Stoking the Anthropocene?
Location 114
Date and Start Time 03 September, 2016 at 16:00
Sessions 1


  • Saurabh Arora (University of Sussex) email
  • Andy Stirling (University of Sussex) email

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Short Abstract

Engagements with the Anthropocene have become increasingly prevalent in recent years. We invite contributions that consider the relational implications of diverse interventions in the anthropocene debate, particularly in terms of the interveners' responsibilities.

Long Abstract

Engagements with the anthropocene have become increasingly prevalent in STS (and other reflective strands in the social sciences and humanities). These engagements have taken myriad forms. Some influential voices have strongly endorsed the concept, deeming it necessary for addressing issues of agency in relation to (representations of) the planet and for dismantling the 'modern' divide between nature and culture. Others have been more critical, highlighting how the concept unifies the Anthropos into a homogeneous mass, ignoring the many peoples who have lived without fossil fuels and those who never imagined themselves as members of a species named homo sapiens. The concept has also been questioned for embedding an understanding of human agency as control rather than care or solidarity. Some have even proposed alternatives such as Capitalocene and Chthulucene.

This track aims to go beyond simply taking stock of this debate on the Anthropocene and 'companion' concepts. We invite contributions that consider the different relational implications of orienting interventions around this particular axis of discourse. Given the high stakes, even ostensibly critical tinkerings can have the effect of stoking the fires. Those enjoying access to the burgeoning academic anthroposalons thus bear responsibilities to take seriously their privileged roles as mediators of concepts which - for all the many radical ambiguities - can hold very concrete material, social and ecological implications. It is exactly these implications and associated responsibilities that are central to engagements in spaces where divergent futures are realised, not just of but also on the planet.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Fighting the Technosphere, and other Anthropocenic Angsts (A Kitchen Debate)

Authors: Gabrielle Hecht (University of Michigan)  email
Paul Edwards (University of Michigan)  email

Short Abstract

Neologisms abound in the Anthropocene. Consider the Technosphere, the theme for HKWs latest anthroposalon. One of us finds the term inspiring, the other regressive. Here, we perform a version of our long debate surrounding our collaboration in the Technosphere Edition of HKW’s Anthropocene Campus.

Long Abstract

Neologisms abound in the Anthropocene. Consider the "technosphere," proposed by environmental scientist Peter Haff as a new Earth-systems "paradigm" on par with the lithosphere, the atmosphere, and the biosphere. The technosphere — defined as the "the interlinked set of communication, transportation, bureaucratic and other systems that act to metabolize fossil fuels and other energy resources" — helps account for emergent effects of planetary-scale technological systems in the Anthropocene. Haff's neologism rapidly escaped the confines of Earth system science, most recently as the theme for the Haus der Kulturen der Welt's 2016 edition of its Anthropocene Campus.

The technosphere concept seems calculated to give STS scholars heartburn. Though it ostensibly includes "human components," it still portrays technology as autonomous and self-regulating, with needs and powers of its own. It's not just that the concept leaves no room for politics: its elaboration explicitly sidelines politics as a form of whack-a-mole, a kind of agency impotent to rein in the technosphere's blind voracity. How can this move be anything other than regressive? Yet there is something intriguing about treating technological systems as metabolisms. And STS discourses and methods seem ill-equipped to address such large-scale concerns. So maybe the technosphere is good to think with? Or at least to fight about?

Here, we offer an abbreviated version of our year-long argument about these issues, prompted by our collaboration in the Anthropocene Campus. Mirroring its conditions of production, we will perform our argument as a kitchen debate in three stages (before, during, and after the Campus).

Shrinking, bending and stretching? The coupling and intersection of Rights of Nature and the Anthropocene

Authors: Cristina Espinosa (University of Freiburg)  email
Michael Pregernig (University of Freiburg)  email

Short Abstract

‘Rights of Nature’ and the ‘Anthropocene’ are two prominent contemporary environmental discourses. This paper critically reconstructs the coupling and intersection of the two discourses in current scientific and political debates.

Long Abstract

Rights of Nature and the Anthropocene are two prominent contemporary environmental discourses. The Rights of Nature discourse articulates a call for re-defining ecosystems, such as forests, as subjects with legally enforceable rights. The Anthropocene discourse refers to a geological epoch characterized by the significant influence of human activities on Earth. This paper critically reconstructs the coupling and intersection of the two discourses in current scientific and political debates. It thereby departs from the common constructivist premise asserting that discourses influence people's engagement with each other and with the environment, legitimize or ridicule certain systems of knowledge, appraise or degrade specific social identities, and encourage or belittle specific governance arrangements.

Both discourses have in common that they call for - partly fundamental - reforms of environmental governance systems. At the same time, they differ remarkably as regards the clout that they have gained: While the concept of the Anthropocene has been taken up in multiple contemporary environmental debates, in academic and non-academic venues, and by all sorts of actors; the Rights of Nature discourse is restricted to a small network of individuals and organizations with comparably limited political influence. Based on the analysis of this discursive interaction, the paper discusses how shifts in contemporary environmental debates affect conceivable environmental governance arrangements.

Poetics of excess in times of ecological crisis: A plea for environmental indeterminisms

Authors: Antonia Walford (University College London)  email
Cristobal Bonelli (University of Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

Building on indigenous and scientific portrayals of ecological catastrophe, this paper experiments with the idea that environmental crisis makes humans constantly other, allowing for unexpected, poetic forms of environmental relationality, sensitivity and understandings of responsibility to emerge.

Long Abstract

The "Anthropocene" is a contemporary framing of nature-culture that demands that we re-think humanity's relationship to the environment, and has caught the attention of scholars across the social sciences and humanities. But an intriguing tension has emerged from these debates. Either we understand the inanimate as agential, and therefore potentially deterministic, in order to countenance the crisis that confronts us; or we retain and re-iterate the anthropocentrism of this crisis, in order to be able to marshall people to do anything about it. The term "Anthropocene", in its polysemic usage, in fact encapsulates this.

In this paper, we explore this tension through the notion of 'environmental indeterminisms', to consider the idea that rather than determine what humans are, the environment makes us constantly other than we are. This can result in unexpected, poetic forms of environmental relationality and understandings of responsibility. Investigating this form of environmental otherness means thinking with environmental excess rather than trying to contain it, and opens up the possibility of new sorts of unstable and even destructive configurations between the material and the immaterial, the conceptual and the concrete, humans and the earth. Theoretically, environmental indeterminism moves us away from the metaphorical safe-holds of "stability", and towards a poetic process that is radically unstable and volatile. In the paper, we explore environmental indeterminism and ecological poetic process through a comparison of indigenous human and non-human critical relationalities, and Western climate scientific engagements with environmental crisis.

Finding Nemo: can there be a 'good' in the Anthropocene?

Authors: Laura Pereira (City University of London)  email
Rika Preiser  email

Short Abstract

We define 4 framings of the Anthropocene: eco-modernist, planetary stewardship, sustainability pathways and post-humanist. A 5th category refers to the Anthropocene as responsibility and locates a Derridean ethics of acting in an uncertain era, through which we can find ‘goods’ in the Anthropocene.

Long Abstract

There is a growing agreement amongst scholars, that the notion of the Anthropocene indicates a number of fundamental conceptual shifts that destabilise important underlying traditional, scientific assumptions and dichotomies. A closer reading on the conceptual level of the Anthropocene reveals that although there is agreement that a new engagement with the problems that arise in this new era is needed, there are different ways in which different fields suggest one should engage with it. In this paper, we set out 4 framings that we argue have fundamentally different framings of the 'problem' of the Anthropocene' and equally diverse responses to this problem. These four fields include:

1- the 'eco-modernist' or post-environmentalist perspective builds on the enlightenment ideals of progress and rational engagement.

2- the 'planetary stewardship' paradigm reinforces the dependence of humans on the functioning of the Earth's systems within planetary boundaries.

3- the 'pathways to sustainability' approach relies much on an STS framing of opening up multiple alternative pathways into the future.

4- the post-humanist or 'relational ontology of things' paradigm argues that all things are equally related to one another.

We then propose a fifth category that refers to the 'Anthropocene as responsibility' and argue that within this paradigm, it is possible to find a Derridean ethics of our responsibility that comes with being human and acting on the planet, when the future is uncertain. It is through this lens that we propose that it is possible to locate a set of 'goods' within the Anthropocene.

Natural Anthropocene?

Author: Svein Anders Noer Lie (University of Tromsø)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I will argue that we have never been in a more urgent need for a concept of naturalness. Others have argued that facing the Anthropocene calls for the final abandonment of naturalness. This debate depends on what we mean by ‘naturalness’.

Long Abstract

In Philosophy of Nature: Rethinking Naturalness (Routledge 2016) I argue that we need to recognize how our concept of nature and naturalness depend on particular ontological assumptions, and that rethinking these concepts in terms of a dispositional ontology will make an important difference for the way we think about naturalness in relation to science, ethics and technology.

The way we think about Anthropocene depends heavily of our concept of nature and naturalness, and I argue that these concepts have never been more important. Many have argued for the opposite, i.e . that 'entering the Anthropocene' calls for a new synthesis between man and nature, a synthesis that puts the final nail in the coffin for the idea of naturalness. While I agree to the claim that we need a new synthesis I think the conclusion is wrong and contra productive. I will compare my own view with the view that we find in Stephen Vogel's book "Thinking Like a Mall" (MIT Press 2015).

This track is closed to new paper proposals.