RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2015

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66 Suspending the Anthropocene: Impasse, Lost Futures, Déjà vu
Affiliation History and Philosophy of Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Maan Barua (University of Oxford, UK)
Joe Gerlach (University of Oxford, UK)
Thomas Jellis (University of Oxford, UK)
Chair(s) Thomas Jellis (University of Oxford, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 02 September 2015, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Forum - Seminar Room 10
Session abstract Its probable sedimentation as a geological marker belies the rapid inundation of contemporary social and political theory by the so-called Anthropocene. In Geography, this has been particularly clear, with conceptual work on nature and environmentalism (Lorimer, 2012; Lorimer and Driessen, 2014), climate change (Dalby, 2013; Healy, 2014), the geo (Clark, 2012; Yusoff, 2014), as well as reviews (Castree, 2014a; 2014b; 2014c) and reflections on the Anthropocene (Johnson and Morehouse, 2014).

With the Holocene unceremoniously cannibalised in the blink of an epoch, the rush to harness and apply all things Anthropocenean is untamed. If the Anthropocene points to the end of ‘epochality’ as such (Viveiros de Castro, 2013), then this session looks to assemble and develop critiques - conceptually and philosophically eclectic - of the Anthropocene that harness ideas of ‘suspension’ (in all senses of the term), in order to problematize a prevalent narrative of abrupt change across a range of registers in contemporary geographical thought. This, then, might include examining the ‘bracketing’ of epochs, the suspending of the human, or the suspense of the future. As such, the session also seeks to explore and interrogate the politics of living in a ‘passive present’ engendered by the onset of the Anthropocene.
Linked Sessions Suspending the Anthropocene (2) Or, Cannibalizing the Holocene, Panel Session
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2015@rgs.org
Suspending subjectivity in the Anthropocene: themes of impasse, independence and cruel optimism in the passive present
Jonathan Pugh (Newcastle University, UK)
This paper argues that the Anthropocene is usefully characterised as a suspended and passive present. It does not herald a new epoch of abrupt change, but an extended time of “impasse”; characterised by attachments to waning genres of the collective good life amid ever-intensified structural inconsistencies and surplus affect (Berlant, 2011:4). The Anthropocene is not only about precarity, therefore; it is also about the work that ideas of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ still do, but in new ways, and how they now often work more like background static and rhythms of assurance that people can enter into; as they dither, totter, adjust, adapt, or otherwise get worn out by being attached to these assurances. Rather than emphasising the productive and agentic subject, the Anthropocene therefore now foregrounds new tropes of being “suspended in time”, uncertain intuition, attrition, unfinished activity, duration, the wearing out of life, and, in particular, “cruel optimism” (Berlant, 2011:64). Such concerns have of course been the general focus of political and colonial independence scholarship for many years; and yet this new slow drawn out time of impasse has received little attention to date in the literature. Reporting research conducted by the author over the past 15 years, this paper explores themes of impasse, independence and cruel optimism in the everyday working lives of Caribbean island civil servants.
Salmon-netting on the Tweed: regulating a co-evolved ‘nature’ for the Anthropocene
Tessa Holland (Newcastle University, UK)
‘Anthropocene’ may be a prevalent narrative in geographic circles (and is perhaps a useful way to frame new thinking) but outside of academic culture there is little inclination to change embedded assumptions around habitual, and mostly economic, priorities. My fieldwork is with ‘Slow’ towns. In Berwick-upon-Tweed I have explored the complex interplay between traditional salmon-netting practices, elite angling interests and regulation of the river. Records confirm netting on the Tweed for 1000 years, but arguably the river’s entire ecosystem co-evolved throughout the Holocene under this human ‘management’. Yet net fisheries are closing, subsumed by the lucrative interests of angling as sport. Once the knowledge of generations of net fishers is lost, it cannot be regained. Policy decisions to regulate the river demand ‘evidence-based’ justifications, favouring the metrics and conventions of ‘science’. Knowledge that is specific, embodied, incremental, absorbed and substantiated by inherited experience is seen as anecdotal and insignificant. Small, replicable units of empirical data trump nuanced understandings that encapsulate grand time-scales and cyclical fluctuations in river species. By proposing a continuity of practice throughout the Holocene (and beyond?) and by questioning the ‘naturalness’ of an ecosystem, this case interrogates regulatory assumptions about sustainability and problematises several notions associated with the Anthropocene.
Déjà-vu: the Anthropocene in the registers of contemporary artists
Bergit Arends (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Since proposed in 2000 the Anthropocene concept has gained currency in scientific, but also cultural and societal debates. These accelerated discussions should however be framed by a history of human modification of the Earth with reference to George Perkins Marsh ‘The Earth as Modified by Human Action’ (1874), R L Sherlock ‘Man as a Geological Agent’ (1922) or, indeed, with the proposal of the term ‘anthropogenic’ by ecologist Arthur G Tansley (1923). The paradigms of man’s relations to the environment offer complexities of scientific, philosophical, and cultural dimensions and lead to shared human and natural histories (Chakrabarty, 2009). ‘More-than-disciplinary’ experts are now involved in the processes of observation and translation of the anthropocenic black box, among which contemporary artists. Above references will contextualise artists’ deploying film and photography, in relation to reenactment and the archive. Space-time is peculiar to the photographic image, which creates a ‘world of magic (…) in which everything is repeated’ (Flusser, 1983). In Chris Marker’s film ‘La Jetée’ (1962) time-images become recurrent in anticipation of what it might be to live on a dead planet. An expansion of temporal and spatial relationships is deployed in Chrystel Lebas’ project (2010, ongoing) with the historical photography collection (1905 – 1937) of early ecologist E J Salisbury. Ben Rivers’ film ‘Slow Action’ (2011), inspired by Darwin’s work and written by science fiction author Mark von Schlegell, explores environmental change and utopian ideas. I will discuss these artistic methods questioning chronologies and causalities and set them critically against the Anthropocene concept.
Enfolded Futures
Julian Brigstocke (Cardiff University, UK)
This paper explores the relationships between urban spaces and the experience of time in the Anthropocene, in particular the latent, lost, imagined, and feared futures that inhabit material urban spaces. Experimenting with a form of narrative based on a ‘poetics of suspension’ (Esher, 2003), and drawing on participatory photo elicitation, interviews, and archival research, it develops a vantage-point on the city of Cardiff that is viewed sub specie aeternitatis, suspended into a single past, present and (absent) future. Recent urban cultural geographies have drawn attention to the ways in which urban spaces are constituted within, and constitutive of, multiple, non-linear and partly nonhuman temporalities (Edensor, 2013; Hetherington, 2013; Wylie, 2009). They are home to multiple forms of voice and material agency. Cities are ‘haunted’ by past events that reverberate through places long after they have occurred. Spaces and times are folded together, allowing distant presences, events, people, and things to gather together into unsettling forms of intimacy (Maddern & Adey, 2008). Rather than emphasizing the ghosts of the past, the paper explores the capacity of lost futures to suspend the present. It responds to a growing foreboding, figured by the notion of the Anthropocene, that the future has been occupied, colonised or destroyed. It searches for material traces of absent or barely sensed futures in the contemporary city.
Suspending the Anthropocene
Maan Barua (University of Oxford, UK)
Joe Gerlach (University of Oxford, UK)
Thomas Jellis (University of Oxford, UK)
Its probable sedimentation as a geological marker belies the rapid inundation of contemporary social and political theory by the so-called Anthropocene. In Geography, this has been particularly clear, with conceptual work on nature and environmentalism (Lorimer, 2012; Lorimer and Driessen, 2014), climate change (Dalby, 2013; Healy, 2014), the geo (Clark, 2012; Yusoff, 2014), as well as reviews (Castree, 2014a; 2014b; 2014c) and reflections on the Anthropocene (Johnson and Morehouse, 2014). With the Holocene unceremoniously cannibalised in the blink of an epoch, the rush to harness and apply all things Anthropocenean is untamed. If the Anthropocene points to the end of ‘epochality’ as such (Viveiros de Castro, 2013), then this paper looks to assemble and develop critiques - conceptually and philosophically eclectic - of the Anthropocene that harness ideas of ‘suspension’ (in all senses of the term), in order to problematize a prevalent narrative of abrupt change across a range of registers in contemporary geographical thought. This, then, might include examining the ‘bracketing’ of epochs, the suspending of the human, or the suspense of the future. As such, this paper also seeks to explore and interrogate the politics of living in a ‘passive present’ engendered by the onset of the Anthropocene.