Not available in 2021/22
AN276      Half Unit
Anthropology and the Anthropocene

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Gisa Weszkalnys

Availability

This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law, BA in Social Anthropology, BSc in Social Anthropology, Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Cape Town), Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Fudan), Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Melbourne) and Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Tokyo). This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

In August 2016, scientists participating in the Anthropocene Working Group put forward an official recommendation to rename our present time interval ‘the Anthropocene’. It postulates that humans now exert recognisable influences on the earth’s bio- and geophysical systems sufficient to warrant the naming of a distinct geological epoch encompassing the earth’s present, recent past, and indefinite future. The Anthropocene thus echoes contemporary anxieties about climate change, the deterioration of global ecologies, and other environmental crises on unprecedented scales, as well as humans’ capacity to devise adequate solutions to the problems they face. The scholarly and popular debate on the Anthropocene has exploded in recent years, with anthropologists contributing both theoretical and important ethnographic insight into how people apprehend and deal with the repercussions of anthropogenic environmental change. It now seems that the continued successful existence of humanity on this planet will require us to live differently both with each other and with the earth: ‘We will go onwards in a different mode of humanity or not at all’ (Val Plumwood 2007).

In this course, we will approach the Anthropocene as a contested category, with evident political and ethical implications. We will begin by examining the dramatic changes in the relationship between humans and their natural environments brought about by industrialisation, specifically, the increased exploitation of natural resources as well as the production and use of fossil fuels on a large scale. We will attend to the practices and cosmologies of people who in their everyday lives – for example, by digging, polluting, and wasting – participate in the work of anthropogenic alterations, drawing on case studies from across the world. We will consider alternative labels, such as the Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Plasticene, Eurocene, Misanthropocene, and Neologocene, each of which tells a different origin story for what Donna Haraway has called ‘the trouble’. However, we then move to ask whether the Anthropocene might be less a marker of an epochal transformation than a signal of a profound anti-political shift in discussions about the future of the planet. We will inspect the scientific and non-scientific controversies the Anthropocene has provoked, and the particular forms of power, authority, reason, imagination, and subjectivity it has generated.

Students will be expected to engage with a variety of resources, including online publications, blogs, documentary and feature films, and other media, and an emergent interdisciplinary literature, spanning the social and natural sciences, which we will read in relation to a more long-standing engagement with the environment within the anthropological discipline. This will lead us to interrogate established binaries of human/nonhuman, subject/object, and nature/culture, and, significantly, to ask about the critical valence of anthropologists’ enquiry into the ‘anthropos’ for an age so profoundly shaped by humans. What methods and modes of analysis are required to comprehend the diverse human/non-human interactions and seemingly incommensurable scales that the Anthropocene invokes? What types of collaboration, knowledge, and mutual care does an anthropocenic outlook make possible? How can we anchor the manifold theoretical proposals that have been put forward not just in ethnographic examples but also in own ‘experiments for living’?

Teaching

7 hours of lectures, 7 hours of classes, 6 hours of classes and 4 hours of workshops in the LT.

The course is comprised of three cycles of three weeks plus an additional, concluding week. Each cycle consists of two weeks taught in the traditional lecture/class format, and a third week with a two-hour class bringing together the entire course cohort. While the one-hour classes will focus on core readings set by the lecturer, the two-hour class will, in addition, offer space for viewing other resources (films, online material), discussing students independently researched material, student presentations, etc.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay, 1 presentation and 6 other pieces of coursework in the LT.

Indicative reading

J. Cruikshank (2005) Do Glaciers Listen? Local Knowledge, Colonial Encounters, and Social Imagination

D. Haraway (2016) Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene

E. Kohn (2013) How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology beyond the Human

D. McDermott Hughes (2017) Energy without Conscience: Oil, Climate Change, and Complicity

N.C. Kawa (2016) Amazonia in the Anthropocene: People, Soils, Plants, Forests

R. Scranton (2015) Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization

Strauss et al. (2013) Cultures of Energy: Anthropological Perspectives on Powering the Planet

A. Tsing (2015) The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins.

Assessment

Essay (100%, 4000 words) in the LT.

Essay (3500-4000 words)

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2020/21: Unavailable

Average class size 2020/21: Unavailable

Capped 2020/21: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills