Anthropocene

Josef Barla

The spectre of the Anthropocene is haunting the world. The Anthropocene marks a geological era in the history of the planet in which humans as a collective are said to have become a geophysical force on a planetary scale, crossing multiple boundaries and in doing so affecting the functioning of the Earth system as a whole. Coined by the freshwater biologist Eugene Stoermer in the early 1980s in order to signal the anthropogenic processes that are acidifying the waters and changing the conditions of life on Earth, it took almost two decades before the term was picked up and popularized by the atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen (2002). According to Crutzen, the use of fossilised energy – particularly of coal, oil, and gas – beginning with the late 18th century, has not only fundamentally changed the shape of our societies but has also altered the atmospheric composition of the planet. Over the last few years, the Anthropocene has become a buzzword in science, politics, and art. Furthermore, even though a number of framings and definitions of the Anthropocene have arisen, it is still a concept in the making, and therefore ambiguous.

Despite the fact that the Anthropocene has quickly become a concept of currency it remains still unclear who or what is the collective subject that the figure and discourse of the Anthropocene interpellates and subsequently treats as both the causal force and the primary subject of concern (see Chakrabarty, 2009; Crist, 2003). As a matter of fact, it could be argued that the trope of the Anthropocene pictures a majority that represents no one and speaks for no one. It is therefore also not a surprise that 'the Anthropos' – the being that according to the ancient Greek meaning of the word ἄνϑρωπος looks up at what he sees, that is, looks up to the sky – is not and was never a neutral figure. The figure of the Anthropos and the human, was never a mere descriptive category or an ahistoric fact. On the contrary, the human was always referring to certain privileges for those who were gathering together under this concept, bringing with it its own constitutional exclusions. To put it bluntly: there is no proper human without the nonhuman and the inhuman. It is for the very same reason that the notion of the posthuman has to be grasped as part of particular (and not other) social, political, technological, economic, and ecological relations; and therefore, too, is neither innocent nor necessarily more inclusive than the concept of the human.

In an important sense however, it is precisely the idea that humanity has become a geophysical force just like Nature that might turn out to be part and parcel of the problem rather than its solution. Feminist, postcolonial, and posthumanist scholars have argued for the need to shatter the imagined univocality and homogeneity of the Anthropocene by hacking it in order to create "a thousand tiny Anthropocenes" (Colebrook, 2016, p. 449), bringing to the fore the many ways through which the so-called 'Age of Man' is enacted not only differently but also with different earthly consequences across times, places, and bodies. These contestations have resulted in a number of critical and affirmative reframings of the concept and figure of the Anthropocene (see, for example, Alaimo 2016; Bennett 2010; Colebrook 2016; Morton 2016; Neimanis, Åsberg, and Hedrén 2015; Parikka 2015; and Saldanha and Stark 2016).

Two influential reconfigurings of the Anthropocene can be found in Jason Moore's concept of the Capitalocene (2015; 2016) and in Donna Haraway's notion of the Chtuhulucene (2015; 2016). For Moore, it is neither 'the human' nor technology that is responsible for today's ecological catastrophes but capital. Reframing capitalism as a global relation and system of putting human and nonhuman nature to work at a very low economic cost, the concept of the Capitalocene refers to a "world-ecology of capital, power, and nature" (Moore, 2016, p. 6). With her notion of the Chthulucene, Haraway tries to find a position beyond catastrophism on one side, and a naïve faith in technologically fixing the wounds that have been inflicted to the Earth and its inhabitants on the other. The Chthulucene is meant to be "an elsewhere and elsewhen", neither a sacred nor a secular place, but a "thoroughly terran, muddled, and mortal" site where our multispecies becomings in the present and future are at stake (Haraway, 2016, p. 55).

Against this backdrop, new materialist scholars have further shifted attentiveness not only to the necessity of decolonizing the Anthropocene, but also to a re(con)figuring of power as biogeotechno-power. Kathryn Yusoff, for example, highlights how coloniality is materially inscribed into both the Anthropos and the Anthropocene. Decolonizing the Anthropocene, thus, not only requires cutting the ties to colonial geology and origin stories in favour of multiple origin stories which are structured along shared vulnerabilities and hopes, but also to come to a different understanding of the relationship between "geological forces and social practices" (Yusoff, 2017), one that allows us to consider how agency is both made possible and constrained "by the forces of the earth itself" (Clark and Yusoff, 2017). The concept of biogeotechno-power adds to these endeavours in providing a tool for capturing the entanglements of the biological, the geological, the technological, and the social "in new formations of power that invest, regulate, enhance, and dispose of (more-than-)human bodies in particular ecological relationalities" (Lorenz-Meyer et al. 2015). In contrast to Foucault's notion of biopower that focuses on the appropriation of the generative forces of lived (human) bodies, biogeotechno-power includes the harnessing and commodification of the powers of geological forces and the earth through technoscientific and other practices in late capitalism.

KEYWORDS: anthropocene; capitalism; climate change; ecological crisis; empire; global warming
GENEALOGIES: holocene; Paul Crutzen; Eugene Stoermer; imperialism; industrial revolution
SYNONYMS: Age of Man; anthrobscene; capitalocene; chthulucene; plantationocene
ANTONYMS: environmental justice; the more-than-human epoch; making kin; multispecies politics
HYPERNYMS: earth; human exceptionalism; the material world
HYPONYMS: bodies; ecologies, technologies, species thinking

REFERENCES
Alaimo, Stacy. (2016). Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Bennett, Jane. (2010). Vibrant Matter. A Political Ecology of Things. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Crist, Eileen. (2013). "On the Poverty of Our Nomenclature." Environmental Humanities 3: 129-147.
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. (2009). "The Climate of History. Four Theses." Critical Inquiry 35 (2): 197-222.
Clark, Nigel, and Kathryn Yusoff. (2017). "Geosocial Formations and the Anthropocene." Theory, Culture & Society 34 (2-3): 3-23.
Colebrook, Claire. (2016). "'A Grandiose Time of Coexistence: Stratigraphy of the Anthropocene'." Deleuze Studies 10 (4): 440-454.
Crutzen, Paul. (2002). "Geology of Mankind." Nature 415 (6867): 23.
Lorenz-Meyer, Dagmar, Åsberg Cecilia, Christina Fredengren, Maris Sõrmus, Pat Treusch, Marja Vehviläinen, Eva Zekany, and Lucie Žeková. (2015). Anthropocene Ecologies: Biogeotechnical Relationalities in Late Capitalism. New Materialism COST Action IS1307 position paper, http://liu.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1080954/FULLTEXT01.pdf
Morton, Timothy. (2016). Dark Ecology. For a Logic of Future Coexistence. New York: Columbia University Press.
Moore, Jason W. 2015. Capitalism in the Web of Life. Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. New York: Verso.
Moore, Jason W. (2016). "Introduction." In Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism, ed. Jason Moore, Oakland: PM Press, pp. 1-11.
Neimanis, Astrida, Cecilia Åsberg, and Johan Hedrén. (2015). "Four Problems, Four Directions for Environmental Humanities: Toward Critical Posthumanities for the Anthropocene." Ethics & the Environment 20 (1): 67-97.
Haraway, Donna. (2015). "Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin." Environmental Humanities 6: 159-165.
Haraway, Donna. (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Parikka, Jussi. (2015). The Anthrobscene. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Saldanha, Arun, and Hannah Stark. (2016). "A New Earth: Deleuze and Guattari in the Anthropocene." Deleuze Studies 10 (4): 427-439.
Yusoff, Kathryn. (2017). "Geosocial Strata." Theory, Culture & Society 34 (2-3): 105-127.

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