertheless continuously present in many social interactions and fora, 
and has been widely rejected in the dis-ability literature (Goodley, 
2014). We must therefore remain cognizant of how our perceptions of 
urban communities are subject to our own sensory capabilities, and 
remain open to alternative forms of perceiving and interpreting the 
urban world. Individuals of different sensory capacities or affordances, 
fundamentally inhabit urban space differently, and urban transforma¬ 
tions must take their needs into account in order to be truly equitable, 
especially as those communities have often proved more than capable 
of generating their own communicative mediums appropriate to their 
sensory worlds, as in the case of ProTactile language emergence in the 
DeafBlind community (Edwards, 2012). Indeed, individuals within the 
DeafBlind and Deaf communities have undertaken a multitude of pro¬ 
jects to restructure infrastructure and notions of space in ways that 
more adequately suit their needs, which are not restricted to their 
sensory capacities, but rather by social relationships that sustain them 
(Edwards, 2018; Byrd, 2017; Harrison, 2004). 

5. Addressing alienation in urban resilience research: two 

While the underlying social dynamics driving the alienation of 
urban experience cannot be eliminated or transcended merely by 
thinking differently, they need to be kept in mind while we engage in 
urban resilience research. Philosopher and cultural anthropologist 
David Abram (2011) reminds us how disconnected our notions of 
knowledge and experience have become: 

“We are by now so accustomed to the cult of expertise that the very 

notion of honoring and paying heed to our directly felt experience of 

things—of insects and wooden floors, of broken-down cars and bird- 

pecked apples and the scents rising from the soil—seems odd and 

somewhat misguided as a way to find out what’s worth knowing.” 

We are not here calling for knowledge about everyday experience. 
The goal is not simply to represent more diverse experiences in a dis¬ 
cursive or quantitative form but rather to engage experience itself as 
knowledge. This is essential to redress the alienation born of a Cartesian 
paradigm insistent on the dualisms of self/world, mind/body, culture/ 
nature (Laing, 1990). Abram (1997, 2011) and others working in the 
tradition of phenomenology and eco-psychology (e.g. Fisher, 2013; 
Naess, 1995) offer powerful guidance on how we might reconcile lin¬ 
guistic and sensory ways of knowing the world in a democratically 
accessible manner, but have not yet been widely taken up in urban 
settings. Such deeply transformative work can be conceptualized using 
the lens of ‘everyday’ life to evaluate one’s participation in broader 
processes of the social production of space, both through discourse and 
material practice (Lefebvre, 1991; Smith, 2008). The approaches of 
post-structural scholars such as Gibson-Graham (2003) can help us 
frame and analyze how different agents and social organizations con¬ 
struct meaning, identity, and agency in situating themselves within and 
advocating for change in social and economic structures. Such an ap¬ 
proach must also attend to how hegemonic structures such as a glo¬ 
balized capitalism require social alienation to function (Heilbroner, 
1985), and how researchers may unconsciously reproduce these same 

dynamics they seek to address. Addressing alienation thus requires a 
daylighting of our own hidden assumptions about the appropriate role 
of expertise, our own social positionality (though a full reckoning re¬ 
quires understanding the role of gender - to which we refer the reader 
to Wijsman and Feagan, 2019 - in this issue). To this end, we present 
two concrete strategies for addressing alienation in urban research: 
building communities and relationships, and seeing research as a form 
of creative participation. 

5.1. Building community relationships: rapport and experiential co-leaming 

First, resilience researchers need to pay attention to their relation¬ 
ships with the communities their research has potential to affect (Cook 
and Overpeck, 2018), and acknowledge that resilience research ex¬ 
plicitly seeks to transform them in some way. To build just and trans¬ 
formative communities, we need to go beyond the mere integration of 
knowledge to strengthen the rapport among scientists, planners, non¬ 
humans, community activists, visual artists, writers, and urban re¬ 
sidents through direct, personal relationships (akin to of Deleuze and 
Guattari's 'rhizomes’ (1987) in Purcell, 2013). Communities of shared 
affinity and vision are the most academically productive communities 
(Parker and Hackett, 2012), despite the fact that they work against 
predominant institutional models emphasizing competition. Such an 
approach builds off established research protocols in applied anthro¬ 
pological and social research, where scholars engage research partici¬ 
pants in the formative stages of research, as well as throughout the 
process to facilitate an evolving research praxis (Baba, 2000; Spoon, 

Such processes foster an affectively effective Sustainability Science, 
capable of entering into collaborations based upon emotional, moral, 
and/or aesthetic appeal with a wide range of social actors, while rig¬ 
orously analyzing the likely and observed outcomes of particular resi¬ 
lience-oriented interventions. Engaging communities in the formative 
stages of research helps to define community members in an organic 
rather than a-priori manner, and allows for a deeply collaborative 
framing of research needs, questions, and goals. 

In short, we promote research practices that fosters our own sense of 
‘belonging’ in the city, a sensation and experience difficult to obtain in 
the Americas, as “Developing a sense of ourselves that would properly 
balance history and nature and space and time is a more difficult task 
than we would suspect and involves a radical reevaluation of the way 
we look at the world around us.” (Deloria, 2003: 61). Thus, there is a 
deep and problematic need to create ‘indigenist’ knowledge systems 
within settler colonial societies, which generate knowledge in relation 
to, rather than knowledge of, the experience of humans and non-hu- 
mans alike (Kovach, 2015; TallBear, 2011). 

Urban scholars have already undertaken similar methodological 
provocations, such as the practice of ‘walking with a critical eye’ to 
build up place-based and relational experiences of the urban built, 
environmental, and social fabric (Bassett, 2004), and experiential maps 
of complex urban spaces (Vaughan, 2009). In Phoenix and Lisbon, two 
participatory research efforts—Futurescape City Tours and the Finding 
Futures Project—engaged citizens in an urban walking experience, 
using photography to create a visual language about their experience 
and deliberations of technology and the city (Altamirano-Allende and 
Selin, 2016; Davies et al., 2013). Another such initiative is Adaptation: 
Combining Old and New Knowledge to Enable Conscious Transforma¬ 
tions to Sustainability (AdaptationCONNECTS), which engages experi¬ 
ential learning through education and the arts on behalf of social 
transformation and climate change adaptation. Other examples include 
explorations of the urban fabric by means of active transportation such 
as bicycles (Spinney, 2009) and skateboarding, the latter of which 
highlights the importance of intrinsic motivation for alternative ways of 
engaging with the built environment (Seifert and Hedderson, 2010). 
While simply passing ‘through’ communities can be highly problematic 
if used to validate independently constructed assessments of their 


Z.J. Grabowski, et at 

Environmental Science and Policy 96 (2019) 70-76 

status, there is a primal ‘truthiness’ and the embrace of the possibility 
for new social encounters to be formed by walking and being in com¬ 
munities that is otherwise impossible to obtain (Solnit, 2001). 

Such co-presence not only forces us to confront our social situat¬ 
edness (Chua, 2015) but also allows for simultaneous monitoring of our 
effectiveness as participants of transformative projects, as well as the 
effectiveness of those projects themselves. Such an approach transcends 
simple delineations between applied and basic research, as it calls for 
the creation of a sustainability science praxis (after Baba, 2000, echoed 
in Miller et al., 2014), which acknowledges a need for deep personal 
transformation in the line of research. Personal transformation entails a 
change one’s actual experience of the world, as well as shifts in in¬ 
tellectual and material practice, and the emotional growth that occurs 
when one reclaims agency through creative work. 

5.2. Resilience scholarship as a creative practice: the role of art-science 

By engaging communities in non-extractive and rapport building 
ways in the formative stages of research we lay the groundwork for 
acknowledging that resilience transformations are inherently con¬ 
textual and subjective. Thus, the ways in which facts are used to mo¬ 
tivate community transformation are often of secondary importance as 
compared to envisioning possible and desirable futures and of building 
relationships characterized by mutual respect. Creative and collabora¬ 
tive endeavors address the core of the human experience that engenders 
political and social movements—inciting and inspiring individuals, and 
forming the shared aesthetic and affective ideals needed for effective 
community and strategic alliances. 

Such a reframing of research practice as a form of intellectual labor 
builds off of Marx’s original (1961) definition of labor which naturalizes 
labor as a ... ‘process in which both man and Nature participate, and in 
which man of his own accord starts, regulates, and controls the material 
re-actions between himself and Nature.’ This definition maintains 
human agency, yet grounds labor as a transformative process. Secondly, 
in terms of defining the products of labor as “... a result that already 
existed in the imagination of the laborer at its commencement,” Marx 
hints at the creative and imaginary capacities required for fruitful labor, 
while placing great emphasis on the human domination of the process. 
In contrast, Buddhist philosophers such as Coseru (2009) define the 
goal of intellectual labor as a process of accurately representing the 
process at hand to unify one’s perception, cognition, and action in the 
world. Such creative and participatory practice aligns with long 
standing theories of naturalized social organization that do not natur¬ 
alize social difference so much as identify principles of inter-group and 
inter-species cooperation as the basis of evolutionary success and 
community formation (Kropotkin, 1922). 

Presently, numerous art-science collaboratives have seized upon 
this notion of science as creative practice in envisioning both dystopian 
and desirable urban futures (Yusoff and Gabrys, 2011; Gabrys and 
Yusoff, 2012; Kinsella, 2018; Kormann, 2018). One particularly re¬ 
levant example, the Bibotorium by Camp Little Hope, was a project 
exploring the future risks to drinking water in the Philadelphia me¬ 
tropolitan region. A collaborative of social practice artists. Camp Little 
Hope, brought together water resources specialists, interested public, 
and school groups through a 6-week interactive exhibit focused on 
envisioning the future of drinking water in their community in three 
possible scenarios as embodied by different types of boats. The first 
future demonstrated the impacts of climate change on sea level rise and 
the resulting salinization of drinking water sources as addressed 
through desalinization. The second scenario focused on the crumbling 
infrastructure of freshwater supply systems in the city, and the potential 
for privatization of the water supply through an exhibit of corporate run 
boats delivering water throughout the city. The last scenario focused on 
increased pressures from extractive technologies within the watershed, 
particularly hydraulic fracturing, through a boat hosting citizen scien¬ 
tists who patrolled and monitored the river system upstream of 


These artistic representations of possible futures were designed to 
be provocations to the community to design their own boats in these 
possible future scenarios, and thus offering other alternatives to the 
issue presented. Through engaging discussion around the possible fu¬ 
tures of drinking water in Philadelphia, they also covered contemporary 
and historical topics relationships between people and their environ¬ 
ment. This community-focused, experiential art allowed people to share 
their own stories and ideas, while also learning new information and 
science relevant to drinking water and environmental sustainability in 
their urban community.Such art and science projects build off of a 
notion of cognitive evolution as within the broader evolutionary tra¬ 
jectory of life on earth (Bekoff, 2000; Vernadsky, 1945; Kropotkin, 
1922). Adopting more compassionate ways of being, for fellow humans 
and non-humans, empowers and energizes science as social labor, a fact 
well recognized by artists engaged in ecological and environmental 
works (Ball et al., 2011). The other major lesson from the types of 
projects and works described by Ball et al. (2011), lie in their persuasive 
and socially invigorating dimensions—that the unification of art and 
science allows for the shaping of the public imagination and reclaiming 
the social power of media (Debord and Wolman, 1956). In this sense the 
power of art is not in simply making normative judgments about how 
the world ought to be but rather in conferring the experience of par¬ 
ticipating in transformative processes (Groys, 2012). Having an artistic 
practice, or one of freely engaging, in unplanned ways, with the en¬ 
vironment should be built into scientific practice. Yet art-science cannot 
simplify fetishize the aesthetic, for the central purpose of unifying art 
and science is to mobilize social and political action. 

6. In conclusion: experiencing climatic and system change 

While overcoming alienation certainly requires building relation¬ 
ships and regaining control over affective structures and self-value, 
these are woefully inadequate without an experience of good govern¬ 
ance, which can only be brought about by experiencing agency in in¬ 
stitutions that are supposed to represent oneself. As urban areas 
worldwide brace for the increasing impacts of climate change and sea 
level rise, urban residents will continue to experience exacerbated un¬ 
even geographies of risk and vulnerability created by historical and 
ongoing processes of political and economic exclusion (Bennett et al., 
2016; Anguelovski et al., 2016). Knowledge systems research in cities 
has a choice, it can attempt to improve knowledge for existing decision¬ 
making processes, or it can foster systemic change through new ex¬ 
periments in governance (Bulkeley and Castan Broto, 2013) to improve 
the nature of decision-making itself. 

Such a practice adopts a model of science as a public service 
building broader civic capacity, which may not be seen as valuable by 
academics seeking to act as social change agents through established 
routes of policy and decision-making. However, given the urgency of 
present problems, we would be foolish to reject either established sci¬ 
ence-policy interfaces or more democratically and civically engaged 
routes. Such a plurality opens sustainability science to a much broader 
array of avenues for implementation, but may come at the cost of sa¬ 
crificing some of science’s abstracted authority and social credibility, a 
situation often encountered when practicing hybrid science (Batterbury 
et al., 1997). However, we feel a turn towards experiential pluralism 
daylights an underlying political ideal held by sustainability science, of 
the possibility of genuinely collective and collaborative work that im¬ 
proves life for all urban residents while being attendant to the highly 
uneven social geographies of contemporary cities, ultimately making 
science more defensible to the publics it is seeking to aid. 

As a final consideration, while we have been dismissive of the ra¬ 
tional speech ideal in this manuscript, we still believe that experiential 
pluralism forms the basis for forms of urban governance and knowledge 
generation that adhere to underlying principles of sound governance: 
inclusivity, transparency, and accountability where the power of 


Z.J. Grabowski, et al 

Environmental Science and Policy 96 (2019) 70-76 

persuasion outweighs the power of oppression (Alfred, 1999). Through 
the conceptual and methodological provocations provided here, we 
hope to energize urban resilience research to be deeply transformative 
in the interests of all urban inhabitants to build a more just and resilient 
urban future. 


The authors would like to thank the conveners of the Third Annual 
Conference for Sustainability IGERTS held in Portland, Oregon, USA in 
September 2013, as well as Renee Hill for insight, comments and 
feedback on earlier versions of the manuscript. Further support for this 
work was provided from the NSF - Graduate Research Fellowship 
Program under Grant #DGE-1057604, and the NSF-IGERT Program 
under Grants #0966376, 0903479 and 0504248. 


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