Featured Article

Beyond the Anthropocene: Un-Earthing an Epoch

Authors: Valerie Olson and Lisa Messeri
Volume 6, Number 1 (2015)

A simple model of Earth using Autodesk Maya (photograph by Kevin Gill via Flickr, CC BY 2.0).


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.

 is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. She currently serves on the Sustainability Initiative Executive Committee, the Task Force on Sustainability Education, the Water UCI core committee, the Salton Sea Initiative advisory committee, and the UCI OCEANS Initiative. Her book, American Extreme, is an ethnography of US human spaceflight as a form of environmental systems knowledge production, sociality, and governance.

LISA MESSERI is an Assistant Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology at Yale University. Her recent publications include Placing Outer Space: An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds (Duke University Press, 2016). You can follow her on Twitter @lmesseri.

Tags: AnthropoceneEarthecologyenvironmentextraterrestrialgeographyouter spaceplanetsystem