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The Anthropocene

A Critical Exploration

Amelia Moore

The Anthropocene is everywhere in academia. There are Anthropocene journals, Anthropocene courses, Anthropocene conferences, Anthropocene panels, Anthropocene podcasts, and more. It is very safe to say that the Anthropocene is having a moment. But is this just a case of fifteen minutes of fame, name recognition, and bandwagon style publishing? The authors in this issue of ARES think not, and we would like to help lend a critical sensibility to the anthropological consideration of the concept and its dissemination.

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Beyond the Anthropocene

Un-Earthing an Epoch

Valerie Olson and Lisa Messeri

As “the Anthropocene” emerges as a geological term and environmental analytic, this paper examines its emerging rhetorical topology. We show that Anthropocene narratives evince a macroscale division between an “inner” and “outer” environment. This division situates an Anthropocenic environment that matters in the surface zone between Earth's subsurface and the extraterrestrial “outer spaces” that we address here. We review literature in the sciences and social sciences to show how contemporary environmental thinking has been informed by understandings of Earth's broader planet-scaled environmental relations. Yet, today's Anthropocene conversation draws analytic attention inward and downward. Bringing in literature from scholars who examine the role of the extraterrestrial and outer environmental perspectives in terrestrial worlds, we suggest that Anthropocenic theorizations can productively incorporate inclusive ways of thinking about environments that matter. We argue for keeping “Anthropocene” connected to its spatial absences and physical others, including those that are non-anthropos in the extreme.

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The Anthropocene Trading Zone

The New Conservation, Big Data Ecology, and the Valuation of Nature

Lizzy Hare

The Anthropocene has been a generative concept in recent years and its influence can be felt across a wide range of fields. New Conservation and big data ecology are interrelated trends in ecology and conservation science that have been influenced by the technological developments and social concerns of the yet-to-be ratified Anthropocene epoch. Advocates of these ideas claim that they will revolutionize conservation science and practice, however they share many of the same underlying economic metaphors as the frameworks they seek to replace. The use of economic concepts, such as value, allows ecological science to be made legible outside of scientific communities, but that legibility places limitations on the possibilities for thinking about conservation outside of a market-based framework. If there is to be a threshold moment for new ecological thought, it will need to overcome the ideological limitations of valuation.

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Richard D.G. Irvine and Mina Gorji

This article explores what it might mean to interweave social and natural history, taking as its inspiration the work of the English poet John Clare (1793-1864). If Dipesh Chakrabarty (2009) is right in suggesting that the recognition that we are now in the Anthropocene - a geological epoch of our own making - will force us to re-read human history in the light of planetary history and deep time, John Clare's work provides us with a way of thinking how this might be done. Clare's explorations of human and natural temporalities, and his challenges to our dominant sense of value, may help us to think beyond anthropocentricism and to re-evaluate assumptions of economic progress. With this in mind, we conclude by placing Clare's poetry in conversation with John Locke and his labour theory of value.

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Hannah Gibson and Sita Venkateswar

The Anthropocene refers to the planetary scale of anthropogenic influences on the composition and function of Earth ecosystems and life forms. Socio-political and geographic responses frame the uneven topographies of climate change, while efforts to adapt and mitigate its impact extend across social and natural sciences. This review of anthropology's evolving engagement with the Anthropocene contemplates multifarious approaches to research. The emergence of multispecies ethnographic research highlights entanglements of humans with other life forms. New ontological considerations are reflected in Kohn's “Anthropology of Life,” ethnographic research that moves beyond an isolated focus on the human to consider other life processes and entities as research participants. Examples of critical engagement discussed include anthropology beyond disciplinary borders, queries writing in the Anthropocene, and anthropology of climate change. We demonstrate the diverse positions of anthropologists within this juncture in relation to our central trope of entanglements threaded through our discussion in this review.

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Tracey Heatherington

Wapner, Paul. 2010. Living Through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalism. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Zehner, Ozzie. 2012. Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

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Peter Rudiak-Gould

The Anthropocene can be understood as a crisis of blame: it is not only a geological era but also a political zeitgeist in which the marks of human agency and culpability can be perceived nearly everywhere. Treating global climate change as a metonym for this predicament, I show how life in the Anthropocene reconfigures blame in four ways: it invites ubiquitous blame, ubiquitous blamelessness, selective blame, and partial blame. I review case studies from around the world, investigating which climate change blame narratives actors select, why, and with what consequences. Climate change blame can lead to scapegoating and buck-passing but also to their opposites. Given that the same ethical stance may lead to radically different consequences in different situations, the nobleness or ignobleness of an Anthropocene blame narrative is not a property of the narrative itself, but of the way in which actors deploy it in particular times and places.

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Teresa Lloro-Bidart

This article begins by introducing educational humanism, the Anthropocene concept, and the political ecology of education framework that guides the analysis. I then demonstrate that the current Anthropocene-informed educational research literature pragmatically focuses on how education has the capacity to serve as a means to adapt to the impending environmental challenges of the current geological epoch. I argue that though this literature makes important contributions, educational researchers doing Anthropocene-informed work would benefit from an ecofeminist and/or posthumanist political ecology of education. This conceptual lens: (1) examines how the kinds of human-nature relationships perpetuated in educational spaces are the result of complex and scaled political factors and (2) questions and reimagines human-nature divides reified in educational practice and research. Throughout the article, the persistent humanism of the American formal education system is critiqued, drawing on both the extant literature and a textual analysis of the Framework for K–12 Science Education.

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J. Cristobal Pizarro and Brendon M. H. Larson

Human mobility necessitates that people adapt not only to a new society but also to a new natural environment and biodiversity. We use birds as biodiversity proxies to explore the place experiences of 26 Latin Americans adapting to Canada and the United States. Using interviews with open-ended questions, we prompted participants to identify birds that were linked to remarkable experiences in both places of origin and immigration, which we coded respectively as “roots” and “routes.” Participants reported foundational keystone species linked to their cultural heritage and conspicuous key species they associated with self-realization in the new place. Linking species, involving connections between roots and routes, triggered a process of place recalibration in association with key and keystone birds that worked as points of reference. We suggest that biodiversity offers critical social functions that need to be addressed by social integration programs promoting conviviality between humans and nature in the Anthropocene.

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George Holmes

Planetary changes associated with the Anthropocene challenge longestablished ideas and approaches within biodiversity conservation, such as wilderness, wildness, native and exotic species, species and ecosystem diversity, and what counts as success in biodiversity conservation. This article reviews and analyzes how the Anthropocene is being used within the literature on biodiversity conservation. It finds that the idea of a new epoch has been used to frame a broad range of new approaches and concepts to understanding and stemming the loss of biodiversity. These new ideas are diverse and sometimes contradictory, embracing a range of ethical values and positions. Yet the term Anthropocene is not widely used within the biodiversity conservation literature. Despite the cross-disciplinary nature of the Anthropocene, interdisciplinary research on these new concepts and approach is rare, and the insights of the humanities are almost entirely absent. Debates about conservation in the Anthropocene are a continuation of long-running controversies within conservation, such as how it should relate to human development, and over the concept of wilderness. Overall, this review demonstrates that the literature on biodiversity conservation in the Anthropocene is not well established, is both diverse and new, while echoing longstanding debates in conservation, and it indicates the direction such literature might take in future.