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Is "Anthropocene" Being Appropriated for Problematic Purposes?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Sandra Lindberg, Feb 20, 2018.

  1. Sandra Lindberg

    Sandra Lindberg Moderator

    Just finished reading an article by Jeremy Baskin (University of Melbourne, and once labor activist in South Africa). I'm posting the article's abstract below and a link to full text at ResearchGate, where registered users can get the whole article for free.

    Baskin does not mention Ian Angus. When I read Angus, I do not sense the kind of problematic use of the term anthropocene that Baskin describes in his article. And yet, I am troubled by the possibility (reality?) that some writers are perpetuating [hu]man assumptions of superiority and its/his right to determine the course of our planet--even in the face of planetary limits.

    Will you all give this one a read? Is Baskin's critique of the term "anthropocene" valid?

    • Jeremy Baskin
    The Anthropocene is a radical reconceptualisation of the relationship between humanity and nature. It posits that we have entered a new geological epoch in which the human species is now the dominant Earth-shaping force, and it is rapidly gaining traction in both the natural and social sciences. This article critically explores the scientific representation of the concept and argues that the Anthropocene is less a scientific concept than the ideational underpinning for a particular worldview. It is paradigm dressed as epoch. In particular, it normalises a certain portion of humanity as the 'human' of the Anthropocene, reinserting 'man' into nature only to re-elevate 'him' above it. This move promotes instrumental reason. It implies that humanity and its planet are in an exceptional state, explicitly invoking the idea of planetary management and legitimising major interventions into the workings of the earth, such as geoengineering. I conclude that the scientific origins of the term have diminished its radical potential, and ask whether the concept's radical core can be retrieved.
    Suggested Citation
  2. David J

    David J Member

    I think it is a well intentioned intervention asking lots of important questions. At a time when we are on such shifting sand, wearing tinted glasses, while trying to identify moving targets he is right to suggest "we shouldn't rush.." It is interesting that he doesn't engage with the concept of ecology (?). I am coincidentally struggling through Tim Morton's Ecology Without Nature ( his project is object oriented ontology) and he also calls for "more haste, less speed", understanding the time constraints but knowing we have to get this right.
    I wonder if Anthropocene can't be scientific framework, ideology and paradigm all at once, if that's not its revolutionary potential? Of course there will be struggle around filling the empty signifier, just as at the street level there is struggle over pollution and "wilderness" and plastic and all the rest.
  3. MichaelG

    MichaelG Member Staff Member

    In his book Against the Anthropocene: Visual Culture and Environment Today, TJ Demos argues that the Anthropocene thesis is used to obscure the real causes of the crisis, blaming it on "us" (anthropos) and obscuring the role of capitalism and imperialism. He is one of those who prefers "Capitalocene". He says, "This terminological choice is not simply a matter of semantics, but of historical truth, as well as prospective and transformative justice—to pursue an effective transition toward a postfossil fuel future that is socially and politically just, and to create a common world in which all will not be blamed for the activities of the few, and where culpability for ecocide is assigned to those responsible so that the future becomes not only possible but guaranteed."
    Here's a talk by Demos where you can learn more about his perspective, which focuses on ways that the ecological crisis is represented in images and data visualization.
  4. Sandra Lindberg

    Sandra Lindberg Moderator

    Michael, the link to Demos didn't come through. I'd like to check out the source. Will you repost that? Thanks.
  5. Sandra Lindberg

    Sandra Lindberg Moderator

    Ariel Salleh argues that we should be using the term androcene, rather than anthropocene, and insists the predominant male role in all we face needs to be recognized. Without such recognition, she insists, any new system will reinstate/incorporate the current patriarchal cultural underpinnings and no new world will be possible.

    I find Baskin interesting because he details how people with differing agendas--geoengineering folks, even capitalists--can adopt the term anthropocene for their own purposes. What I'm less persuaded by is Baskin's suggestion that the use of the term anthropocene by social scientists or "humanists" can never be as accurate or useful as the term's use by the hard sciences. I cannot accept that science should be given such a corner on the 'truth.'

    Any time, though, that new terms are examined in detail can only bring greater awareness of the trends surrounding the term.

    Looking forward now, to reading a book by Malm called The Progress of This Storm, as posted by Brad on the listserve!
  6. Ian Angus

    Ian Angus New Member

    I've answered the "Anthropocene blames all humans" argument in my book and elsewhere. Simple answer: It doesn't.

    The people who want a different name are distancing themselves from the scientists we need to work with and win over, over a terminological issue they can't win. Anthropocene probably isn't the best possible name, but it's not going to change. In the face of a global crisis, arguing over words is the last thing we should do.
    Sandra Lindberg likes this.
  7. Sandra Lindberg

    Sandra Lindberg Moderator

    Yes, Ian, you have effectively answered this charge. I simply wanted to bring awareness to those who are actually using this term to justify geoengineering or the continuation of the worst kind of capitalism. In other words, an author's use of the term anthropocene does not necessarily signal an enlightened point of view :)
    MichaelG likes this.
  8. Ian Angus

    Ian Angus New Member

    Quite true. Indeed there is no word that can't be -- and probably none that hasn't already been -- misused by our enemies. Similarly, the failure to adopt a particular term (eg Naomi Klein doesn't say socialism!) is not a reason to reject a potential ally.
    Sandra Lindberg likes this.

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