[Drafted in 2015; posted in 2021, on cleaning out drafts sitting on the site]
A blog posting by Zev Trachtenberg on Do we need “the Anthropocene?” got me thinking about the usefulness and relevance about the concept ‘the Anthropocene’ for a social anthropological study on changing climate. In preparing the proposal for our current research project, I regularly came (and still do) across articles and blog postings making use of this term. In September 2013, for example, a new peer-reviewed journal named Anthropocene came out publishing articles on “the nature, scale, and extent of the interactions that people have with Earth”. Should we for this project not only take note, but engage seriously with writings on this concept of ‘the Anthropocene’?
Other anthropologists are taking note also. John Hartigan (on his blog Aesop’s Anthropology) indicates that at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) not a single abstract, paper or panel contained the phrase ‘Anthropocene’, but at the 2014 meeting there were 64 – clearly a buzzword. In Trachtenberg’s posting that got me thinking, he starts off by acknowledging the status of the concept ‘the Anthropocene’ as a geological term that indicates a period in the geological time-scale. The phrase was coined in 2000 by Crutzen and Stoermer. A new name for this very recent period is necessary, according to proponents of concepts, due to the strong impact that humans have on the earth today. But Trachtenberg also acknowledges the wide informal use of the term “to refer to the massive transformation of Earth systems by human beings”. The concepts conveys a sense of crisis and of urgency, and therefore orients us to policy and action to prevent the sixth mass extinction. This puts humans as a force on the level of cataclysmic natural forces such as volcanoes and earthquakes.
Have a look at the wonderful blog called Inhabiting the Anthropocene: How we live changes everything, run by an interdisciplinary group of faculty from the University of Oklahoma “dedicated to exploring how human beings can and should live in the human era – the Anthropocene”.
In 2012 Dipesh Chakrabarty wrote in the academic article ‘Postcolonial studies and the challenge of climate change‘ about “how the figure of the human has been thought in anticolonial and postcolonial writing—as that of the rights-bearing citizen and as the ‘subject under erasure’ of deconstructive thinking, respectively.” The article shows “how the science of climate change foregrounds the idea of human beings’ collective geological agency in determining the climate of the planet, a move that makes the other two figures not redundant but inadequate to the task of imagining the human in the age of the Anthropocene.” The article “ends by arguing the necessity of our having to think of the human on multiple and incommensurable scales simultaneously, keeping all the three figures of the human in disjunctive association with one another.”
Bruno Latour on Anthropology at the time of the Anthropocene. Abstract: “What an amazing gift! Sure it might be poisonous. But how silly it would be not to try to peek through the wrapping to take a glimpse of what is in store. Consider the situation: here is a battered scholarly discipline, always uncertain of its scientific status, constantly plagued by successive and violent “turns” (the “ontological turn” being only the more recent), a field which always finds itself dragged into the middle of harsh political conflicts, a discipline that runs the constant risk of being absorbed by neighboring specialties and voted out of existence by deans and administrators impatient of its methods and ideologies, a discipline that accepts being crushed under the weight of all the violence and domination suffered by the many populations it has decided to champion—a lost cause among all the lost causes; okay, you see the picture, and it is to this same discipline, which a few years ago, an amazing present was offered: pushed from behind by the vast extent of ecological mutations and dragged ahead by philosophers, historians, artists and activists, a sizeable group of natural scientists are describing the quandary of our time in terms that exactly match the standards, vices and virtues of that very discipline. Yes, what a gift! It is really embarrassing, especially if it is not deserved!” “The concept of the Anthropocene pushes anthropology to the center, requests from us to be worthy of anthro’s original mission” – Latour said. Also,”the dual sides of cultural and physical anthro are being re-negotiated through the concept of the Anthropocene.”
Paul Stoller on the Anthropocene: Anthropology and the political moment: “For me, the politics of the Anthropocene is an anthropological challenge. In the Anthropocene it has been human activity that has directed us onto a destructive environmental path. By the same token, human activity can also direct us toward more positive social ends. Enter anthropology and anthropologists. Most of my anthropological colleagues have been passive rather than active players on the sociopolitical stage. In our discipline the institution has long celebrated arcane theoretical contributions for which practitioners receive research grants and endowed chairs. These times require a shift in emphasis. Given the political, social and ecological crisis we face, anthropologists are uniquely positioned to demonstrate in clear and concise language and image, how market fundamentalism, which generates climate change, social inequality, racism and the defamation of difference, has brought us to the social precipice. By moving from passive to active voice anthropologists, among other cultural critics, can provide the insightful information needed to construct a groundswell of change – a course correction on a path to social apocalypse. … This cultural critique must be constant and consistent. As frustrating as such an exercise might be, we will need to re-state and continuously refine our presentations so that our inconvenient insights will gradually convince people to change. In this way we might salvage some degree of compassionate social life on the planet. At the same time, we should develop further an anthropology of well-being to demonstrate how to siphon off measures of mirth in increasingly trying times. The Anthropocene presents to anthropologists and other social scientists a profoundly humanitarian obligation. As the Songhay people of Niger like the say: even though the path toward truth is long, it is one that is always worth taking.”
Amelia Moore on Anthropocene Anthropology: “The Anthropocene is the label given by some Earth scientists to the current epoch of unprecedented anthropogenic planetary change. The Anthropocene is also a label designed to call attention to this change and evolving notions of agency and responsibility in contemporary life. As a small island state, biodiversity hotspot, and global destination for both tourists and research scientists, The Bahamas is increasingly defined by the emergent problem space of the Anthropocene. Starting with The Bahamas as a location increasingly shaped by planetary change and global change science and utilising scholarship from sociocultural anthropology and related fields, this article describes recent engagements with and within the Anthropocene in order to chart a path towards a global change research framework for anthropologists. I argue that there are under examined divisions in the existing body of work on anthropogenic planetary change, with some scholars working in a mode I call “in the Anthropocene” and some working in a mode that is “of the Anthropocene.” By comparing events in The Bahamas today to these modes and their characteristics, I arrive at an alternative orientation that I call simply Anthropocene anthropology. Rather than advocating for the creation of a new subfield of research, this mode of engagement represents a broad framework for the examination of global change ecobiopolitics.”
Seminar series on the Anthropocene by the Interdisciplinary Humanities Centre at the University of California – Santa Barbara.
In future postings I will look at criticisms of the concepts, and consider alternative concepts.