When ecology goes to town. Imaginaries, production and effectiveness of urban ecology in Switzerland

Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) 2018-2022


In 2015, the first two professoral chairs in urban ecology were created in Switzerland. They symbolize a moment of institutionalization of a hitherto minor field of research in this country compared to other national contexts. After long prioritizing the study of non-urban environments, the science of ecology is paying renewed attention to cities.

However, particularly in Switzerland, urban ecological knowledge production is still marginal and fragmented. The vast majority of publications in the field of ecology focuses on areas out of the city which are supposedly preserved from human influence or less “artificial”. Because of this «urban bias», the city currently appears to be a (relative) unknown in ecology.

While ecological research is engaging more and more with cities and produces conceptual frameworks and empirical knowledge on the built environment, it seeks to facilitate the implementation of urban strategies (ecological greening, species control…). These processes need to be analyzed in order to understand how scientists and ecological knowledge influence the production of urban space.

This project explores cultures of nature, epistemic and institutional processes that previously limited, and now contribute to the production of urban ecological knowledge and ecologists’ commitment for more livable cities in Switzerland.

To understand the regimes of knowledge production on urban ecology in Switzerland, we propose three main points of entry and questions:

Entry 1Natural scientists’ imaginary:  What is the city to natural scientists?
Entry 2Knowledge production: What does the city do to ecology?
Entry 3Influence on urban factory: What does ecology do to the city?

Following an approach inspired by Science and Technology Studies, data is collected via qualitative interviews with researchers and urban actors, participant observation of researchers’ fieldwork, as well as textual analysis of various written sources.

The results of the project will lead to the publication of three articles in STS and society-nature relations journals, and a collective book on the history of urban ecology in Switzerland and its placement in perspective with regards to other epistemic cultures.

Colloque international

  • Colloque international « Quand l’écologie entre en ville »
    23-25 janvier 2019 – Université de Lausanne L’écologie urbaine a connu une importante expansion ces dernières années. Qu’elle se focalise sur les espaces verts en ville ou sur la ville comme ‘anthropo-écosystème’ dans son ensemble, l’écologie urbaine est appelée à jouer un rôle croissant non seulement dans la connaissance mais aussi dans la gestion et l’aménagement des villes. Pourtant, l’intérêt des sciences de la conservation pour la ville demeure encore très relatif. La majorité des publications dans ce domaine se concentre toujours sur les espaces éloignés de la ville et supposés les plus préservés de l’influence anthropique. La ville constitue encore un (relatif) impensé de l’écologie. Ce colloque se focalise sur la manière dont l’écologie scientifique se saisit de la question urbaine.

Research Team

M. Moretti, C. Granjou, J. Salomon Cavin, C. Kull, V. Boisvert, M. Chalmandrier et S. Flaminio

Principal applicant : Joëlle Salomon Cavin (IGD – UNIL)

Contributors : Maud Chalmandrier (IGD – UNIL) & Silvia Flaminio (IGD – UNIL)

Partners  : Valérie Boisvert (IGD – UNIL), Christian Kull (IGD – UNIL), Céline Granjou (Univ. Grenoble Alpes – INRAE), Marco Moretti (WSL Birmensdorf)