Summary of Module
The explanatory potential of the concept of the Anthropocene is still a matter of debate between different intellectual and political traditions. This debate is animated by the development of particular narratives whereby some processes, subjects, places, and practices are emphasized, obscured, or re-signified. In this module, we examine the ways in which the Anthropocene is narrated and analyze how these narratives entail political positions.
geostories, speculative fabulation (SF), teleology, authorship, interdisciplinarity, climate fiction (cli-fi), ethnography, millenarianism, catastrophism, resilience, the “good” Anthropocene, multispecies ethnography, storytelling
Learning Outcomes (beginner, intermediate, advanced)
After completing this module, readers will be able
- to assess how our capacities to respond to the challenges of the Anthropocene are shaped by who tells the story of the Anthropocene.
- to identify and evaluate the ways that different narrative forms can help us understand the Anthropocene.
- to differentiate various critical theories related to the narratives about the
- to explain the ways in which community-engaged and community-driven research can reshape our understanding and responses to the Anthropocene.
- to show the ways that Anthropocene narratives have political and social implications.
- to utilize new methodological frameworks to challenge essentialist approaches to “nature,” science, and society.
Beginner Questions, Readings, and Activities
- How might scientists and policy makers work with more diverse communities to help them better understand and respond to the Anthropocene?
- How can artworks, such as sculpture and literature, help us understand and reflect about the Anthropocene in new ways?
- Einaudi, Ludovico. Elegy for the Arctic, 2016.
- The Anthropocene: The Age of Mankind, 2017.
- Ligorano Reese. Dawn of the Anthropocene Street Interviews, 2014.
- ———. Dawn of the Anthropocene Time Lapse, 2014.
- Dahlstrom, Michael F. “Using Narratives and Storytelling to Communicate Science with Nonexpert Audiences.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, no. Supplement 4 (2014): 13614–20.
- Russell, Steve. “Did the Deaths of 50 Million Indians Cause Climate Change?” Indian Country Media Network (blog), September 15, 2017.
- Vansintjan, Aaron. “The Anthropocene Debate: Why Is Such a Useful Concept Starting to Fall Apart?” Resilience, June 26, 2015.
- Bradley, James. “Strange Weather: Writing the Anthropocene.” City of Tongues, 2015.
- Ellis, Erle, Mark Maslin, Nicole Boivin, and Andrew Bauer. “Involve Social Scientists in Defining the Anthropocene.” Nature News 540, no. 7632 (2016): 192.
- Selkirk First Nation, Yukon Territory, and Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research. “Adapting to Climate Change and Keeping Our Traditions,” March 2016.
How did the readings and exercises above use different narrative forms (e.g. film, sculpture, fiction and non-fiction) to tell the story of the Anthropocene? How do these narrative forms help tell the story of the Anthropocene in different ways? How might they be used to engage people in conversation about difficult or sensitive environmental topics?
One narrative form that is not represented in the section above is drawing. For this exercise, make a sketch that you think sums up one or more of important themes about the Anthropocene The drawing can be abstract or representational. It can integrate text. It can take any form that you want it to. When you are done with your drawing, take a photograph of it and upload it to Instagram with the hashtag #anthropoceneprimer.
What other narrative forms might tell the story of the Anthropocene? How would these affect how we discuss and think about it?
Intermediate Questions, Readings, and Activities
- What are the various critical stances that the authors employ? How do they critique or inform each other?
- What role might community-engaged or community-driven research play in extending our understanding of the Anthropocene? How might it shape policy responses to environmental change?
- Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research, and Vuntut Gwitchin Government. Our Changing Homelands Our Changing Lives, 2016.
- Climate Reality Project. Voices from Africa: Drought, Crop Shortages, Deforestation and Increasing Number of Climate Refugees. 2013.
- Kunnas, Jan. “Storytelling: From the Early Anthropocene to the Good or the Bad Anthropocene.” The Anthropocene Review 4, 2 (2017): 136–50.
- Adams, Paul C. “Placing the Anthropocene: A Day in the Life of an Enviro-Organism.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 41, no. 1 (2016): 54–65.
- Clingerman, Forrest. “Environmental Amnesia or the Memory of Place? The Need for Local Ethics of Memory in a Philosophical Theology of Place.” In Religion and Ecology in the Public Sphere, edited by Celia Deane-Drummond and Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, 141–59. London: T&T Clark, 2011.
- Gaard, Greta. “Ecofeminism and Climate Change.” Women’s Studies International Forum 49 (2015): 20–33.
- Latour, Bruno. “Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene.” New Literary History 45, no. 1 (2014): 1–18.
- Pandya, Rajul E. “Community-Driven Research in the Anthropocene.” In Future Earth—Advancing Civic Understanding of the Anthropocene, edited by Diana Dalbotten, Gillian Roehrig, and Patrick Hamilton, 53–66. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2014.
- Lövbrand, Eva, Silke Beck, Jason Chilvers, Tim Forsyth, Johan Hedrén, Mike Hulme, Rolf Lidskog, and Eleftheria Vasileiadou. “Who Speaks for the Future of Earth? How Critical Social Science Can Extend the Conversation on the Anthropocene.” Global Environmental Change 32 (2015): 211–18.
Identify a non-fiction and fiction narrative about environmental change. Compare their style, conceptualization, and main arguments. What are their underlying assumptions? Who are their audiences? How do they present different understandings of environmental change and its relation to human societies? How might they inform each other? How do their forms extend our understanding in different directions?
Advanced Questions, Readings, and Activities
- What are the political and social implications of adopting a specific narrative about the Anthropocene?
- What methods have scholars developed to challenge essentialist approaches to “nature,” science, and society?
- Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research. Remembering Our Past Nourishing Our Future, 2016.
- Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. John Luther Adams: Music in the Anthropocene, 2016.
- Donly, Corinne. “Toward the Eco-Narrative: Rethinking the Role of Conflict in Storytelling.” Humanities 6, no. 2 (2017): 1–22.
- Baldwin, Andrew. “Premediation and White Affect: Climate Change and Migration in Critical Perspective.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 41, no. 1 (2016): 78-90.
- Kirksey, S. Eben, and Stefan Helmreich. “The Emergence of Multispecies Ethnography.” Cultural Anthropology 25, no. 4 (2010): 545–76.
- Haraway, Donna. “SF: Science Fiction, Speculative Fabulation, String Figures, So Far.” Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, no. 3 (2013).
- Rickards, Lauren A. “Metaphor and the Anthropocene: Presenting Humans as a Geological Force.” Geographical Research 53, no. 3 (2015): 280–87.
- Goldstein, Bruce Evan, Anne Taufen Wessells, Raul Lejano, and William Butler. “Narrating Resilience: Transforming Urban Systems Through Collaborative Storytelling.” Urban Studies 52, no. 7 (2015): 1285–1303.
- Ingram, Mrill, Helen Ingram, and Raul Lejano. “Environmental Action in the Anthropocene: The Power of Narrative Networks.” Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning (2015): 1-16.
- Moore, Amelia. “Islands of Difference: Design, Urbanism, and Sustainable Tourism in the Anthropocene Caribbean.” Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Anthropology 20, no. 3 (2015): 513–32.
Using one of the critical frameworks outlined above, create your own narrative that highlights a facet of the Anthropocene experience that you find to be underappreciated, misrepresented, or obscured.