Placing the Anthroposcene is a book project and an experiment in earth-writing. The book presents a field guide in the form of twelve Anthroposcenes – situated entanglements of geo, bio and spectral earthly powers.
You can watch my overview here
The Anthropocene has been a promiscuous concept. For earth scientists and techno-optimists the anthropocene is revelatory and incitatory – a wake-up call to act. Critical social scientists point to the post-politics of the Anthropocene; hence the Capitalocene, an analysis of causes, not simply a catalogue of impacts. Still others – from the environmental humanities, posthumanities to multispecies studies – are constructing a more generous story in which the Anthropocene’s deep shocks, spatial and temporal ruptures in the fabric of given knowledge, trouble our repertoires and demand response.
These approaches to the Anthropocene share an inflationary tendency to ‘go planetary’: they invite us to witness the whole planet, laid out before us. Where exactly could we be we standing when we claim to be surveying the Earth? In this book I argue against ‘going planetary’ without due process. The planetary is composed from loops, from the actions of many agents, from material and immaterial flows, all passing through specific sites.
Here’s the approach:
1: Anthroposcenes are stories. Neither poets nor novelists, academics must tell stories in particular ways. We are writers ‘of high-protein nonfiction’ (Germano 2013, 150). This requires attention to provenance, evidence and location of analysis within modes of thought (MacDonald 2013). Once considered quaint, geographers have shown a ‘growing willingness to experiment with the character and form of writing, and a preparedness to consider style as a pressing issue rather than a supplementary concern’ (Lorimer, 2008b: 182). No longer simply a tool to investigate intimate articulations of ideology and power, story today for geographers encompasses the post-phenomenological, the material and the wondrous. Anthroposcenes tack more towards ‘small stories’ of the picayune in which ‘particularity and mundanity’ matter most (Lorimer 2003, 200), rather than the ‘big project’, the signature initiative puffed up with its own significance. Anthroposcenes tell stories that are ‘big enough’. These ‘big enough’ stories gather up the complexities and keep the edges open and greedy for surprising new and old connections’ (Haraway 2016, 101). Anthroposcenes also thirst for theory and so for new ways of thinking that go beyond common sense. They brook no sovereign authority, they neither ‘scale up’ as metonymic units of bigger ideologies or fantasies like Progress or Modernity, nor do they drag down bigger explanatory frameworks to given them meaning. The test, or in Latour’s terms the PASS, for Anthroposcene stories is not empirical fidelity or world-mimesis: instead of pre-loaded moral charges, goo, progressive story-telling ‘orients itself toward the emergent, the not-yet-here, and participates in the materialization of new realities’ (Cameron 2012, 581, Gibson-Graham 2006). Anthroposcenes are lively, never foreclosed, ‘open to other ways of constituting, of responding to and living in a world’ (Rose and van Dooren 2016, 85). Stories do not address a preformed ‘we’ but rather assemble a collective through their crafting and telling. The test for good, progressive story is its power to re-subjectify the reader, to change perception: to ‘woo, engage, surprise, persuade, rattle, disarm, or disquiet the reader’ (Lorimer and Parr, 2014 544). We should not mistake the PASS of Anthroposcenes with other modes of existence. Another test is that we enjoy writing them; the craft itself should not be subservient to its ends or its politics. Why must everything have an explicit political goal? A vein of self-loathing and auto-critique. ‘Does such an approach [story-telling] represent a depoliticized dabbling in creative writing, or a genuinely radical transformation of geographic understandings of the political?’ (Cameron 2012, 588). Anthroposcenes can be written in defiance of their audience.
2: Anthroposcenes emplace the planetary. Eschewing Latour’s Atlas malediction, Anthroposcenes take place in the compost of everyday life; they show how the planetary comes to rest in the relational practices of everyday scenes: the factory floor, the nests and foraging flightways of fruit bats, a conference room, scraggy peri-urban forests. Anthroposcenes deal with the spatial rupture provoked by the Anthropocene – the need to leap without leaping between the place, right there in front of us, and the planetary, wherever that might be. Anthroposcenes are teleconnected to faraway places through wormholes, through flows of matter and energy: no scene is located solely through itself, its geographies loop out, tentacular, a mosaic of scales, to bring home the planetary, and, in turn, to partake in the relay of planetary space (Massey, Brenner). Anthroposcenes partake of ‘worlding time, not container time’ (Haraway 2016, 11). But Anthroposcenes are not small metaphors of bigger forces – they are synecdoches. No mere rhetorical device, synecdoche is one of the four master tropes (along with metaphor, irony and metonymy, See Barnes and Duncan) figuring the truth. Burke’s classic work described synecdoche as ‘part of the whole, whole for the part… genus for the species, species for the genus’ (1950). Synechochic place provokes simultaneous understanding. Anthroposcenes are like leaves on a tree: each is a part of the whole, but the whole is not divisible into its constituent leaves – the part is not subservient to the whole, a tree a ‘non-totalizing assemblage of multiplicities’ (Marder 2013, 85). Anthroposcenes therefore resist ‘the temptation to jump to the global’ (Latour, reassembling, 174); they are not continuous globes or spheres, but are involutions of earth phenomena: Anthroposcenes for the Anthropocene; Anthropocenes for the Anthroposcene. Each Anthroposcene can be considered its own GSSP.
3: Anthroposcene temporality is the thick now. Anthroposcenes do not inhabit linear, historical time, they are not beads consecutively threaded on an explanatory rosary bead (Benjamin). These are not anthropocentric histories. Staying in the now, staying with the cene, means not wiping out pasts or ignoring futures, but living in a moment full of inheritances, learning, as much as one can, to inherit well. Some of these inheritances, like a tectonically active crust, are ancient, pre-dating life itself; others, such as our microbial allies in eating and being returned to humus, have been with us a while. Others are virtual, visions of futures-to-come that act with anticipatory force to cut into the unfolding now. Much as Anthroposcenes jump the crevasse of the planetary and the place without jumping, they also traverse the gap between deep time and the now – no time is contemporary with itself; the Earth is not synchronous. This temporality is genealogical, ‘maintaining passing events in their proper dispersions’ (Foucault 1984, 81), attuned to accidents, holdovers, odd remains. They also look to the future. Not through the lens of crisis, but by mobilising the thick now.
4: Anthroposcenes are tentacular not arithmetic. Green arithmetic – the tug-of-war between humanity and nature – is a dead metaphor. The Anthropocene is not a tale of impacts and feedback between nature and society. Moore’s web of life, in which capital moves through world ecology, and world ecology moves through capital, is a guide. Moore’s oikeios, the creative, generative, multi-layered relations of capitalist environment-making, provides a KEY here, a way to read Anthroposcenes. Anthroposcenes follow Moore when he says that ‘rather than separate humans from nature, capitalist civilization has enmeshed individual life-activity into a web of life whose interconnections are much denser, more geographically expansive, and more intimate than ever before’ (2015, 12). Moore’s analytical question – How do things get bundled in ways that make world-history? – takes Anthroposcenes only so far. Tentacularity requires noticing the latent flows, places and forms of environment-making that are not integrated into capitalist world ecology. For Moore, these unstable, evolving but very necessary reserves have historically existed as a necessary outside to capital, awaiting formal or informal subsumption – they might also be zones or resources or beings discarded in capital’s relentless global slosh. In Anthroposcenes, these latent commons are not part of an inevitable ex/enclosure by capitalist oikeios: they can be sites of hope and recuperation (Tsing 2014).
5: The players in Anthroposcenes are awkward kin. Relationality is old news, not to mention a profitable basis for biocapitalist accumulation. Nonetheless, the players in Anthroposcenes are not individual but relational, expressions of ‘irrepressible flows of encounters’ of which they are not in charge (Braidotti 2013, 100). They form thick webs patterned by differential vulnerabilities, potencies, contingent histories. So tangled are these webs that they cannot scale up like countable units, do not sort into neat historical trajectories. Anthropocenes thus eschew the logic of ‘the plantation’ (Tsing 2013). Noticing, care and love bind human and nonhumans; so too ignorance, violence and death. There is no innocent starting point. Despite the complexities, are Anthroposcenes on the side of life? Is vitalism the answer, or is it a lure? Extraction, genocide and killing expresses human sovereignty. But so to, in different, kinder ways, do expressions of care, concern and love speak of a secret biopolitical desire for sovereignty: we can save them yet. Rather than be on the side of life as such, Anthroposcenes cast their lot with particular lives: Apis mellifera, rather than Donald Trump, say. Of course, all beings are turned towards death; none can escape the trace structure of death as necessary supplement to life. All beings are also turned towards the increaturely, formed through geo-powers (Yusoff 2016). Anthroposcenes face up to radical asymmetry: cosmic unwinding and the end of the sun (Ginn 2105); the indifference of magma, isotactic uplift, volcanism (Clark 2015). They explore how creatures, critters, things are subtended by a one-way ‘relation to an unreadable other’ (Colebrook 2014, 119). Faced with the abyssal powers, we can learn only humility. Anthroposcenes pick at the pimples of an extended, vertical and interstellar Gaia, rummage through her guts, sure in the knowledge that she does not care the slightest.
6: Anthroposcenes are diplomatic. Anthroposcenes try to burrow between diagnostic, revelatory-incitatory, critical, recuperative and speculative forms: good diplomacy mandates recognition that each form plays in its own key. This means resisting the ‘evil genius’, double click – the premature closure of networks, technologies, beings, or politics. Category mistakes are avoided by not judging one mode of existence against another. Science – taken seriously as both material practice of truth-telling and a semiotic meaning-maker – is a key ally in writing Anthroposcenes, but not the only one. Anthroposcenes do not operate in a positivist key, nor are they friendly to scientist or technological ecomodernism. But in turn, anthroposcenes do not cleave to anarcho-primitivism, remembering that ‘it remains important to embrace situated technical projects and their people,’ for ‘they are not the enemy; they can do many important things for staying with the trouble’ (Haraway 2016, 3).
7: Anthroposcenes are both depressing and hopeful. There is a lot of bad news and there will be more. Anthroposcenes will not shy from the negative horrors of our times. But they will be ready to confront and work through despair, inhabit damaged, ruined or abandoned places. Anthroposcenes are ready to do the work of mourning for dead kin. Depression does not last forever – the game is not up, cyncisim or apocalyptic revelry won’t help. If Anthroposcenes are on one face gloomy, their other face will be hopeful. Hope in an open future is not the same as the chipper optimism of the ecomodernists that more of the same can save us, hope does not attach to tales of progress. Hope does not make peace with the world as it is, but it holds lightly its attachment to an elusive, indeterminate, better future that grows from the world as it is now (Bloch 1986). Hope discloses ‘creation or potentiality or possibility’, recognising that the here and now need not continue along set lines (Anderson 2006, 733). Hope can dwell in concrete plans, in words, or in bodies; more value is perhaps found in hope’s practice, in the way it binds bodies together through trust. Hope goes against the evidence; it requires imagination, action, though the ends to which it strives are not necessarily ‘good’ but require evaluation (Solnit 2006). But hope is no stranger to despair. Despair is a precondition for hope, they are necessary to each other, since hope is ‘haunted by the fact that the something good that exceeds it has yet to take place’ (Anderson 2006, 743). Anthroposcenes therefore resist the appealing good news story, just as they resist unmitigated gloom. Anthroposcenes are an attempt to ‘become capable of response’ to mixed up times (Haraway 2016, 1). They trace threads blind hope and dark despair, attentive to the ways these threads might lead to collaborative survival.