Social considerations in urban environments

Gathering of wild plants as food is a widespread yet poorly-understood

Megan
Carr
Kroon 321
11:05am
Gathering of wild plants as food is a widespread yet poorly-understood practice. The decentralized nature of urban foraging creates challenges in understanding even the most basic aspects of the activity: who engages in it, what and where they gather, considerations and decision-making while gathering, and their motivations for doing so. Though there are limited academic studies of urban foraging activities, there is a wealth of popular literature on the practice, much of it written by practitioners. This study uses analytical readings of these works to improve our understanding of urban foraging and the closely-related practice of eating invasive species, with a focus on gathered plants in North America. Motivation for practitioners is in part reflected by implied or explicitly stated benefits, such as nutrition, health, or medicinal benefit; emotional or psychological benefits such as closer connection to nature, socialization, or recreation; frugality or food security; sustainability or benefits to local ecosystems; or a host of other potential benefits stated by authors. Recommended precautions are of particular interest, as they reveal factors taken into consideration in choosing sites and species to gather, and how practitioners account for potential exposure to pollutants in urban settings. Vehicle emissions, lead-based paints on the exterior of older buildings, pesticide use, and other factors create variable gradients of potential exposure to contaminants, some of which may accumulate in plant tissues. Eating invasive species is promoted as one way to reduce populations of invasive plants; however, the over-harvesting of native species can threaten some populations. An improved understanding of urban foraging practices will provide a basis for estimating the potential effects of gathering wild food plants in the city on human health and on plant community dynamics.

Increased wellbeing for residents living in low-income, high-poverty

Amber
Collett
Kroon 321
11:05am
Increased wellbeing for residents living in low-income, high-poverty neighborhoods has been the stated goal of urban renewal and urban re-greening efforts in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Despite decades of technical interventions, racial disparities of health and wellbeing within Baltimore persist. In West Baltimore's Harlem Park neighborhood, resident perceptions of health and wellbeing, relationships to urban space, and civic engagement attitudes are informed by historical urban land use practices and current re-greening efforts which have explicit and implicit value-seeking processes. This research is a first step towards unpacking the structural and value trends underpinning the social and decision processes shaping urban communities.

Social science literature often conceptualizes energy epistemologies

Myles
Lennon
Kroon 321
11:05am
Social science literature often conceptualizes energy epistemologies through a dichotomous heuristic. It contends that we can define energy either as a Newtonian phenomenon made legible through quantitative metrics (e.g. gigajoules) and technologies of calculation, or as a context-specific force of life characterized by relations among different living beings and ontologies of matter. Furthermore, this heuristic frequently employs a race- and class-based framework, linking the quantitative epistemology with educated white male experts and the qualitative epistemology with poor people of color. Recent anthropological literature and my ethnographic research on energy experts suggest that this heuristic is inadequate for conceptualizing epistemologies in the renewable energy field. While white renewable energy experts with STEM credentials view energy in quantitative terms, they are also attuned to its spiritual and social nature. At the same time, energy expertise is no longer the exclusive domain of white males with scientific training. Increasingly, poor communities of color position themselves as experts on renewables, leveraging energy measurement regimes to make authoritative claims about their experiences as marginalized people. This paper calls for a new heuristic of energy epistemologies to address these shifts in expert knowledge. Building on Lohmann's conception of Big E Energy/little e energies (2013), I bring attention to what I call 'middle E' energy. The middle E occupies the space between the quantitative outlook of modern energy technologies and the qualitative experience of non-mechanized energy generation, suggesting that renewables reconfigure our understandings of what energy is and whose 'expert' conceptions of it matter.