DOI: 10.1177/14744740231215508 ISSN: 1474-4740

Digital encounters with microbial ecologies in a polluted urban river

Aaron Bradshaw
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Cultural Studies
  • Geography, Planning and Development

Despite their ubiquity and ecological heterogeneity, non-pathogenic microorganisms are often lacking in accounts of more-than-human and other-than-human urbanisms. This article focuses on the use of digital technologies as practice for sensing and encountering unglamorous microbial ecologies emerging in a polluted urban river in East London. The River Lea has a dense industrial history, but today it is a site of post-industrial disuse, uneven development and burgeoning urban ecologies. In an easily bypassed segment of this urban river, microbial ecosystems bloom in and out of existence, reflecting a confluence of urban political ecological, hydrological and microbiological dynamics. These ecosystems are generally overlooked in accounts of urban ecological value, and are often framed as uncharismatic, accidental or even invasive. The aim of this work is to provide an alternative rendering of these slimy micro-ecologies. To this end, two digital approaches are explored: deployment of in situ micro-videography and attention to historical satellite imagery of the urban ecosystem. Microscopic approaches configure embodied, sensory, aesthetic and speculative encounters with microbial ecologies in urban space. In their temporal configuration, historical satellite approaches glimpse the machinations of urban political ecological dynamics as they contribute to the emergence of, and intersect with, recombinant urban ecosystems. These methods provide tools for cultural geographers studying how urban organisation affects ecological diversity, and for expanding geographic investigation into the more-than-human cultures of overlooked, unglamorous and uncharismatic urban lifeforms.

More from our Archive