Sub-theme 1 (The Anthropocene)

Save favourite 19 Sep September 2014

For more than a decade now the Anthropocene, the so-called age of the human, has provided an increasingly central frame of reference for environmental thinking, suggesting in effect that humanity's technological ascendancy has become a fundamental force for change in the earth's systems, observable even in the geological record. The Anthropocene has since become a convenient shorthand for referring to the scale, complexity and pace of (mainly industrial) humanity’s impacts on the environment.

Anthropocenic discourses have also appeared because they supply a compelling environmental narrative of self-inflicted transition from the secure Holocene period, where many of the ecosystems of today settled into their present apparently stable forms, into the precarious age of the Anthropocene, a period within which many of the world’s ecosystems have become subject to sudden and extensive change. The Anthropocene thus implies the postnatural, as it performs a seemingly final disruption of the idea of pure nature. It suggests our permanent passage into a natural-cultural condition of uncertain hybridity. Yet this uncertainty suggests both peril and promise. As Ursula Heise argues, the Anthropocene represents a watershed moment in environmentalism, a time in which we might cease longing for pristine situations of the past to which we hope to return, and instead begin to think about the possible futures of a nature that, for good or ill, will include the human.

Other critics are more pessimistically concerned that the very vastness and vagueness of the concept of the Anthropocene may lend it too easily to usurpation into the discourse of the status quo. The recent controversy over the so-called “good Anthropocene,” which some would argue is tinged with pacifying technological utopianism, has lent some credence to these claims and underscored the necessity of addressing in depth and detail what the implications of this concept are for environmental consciousness. As it thus already seems to both inspire and necessitate a thorough rethinking of environmental consciousness, this conference will invite explorations of the many varied and rapidly multiplying iterations of the Anthropocene.