Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change

Time and the changing climate
Location Senate House - Court Room
Date and Start Time 28 May, 2016 at 16:30
Sessions 1


  • Richard Irvine (The Open University) email

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Short Abstract

This panel explores the relationship between time and environment, and examines the role of temporality in thinking about and responding to climate change. How might we engage with "ecological time" in ways that are sensitive to variation and transformation?

Long Abstract

This panel seeks to revisit Evans-Pritchard's classic notion of "ecological time" and asks: how should anthropology seek to understand the relationship between time and environment in a context where those environments are changing? How might we engage with "ecological time" in ways that are sensitive to variation and transformation?

We welcome proposals exploring the role of time in relation to climate and environment, and are particularly interested in case studies illustrating the temporality of change in specific ethnographic contexts.

For example, one way of thinking about such temporality is through the rhetoric of urgency, as a point of crisis comes ever closer. This can be seen particularly in the use of apocalyptic language; yet we also see the rise of a "slow sociality", the emergence of practices of consumption and exchange that see slowness as a way of re-engaging with the depth of ecological time.

In the context of debates surrounding the Anthropocene - a geological epoch of our own making - there is an increased dialogue between anthropology and the deep time of the earth sciences. This requires us to place human activity against the backdrop of our planetary history; at the same time, a recognition of the intensity of human impact, and the need for rapid action, requires us to focus on close deadlines. Does the Anthropocene, then, broaden or narrow our time horizons? And does the focus on human behaviour inherent in the prefix 'Anthro-' close off a recognition of the temporality of other species?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Revisiting Evan-Prichard's of "Ecological Time" - Rethinking Processes of Objectification

Author: Stephanie Koerner (Liverpool University )  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the usefulness of revisiting Evan-Pritchard's "ecological time" for engaging the ways in which the dualist "foundation of the modernist epistemology” impedes research on diversity of the "processes of objectification.” (Descola and Palsson, Nature and Society, 1996).

Long Abstract

The publication of Modes of Thought: Essays on Thinking in Western and Non-Western Societies marked a turning point with regards to 'crises over representations' in anthropological debates over its hitherto most influentially opposed paradigms for classifying, chronologically ordering and explaining patterns of unity and diversity amongst cultures. Dedicated to what contributing authors saw as key issues raised by E.E. Evans-Pritchard's work, the volume's focuses in the questions organising question is: Is there a basic difference in modes of thought (both in content and, more especially, in logic and formulation) as between Western and non-Western societies? .... Or - following on from this basic question - is there perhaps no significant difference that can be pointed to in this context? Or again, is this perhaps not a feasible or single question are all? ((Horton and Finnegan 1973: 11). Yet already its introduction drew attention to the significance of the latter question, in lights the extent to which influentially opposed positions on the former ( and polemic over Evans-Pritchard's work) have been enmeshed over the series of dichotomies on which polemic over whether the importance of science to modernity should be interpreted as a triumph or as a tragedy.

The Anthropocene: A fossilized view of becoming

Author: Cristián Simonetti (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)  email

Short Abstract

The scientific definition of the Anthropocene seems characterized by - paraphrasing Bergson - a fossilized view of becoming. I argue this view belongs to a wider understanding of change, marked by a punctuated and retrospective view of history.

Long Abstract

Although the 'Anthropocene' is seen by many scholars across the sciences and humanities as a tool for political action, its validating procedure in the hand of geoscientists looks extremely conservative. Soon after Crutzen's coinage of the term, to highlight humanity's influence on the planet, geoscientists embarked on a quest to locate the start of this new era in stratigraphy. According to leading members of the Anthropocene Working Group, only signals that are already buried in stratigraphic sequences, clearly identifiable across the globe, are candidates to securely tell us when the Anthropocene started. Accordingly, signals need to become fossils before scientists are able to take action, for example, by officially introducing the term in geological charts. Grounded on ethnographic work among geoscientists and an analysis of the history of the geosciences, I suggest that this petrified understanding of time corresponds to what could be described, paraphrasing Bergson, as a fossilized view of becoming, where time is seen as a punctuated accumulation of solid surfaces and the past remains accessible only to a selective group of experts. I conclude by suggesting that this view belongs to a wider understanding of change marked by retrospection, common also in anthropology, for example in how Evans-Pritchard studied time reckoning among the Nuer. I suggest that in order to address the temporal challenges currently imposed by deep time, anthropology needs to address the particularities of this shared fossilized view of becoming.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.