Anthropological Engagement with the Anthropocene

A Critical Review

Authors: Hannah Gibson and Sita Venkateswar
Volume 6, Number 1 (2015)

“It is not a concrete state of ‘being’ but a process of becoming. For example, consider that a rider on a horse has to some extent ‘become’ like a horse in order to interact, connect, and think with the horse, just as we can say that an animal may ‘become human’” (Gibson and Venkateswar 2015: 13). Photograph by Pranav Bhasin via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.


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.

is a PhD student in Cultural Anthropology at the Victoria University of Wellington. For her current research, she will be exploring the everyday domain of reproductive practices and conducting experience-centered research that examines the reproductive hopes, motivations, and experiences of intended parents and surrogates in New Zealand. 
Hannah’s special interests include infertility, new reproductive technologies, contested and rare illnesses, sexuality, and multispecies ethnography.

SITA VENKATESWAR is based in the Social Anthropology program at Massey University, Aotearoa/New Zealand. She is Associate Director of the Massey chapter of the recently established New Zealand India Research Institute (NZIRI). Her ethnography Development and Ethnocide: Colonial Practices in the Andaman Islands (2004) is based on her PhD fieldwork in the Andaman Islands and her coedited book, The Politics of Indigeneity: Dialogues and Reflections on Indigenous Activism (2011), is published by Zed Books. Her current research on the implications of climate change for food production takes a political ecology approach to follow the fortunes of millet cultivation in India.

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