RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2013

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42 Geo-Social Formations: Capitalism and the Earth (2)
Convenor(s) Nigel Clark (Lancaster University, UK)
Kathryn Yusoff (Lancaster University)
Arun Saldanha (University of Minnesota, USA)
Chair(s) Rory Rowan (Wageningen University, Netherlands)
Timetable Wednesday 28 August 2013, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Skempton Building, Room 060a
Session abstract "How are we to think the link between the social history of Capital and the much larger geological changes of the condition for life on Earth" ponders Zizek (2011: 331). While the idea of the Anthropocene is gaining currency as a way of capturing the extent of "human" impact on basal earth processes, some critical thinkers are understandably wary of a concept that smears liability for planet-scaled shifts across our entire species at the expense of identifying the specific dynamical processes driving ever-expanding reproduction. After all, when it comes to explaining other transformations of the Earth, both physical and social thinkers are more inclined to point to particular processes – such as photosynthesis, sexual reproduction, tectonic plate movement, rock weathering – than they are to isolate and target a specific being.

The Anthropocene also poses a problem for those who would interrogate capital. How does underscore capital’s ascendance as a geologic force while at the same time "denaturalising" the whole system? If capital has become a force of nature, from where and what has this forcefulness emerged or been acquired? There is no great challenge in viewing capitalism as a problem for the planet, but are we ready yet to see capitalism as a problem of the planet: as a product or progeny of planetary forces as well as a pathology?

In this session we invite inquiry – in any medium - into the geological implications of capitalism and alternative social formations. Given the increasing likelihood of crossing thresholds in major Earth systems in the near future, we suggest that critical thinking needs a speculative dimension, and encourage experimental approaches and exercises in extremity.
Linked Sessions Geo-Social Formations: Capitalism and the Earth (1)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2013@rgs.org
Red alert: the science and politics of geocommunism
Arun Saldanha (University of Minnesota, USA)
So, what do you think will capitalism have done by 2050 to reverse the planetary mess it has made? No matter how much alarmism, the ideological adhesion to business as usual becomes ever more overwhelming the faster the earth approaches meltdown. The machinery of this political inertia is accurately known. Psychoanalysis, the Frankfurt School, feminism, Althusser, Foucault, critical race theory and a multitude of militants have for a long time provided tools for understanding the cynicism and stupidity upholding the planet's grotesque power-geometries of vulnerability. In the wake of the massive failure of Copenhagen, the financial collapses, and the uprisings of 2011, there seems to be, finally, a return to locating the primary target of critique in the capitalist system. But the old communist question of what is to be done is still dodged despondently. Big ideas tend to come from the market not from activism or science. The argument of this paper is that geography is the discipline which can proposes realistic alternatives to the suicidal tendency of planetary capitalism. As science in the Althusserian sense, geography makes itself relevant only by studying and changing the planet against the deep-seated idle hopes in reform directly bought by industry money. If it is to be true to its findings about (even the slightest) possibilities of further environmental injustices, geography has to extricate itself from the sweet lullabies of green technologies and transition towns, keeping everyone asnooze through increasingly insistent alarm bells. The only answer to extreme weather, resource wars and the decimation of biodiversity is a new kind of takeover of power to dismantle the profit principle. There is a long way to go and the time is short. The first principle of geocommunism is that it’s unafraid of big ideas, and the second, that it stays light-hearted even if its talk is kinda heavy.
Planetary capitalism
Nigel Clark (Lancaster University, UK)
Perhaps its time we relieved capitalism of the honour of a virgin birth under an Occidental star. Alongside the question of how `our’ social formations have grown into forces of nature, we might also ask what kind of planet is this that births a beast such as us? More to the point, what manner of planet gives rise to a system like capitalism? I want to rework the idea of planetary capitalism to ask these questions simultaneously. `Global’ has always been a rather flat and insipid descriptor for a geo-social formation that burrows deep within the Earth for its feedstock, redirects biological evolution, and alters the layering of the oceans and atmosphere. Alongside its territorialising and deterritorialising imperatives, what makes capitalism constitutively planetary is its traversing and mixing of geological strata. But what is it about the rich, heterogeneous strata of the Earth that enable these mobilisations? Or to put it another way, are there originary complications in the composition of terrestrial strata which are the conditions of capitalism’s runaway destratifications? I propose a long run-up to the geologic event of capitalism that passes through biological exuberance and its sedimentations, volcanicity and wildfire, mineralogy and pyrotechnics. For all the dangers of `naturalisation’, might it nevertheless be more provocative to implicate capitalism in the throes of a volatile Earth than to credit it with the purity and genius of an absolute rupture with terrestrial being? And finally, how can we make more of geological stratification without losing sight of the centrality of social stratification?
Terricide – Lefebvre, Geopolitics and the Killing of the Earth
Stuart Elden (Durham University, UK)
In a few places in his four volume study De l’État, Henri Lefebvre briefly discusses the idea of terricide—the killing, destruction or death of the earth. His sources are the poet Jean-Clarence Lambert and, less directly, the philosopher Kostas Axelos. Lefebvre locates the tensions in the international state system, and suggests that while reason of state might be attributed to each of the members, rationality does not characterise the system taken as a whole. His immediate context, writing in the mid 1970s, would seem to be the superpower conflict of the Cold War, but here and elsewhere there are hints that this might be linked to other issues—environmental degradation, modern technology, growth over development, the state mode of production and capitalism more generally.
How might Lefebvre’s spur to consider the potential destruction of the earth help us in rethinking geopolitics? Geopolitics is all-too-often seen as a synonym for global politics, international relations writ large, without much thought given to the globe, much less the world or the earth. But if geopolitics was to return to its etymological roots, as a politics of the earth, it might productively link with discussions of geopower and geophilosophy. This paper brings Lefebvre, Lambert and Axelos into those discussions.
Capitals’ Fossils
Kathryn Yusoff (Lancaster University)
The designation of the Anthropocene nominates the “Anthropos” as the stratigrapher and strata of an epoch, whose geologic agency is a result of the intensification of fossil fuel use from 1800’s onwards. This epoch might as well be called the Capitalocene, for what the Anthropocene actually names is the massive mobilisation of fossil fuels and its flows of energy into the economy and the earth. But, while the Anthropocene institutes a new form of material and temporal reach for the human en masse, who are it’s fossil-fuelled subjects—the new geological subjects of the Anthropocene—and by what name shall we know these agents of fossilisation? In designating geologic subjectivity, the Anthropocene folds geologic time into human corporeality, it is axiomatic of new understandings of time, matter and agency for the human as a collective being and as a subject capable of geomorphic acts; a being that not just effects geology, but is an intemperate force within it. While the process of fossilisation that has characterise capitalism has been ably articulated through the commodity by Marx (1867) and Benjamin (2002), in the age of the Anthropocene, another set of fossils emerge to speak to the ear of the future: that of the human as fossil to come. Rather than think with the impacts of the Anthropocence, I will address Capital’s fossils as a way to think about the differentiated forms of mineralisation that compose the substratum of the subject of Late Capitalism and ask: What kind of fossilisation is at stake in the Anthropocene? And, so, as fossils give of geologic time in their substantiation of the geologic record, we might also turn to them to inquiry after our own temporal moment in the strata.

Anthropocene Fossils - Discussant
Jan Zalasiewicz (University of Leicester)
Discussant