Landscapes of Change, Inertia, and Species Coexistence
April 7, 2017
Joanna E. Lambert
Humans are adapted to change. I’ll illustrate this point using feeding and diet as an example. Our nutritional niche is arguably among the broadest on the planet, rivaling most other species in its eclectic omnivory and diverse patterns of food consumption; we are gustatory generalists extraordinaire, flexible, and adapted to shifting landscapes of food availability. Such biological flexibility has been the subject of lively discussion among biological anthropologists and evolutionary biologists. The Variability Selection Hypothesis (Potts 1998), for example, posits that humans (and our hominin forebears) are best adapted not to any particular sort of ecological circumstances but instead to change itself. This makes sense from a climatological and ecological vantage: the most dramatic and frequent climate oscillations in the past 27 million years have occurred recently, in the past 5 to 6 million years—dates corresponding with the evolution of our lineage. We continue to adapt as new foods have been introduced, with continually shifting gut microbiomes and new alleles. The phylogenetic inertia of our biological and ecological flexibility has clearly served us well over evolutionary time: we are a true cosmopolitan species, occupying virtually every habitat type on the planet.
(more…)Tags: Anthropocene, change, habitat, Joanna Lambert, western United States, wolves
New Featured Article!
“Anthropological Engagement with the Anthropocene”
February 22, 2017
The latest Environment and Society featured article is now available! This month’s article, “Anthropological Engagement with the Anthropocene: A Critical Review,” comes from Volume 6 (2015), a special issue on the Anthropocene. In their review of anthropology’s evolving engagement with the Anthropocene, HannahGibson and Sita Venkateswar contemplate multifarious approaches to research and discuss critical engagement discussed including anthropology beyond disciplinary borders, queries writing in the Anthropocene, and anthropology of climate change.
Visit the featured article page to download your copy of the article today before it’s gone! A new article is featured every month.
(more…)Tags: Anthropocene, Anthropology, climate change, entanglements, Environment and Society, Hannah Gibson, multispecies ethnography, Sita Venkateswar, transdisciplinary
Of Cell Phones and Energy Transitions in the Anthropocene
September 28, 2016
The first week of September was a rather busy one, beginning with the announcement by the Subcomission on Quaternary Stratigraphy’s Working Group on the Anthropocene (AWG), reporting their vote for the onset of the Anthropocene Epoch. In their report to the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), the Working Group favored the nuclear fallout of 1950s as a defining moment, though only one of several candidates that must still be considered before the designation of type location for the Anthropocene’s golden spike. A “golden spike” is a physical marker for the lower boundary of a geologic period, as defined by a Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP), which must be specified by a unit of the International Commission on Stratigraphy. So, the AWG must decide what signal demonstrates most clearly and continuously the reality of anthropogenic dominance on the geologic processes of the planet. Most often, this is done by designation of a type fossil; in the case of the Anthropocene, a leading candidate is the domestic chicken. Just think about that one: dinosaurs have literally come home to roost…
(more…)Tags: Anthropocene, climate change, hurricane, Sarah Strauss
“Something Wicked This Way Comes”
Energy, Modernities, and the AnthropoScene
March 2, 2016
The verdict of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is clear: we are the dominant species on this planet, and our documented role in the global system gives many (but not all) confidence that the Anthropocene is well named. We need to understand the interactions, impacts, and development of systems to attempt either adaptation or mitigation with respect to our changing climate, recalling that unintended consequences must always be counted. As they say, there is no planet B, no other place where externalities can be stored for later disposal. Of course, wicked problems like climate change are nothing new. They resist resolution because they are difficult to define/multicausal (unlike the ozone hole); have incomplete or changing parameters, such that “solving” one part of problem generates new ones; and have no clear solution, just better or worse options (Rittel and Webber 1973). Wicked problems are socially complex and generally require behavioral or cultural changes of significant proportions. Examples of these, such as climate change, energy transitions, water management, and biodiversity loss, are also the hallmark of the Anthropocene: they are “socionatural” transformations that we have set in motion ourselves, and the ones I have mentioned all have strong connections with each other. Here, I focus on energy.
New Open Access Article from Environment and Society!
December 9, 2015
“Less Than One But More than Many: Anthropocene as Science Fiction and Scholarship-in-the-Making”
By Heather Anne Swanson, Nils Bubandt, and Anna Tsing
ABSTRACT: How might one responsibly review a field just coming into being—such as that provoked by the term Anthropocene? In this article, we argue for two strategies. First, working from the premise that the Anthropocene field is best understood within its emergence, we review conferences rather than publications. In conference performances, we glimpse the themes and tensions of a field-to-come. Second, we interpret Anthropocene as a science-fiction concept, that is, one that pulls us out of familiar space and time to view our predicaments differently. This allows us to explore emergent figurations, genres, and practices for the transdisciplinary study of real and imagined worlds framed by human disturbance. In the interplay and variation across modes for constructing this field, Anthropocene scholarship finds its shape.
HEATHER ANNE SWANSON, NILS BUBANDT, and ANNA TSING are core members of the Aarhus University Research in the Anthropocene program (AURA). With Elaine Gan, they are editors of the forthcoming Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Stories from the Anthropocene and curators of More Than Human: AURA Working Papers. Among their current and forthcoming books are Caught in Comparisons: Japanese Salmon in an Uneven World; The Empty Seashell: Witchcraft and Doubt on an Indonesian Island; and The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins.
Free PDF Download
This article is Open Access under license CC-BY-NC-ND 4. To access all of the articles of Environment and Society Volume 6, which specifically focuses on the Anthropocene, visit the journal’s website here.Tags: Anthropocene, co-species relations, Environment and Society, field-building, genre, philosophies of nature, structures of feeling, transdisciplinarity
New Issue of Environment and Society!
October 19, 2015
Environment and Society Volume 6 is now available from Berghahn Journals! To access all of the articles of this issue that specifically focuses on the Anthropocene, visit the journal’s website here. The following is an excerpt from Amelia Moore’s introduction to this issue, available as a free PDF download:
The Anthropocene is everywhere in academia. There are Anthropocene journals, Anthropocene courses, Anthropocene conferences, Anthropocene panels, Anthropocene podcasts, and more. It is very safe to say that the Anthropocene is having a moment. But is this just a case of fifteen minutes of fame, name recognition, and bandwagon style publishing? The authors in this issue of ARES think not, and we would like to help lend a critical sensibility to the anthropological consideration of the concept and its dissemination.
We recognize that the Anthropocene is an epoch in formation. As a category and as a concept, the term inspires fear, revelations, skepticism, and all manner of predictions and projects. In other words, the Anthropocene is as generative as it is contested. And as global anthropogenic change becomes an increasingly defining feature of contemporary life, the authors in this issue of ARES look beyond the kneejerk censure of the Anthropocene as an academic fad in order to locate the social and political significance of the idea while it congeals around the world.Tags: Anthropocene, Berghahn Books, Berghahn Journals, Environment and Society
Multispecies Epidemiology and Ethnography
August 5, 2015
Genese Marie Sodikoff
In November 2014, Madagascar was hit by a major outbreak of bubonic plague. Its epicenter was in Amparafaravola, a midsize town with a hospital staff that was caught off guard. Public outreach was slow and disorganized, dispensaries were understocked with antibiotics, and people did not believe the new fever was the actual plague … until several deaths occurred.
The evolution of the disease into the more lethal pneumonic variety risked a cataclysmic rise in mortalities. Health-care providers feared it would spread like wildfire into the capital, Antananarivo, where it has long existed at low-grade levels, especially within prisoner and homeless populations.
The “Three Cultures” Problem in Global Change Research
March 9, 2015
Has academic life become notably less balkanized since C. P. Snow delivered his famous “two cultures” lecture in 1959? Apparently not. In this week’s issue of Science (6 March 2015) appears an article extolling the virtues of the humanities. It argues that scientists too often define research problems narrowly, leading to technical “solutions” that address only symptoms (not causes) or even make the problems worse for those in society affected by them. Kevin Boehnke, the author, commends historians, philosophers, literary critics, and anthropologists to his readers—who are mostly physicists, chemists, engineers, and the like. Humanists’ focus on the intricacies of peoples’ identities, relations, values, and disputes, Boehnke argues, can allow scientists to better link their work to the wider world it so often alters (by accident or design). Nearly sixty years after Snow’s lecture, Boehnke’s article suggests that academic specialization cuts deep—so deep that the editors of Science have seen fit to let him reprise rather old arguments about the need for better links between STEM researchers and those who study the rich tapestry of “the social.”
Anthropology, the Anthropocene, and the Military
January 31, 2015
In recent months, the United States Department of Defense spoke out on climate change. While many seemed surprised that the DoD had quietly been thinking about and planning for the effects of climate, the US military’s concern for weather conditions and climate change is actually nothing new. Military strategy has always tried to take into account weather conditions and their impact on battlefield conditions, troop morale, logistics, and the ability to maneuver. What is interesting about the US military’s concern with climate change is that it has been seemingly at odds with the “official” position of many of its key governmental supporters. While members of Congress and the Senate and members of the conservative or anti-science chattering classes may continue to deny the reality of climate change or the role of human activity in bringing about a new geo/environmental era, the military has quietly gone about studying and planning for the impact of this new reality for decades. Two recent reports, the “2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap” and the “Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan FY 2014,” detail the military’s thinking about climate change, how changing environmental conditions will impact its ability to carry out missions, and how the DoD will also create new forms of missions and operations stresses and challenges.
Dangerous Knowledge and Global Environmental Change
Whose Epistemologies Count?
November 26, 2014
The question of how the social sciences and humanities ought to relate to science, technology, engineering, and medicine (STEM) subjects is a recurrent one. It’s become a burning question in the world of “global change science” of late because the scope, scale, and magnitude of the human impact on Earth is unprecedented. Groups of otherwise sober geoscientists are sounding the alarm, as indicated by the concepts of the “Anthropocene,” “planetary boundaries,” and “global tipping points.” There’s been talk of a “new social contract” between global change researchers and the societies their inquiries are intended to serve. As part of this, geoscientists are now looking to those of us who study diverse human perceptions, norms, values, relations, institutions, and practices. As geoscientists recognize, we need to analyze, interpret, and change the habits of whole societies if we are to reduce and adapt to the enormous biophysical changes we are collectively instigating. Heide Hackmann and coauthors term this the “social heart” of global environmental change (2014). It implies that environmental social scientists and environmental humanists must step forward and make a difference now so that Earth future resembles something far less bleak than imagined by Cormac McCarthy in his shattering novel The Road.