Nate Gabriel
PhD, Geography
Fellow, Center for Cultural Analysis
Rutgers University
Contact me: nategabriel [at] gmail

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Abstracts for Works in Progress

"Mending Fences: Constituting the Urban Through Environmental Stewardship." A paper to be presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, February 2012.

While discussions of nature's social construction (as an object that can be known, examined, classified, and manipulated) have become commonplace, less common are discussions of the production of the urban along the same lines. Instead, the urban is more often theorized as a particular scale of capitalism metabolization; other times, it is simply taken to be the space in which "urban" things occur. A focus on the formation of urban and environmental identities enables a shift in perspective in which the two can be understood in more "constructive" ways; placing the emphasis on the production of knowledge of each enables greater exploration of the ways that the two are mutually constitutive.

Drawing on a case study of volunteer park management in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park system, one of the oldest and largest urban park systems in the world, this paper demonstrates how participation in environmental management can informing the ways that "urban" people conceptualize, internalize, and perform urban-ness. As environmental managers, volunteers confront their desire to repair the city/nature interface with an equally-powerful desire to rethink the nature of that interface. In exploring this case, drawing from data derived from participant observation and group interviews with volunteer managers of urban parks, the paper highlights the multivalent nature of subjectivity, and the possibility, indeed the tendency, of subjects to inhabit multiple and contradictory positions vis-a-vis the environment, the city, and the relationship between the two.