Research

My research interests lie at the junction of the two macro areas of Science, Society & Technology studies and Space, Society & the Environment. I’m interested in innovative modes of geographical production, planning and governance performed by heterogeneous, multilayered and multiscalar networks, most notably how these networks assemble and negotiate socio-environmental issues, and how the material and semiotic implications of their agency is brought to the public fore.

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Principal research topics include the politics of space and place; the social understanding of nature and technology (including current developments in environmental theory); the effects of informal urban planning practices, and the digital urban governance. From a methodological perspective I adopt the Social Construction of Technology perspective, the Material Semiotic framework and a range of participatory science & politics approaches (particularly Action Research).

The following research lines are currently active (or just completed):

1. Digital (Participation and Innovation for) Urban GovernanceScreen Shot 2019-09-03 at 16.09.24

I am interested in understanding how digital and societal technologies interplay in producing innovate participatory processes that cha(lle)nge the traditional forms and function(ing) of urban governance. This entail investigating, amongst the other, on the following questions: what novel agents have emerged in the digital age and do they exercise agency in public space? What are the contestations and antagonisms brought about the massive introduction of digital technologies in the urban life? How critical issues of monopolist appropriation and control of infrastructure and power imbalances, opinion polarisation and manipulation, (cyber)control, data-protection and censorship, limitation of freedom and social dissensus pigeonholing, trust and legitimacy are brought to the public fore and addressed via the city governance? Stepping beyond the dichotomy between the post-political technology-optimism of the smart innovation perspective and the positions of the “wisdom of the crowd” discontents, I aim at offering a critical appreciation of the epistemological, geographical and socio-political challenges posed by digital social innovation in line with those prefigured by the “Shared Digital Europe” manifesto.

On this research line see, for instance:

C. Certomà, M. Dyer, F. Rizzi and L.Pocatilu (2017) (eds.) Citizen Empowerment and Innovation in the Data-Rich City, Springer, New York; Corsini, F., Certomà, C., Dyer M. and Frey M.(2018) “Participatory Energy: research, imaginaries and practices on people’ contribute to energy systems in the smart city”, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 142; M.Dyer, F.Corsini and C.Certomà (2017) “Making urban governance, planning and design a participatory goal. A collaborative urbanism agenda”, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers – Urban Design and Planning, 170, 4; Certomà, F. Rizzi and F. Corsini (2015) “Crowdsourcing urban sustainability. Data, people and technologies in participatory governance”, Futures, 74

2. Urban Political Gardening

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For more than 10 years I worked on urban gardening (including allotments, community/collective gardens, guerrilla gardening and street gardening) to establish that (1) even though urban gardens has been seen from some academia as a pimp-your-neighbourhood activity, it actually addresses and affects some of the most striking issues of our time, such as the social and spatial injustice conditions, marginalisation and deprivation; and (2) urban gardening is a first and foremost a socio-political gesture that that is performed via the mobilisation of biological material and the activation of material-semiotic networks in the space of the polis.

On this research line see, for instance:

Certomà, M. Sonderman and S. Noori (2019) Urban Gardening and the Struggles of Social and Spatial Justice, Manchester University Press; C. Tornaghi and Certomà (2018) Urban Gardening as Politics, Routledge, London; Certomà and F. Martellozzo (2019) “Cultivating justice? A critical analysis of the correlation between Critical Gardening and Spatial Injustice in Rome”, Applied Geography, 106 p. 60-70; Certomà (2011) “Critical Urban Gardening as Post-Environmentalist practice”, Local Environment, 16/1; Certomà and C.Tornaghi (2015) “Political gardening. Transforming cities and political agency”, Local Environment 20/10

3. Postenvironmentalism

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In line with the transformation of the political in the post-political age, post-environmentalism has been debated in environmental political theory from the 90s onward and has called for the re-politicisation of the politics of nature, which had been reduced by the global institutions’ mainstream to a matter of general consensus with no effectuality. My research is intended to advance a material semiotic interpretation of post-environmentalism theory and practice by starting from the recognition that the everyday making and unmaking of the world is a political activity which requires the mobilisation of the social, environmental, and techno-scientific dimensions all at once. Here heterogeneous social actors adopt a plurality of (linguistic and non-linguistic) means to exercise political agency by opposing resistance or practicing resilience, refusing assigned roles and dissolving or re-shaping social formations in the re-creation of nature, and engage in the transformation of space via a bodily form of politics.

On this research line see, for instance:

C. Certomà (2016) Postenvironmentalism. A material-semiotic perspective on living spaces, Palgrave McMillan, New York

4. Informal Planning

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Urban (social, spatial and political) planning is one of my long-lasting and deeper interest and constituted a file rouge amongst my researches on different topics. I started working on planning by digging deep into the hidden rationality of planning, even in those cases in which only the progressive face of power is apparently involved, to unveil the dark side of planning which is unavoidably present in the form of a disciplinary power. Elaborating on Flyvbjerg’s concept of “real rationality” I aimed to show it as the product of biopolitical technologies (disciplining of non-human further than human life), which makes it possible to control the “uncivilised” instincts of society through urban planning. My preliminary exploration of the constituency of public gardens planning in Europe lead me close to the elaboration of the informal planning concept which I conceive not as the climax of the liberatory power of urban counter-culture, neither the consequence of a progressive inclusion of alternative practices in the neoliberal institutional planning practice, rather as the expression of an emerging and transactive/fluid governmentality. Informal planning refers, thus, to collectively organised and structured initiatives aimed at designing the form and functions of public spaces and services in the absence of a legal definition, guidance and funds provided by the public or private sector. This allows the entering of informal actors in institutional planning processes and the redefinition of what is urban, and for whom.

On this research line see, for instance:

Certomà, L.Chelleri and B. Notteboom (in print 2019) “Sustainability transition and the informal transformation of public green space. The case of Energy Park in Rome”, Urban Studies; Certomà and B. Notteboom (2017) Informal planning in a transactive governmentality. Re-reading informal planning practices through Ghent’s community gardens”, Planning Theory, 16/1; Certomà (2016) “A New Season for Planning’. Urban Gardening as Informal Planning in Rome” Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 98, 2 ; Certomà (2015) “Expanding the ‘dark side of planning’. Governmentality and biopolitics in public garden planning”, Planning Theory

5. Environmental Human Rights and Environmental Conflicts

This research line is intended to investigate and document how far the definition in the 2014 of U.N. “Environmental Human Rights” (which expands the traditional understanding of environmentally relevant HRs focused on substantive rights, with procedural rights, whose violations are likely to both cause or to be caused by environmental harms) has been influence by Political Ecology theory and agency. This last critically deconstructs the mainstream liberal perspective to explain how environmental challenges are permeated with issues of power circulation and social justice; points out the mutual influence of environmental degradation and economic, social and cultural poverty; and offer the theoretical framework for the legitimation and discussion of environmental conflicts. My research aims at clarifying whether and under what condition environmental conflicts can be considered as originated from EHR violation or the inadequate application of procedural EHRs, in situations where state or non-state actors (particularly national or multinational enterprises) are threatening the enjoyment of the substantive component of these very rights.

6.  Politics of space and place

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In working on this research line I used environmental theory as a conceptual frame to investigate the politics of knowledge at the center of disagreements over the management of space, and to chart the great diversity of opinions over the significance of place identity for different actors involved in preserving, planning, or contesting spatial developments.

On this research line see, for instance:

van der Heijden, H. Bulkeley, and C. Certomà (eds.) (2019) Urban Climate Politics. Agency and Empowerment, Cambridge University Press (246 pp); C. Certomà, N. Clewer and D. Elsey (2012) (eds.) The Politics of Space and Place: Exclusions, Resistance and Alternatives, Cambridge Scholarly Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne; Certomà (2009) “Environmental Politics and place authenticity protection”, Environmental Values, 18, 3 (IF 1,85) p 312-342; Certomà (2012) “Biopolitica dello spazio. Popolazione, potere, luoghi”, Revue Internationale d’Ethnographie et territoires

7. Post-rural development

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Post-rural areas are characterised by social and economic dynamics produced by a large number of heterogeneous actors working on the contestation and re-assertion of local identity and the control over immaterial assets. My research consequently focused on the possibility for governing the complex relationship between stable and transient actors and the multiple tensions (e.g. resident vs. tourists, local vs. global, real vs. virtual, ancient vs. postmodern, tradition vs. innovation) these generate. The use of dedicate processes for  creating “listening territories” able to integrate local planning and management strategies has been also explored.

On this research line see, for instance:

C. Certomà (2014) Chianti Experiences. Turning a post-local place into a listening territory, ETS, Pisa; Battaglia, C. Certomà, M. Frey (forth.) “A critical interpretation of the “quality of place”. Between attractiveness and post-rurality”, Archivio di Studi Urbani e Regionali; Certomà (2011) “Standing-up vineyards. The political relevance of Tuscan wine production”, Environment and Planning D, 29