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Jacob Barber (University of Edinburgh): ‘The epistemic violence of the Anthropocene’

Jacob Barber (University of Edinburgh): ‘The epistemic violence of the Anthropocene’


To consider the epistemic violence of ‘Anthropocene’ I want to explore how the term draws together different epistemologies, spatial and temporal scales. Since the late naughties the term has exerted a fascinating pull on a number of discourses, and by drawing extant debates in to its own orbit and has become near synecdochic for any conversation about the human relationship with the natural world. This breadth leaves ‘Anthropocene’ an unwieldy term, evidenced in both the proliferation of alternative ‘-cene’s and in the (mild) concessions that the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) have been forced to make in light of critical engagements by the social science and humanities scholarship. As a consequence, rather than creating than a synthesis or ‘new paradigm’, the result is a violent collision resulting in the eradication of the ‘Anthropocene’s’ own utility as a metaphor or heuristic. And, whilst promising to unite largely disparate disciplines in conversations about anthropogenic environmental change, the term instead masks a violent clashing of scales and ways of thinking the world. Despite this, this paper argues against an overly cynical engagement with ‘Anthropocene’.

Instead, it should be recognised that the violent collisions with deep time engendered by the ‘Anthropocene’ have produced exciting opportunities for thought. Firstly, the so called ‘geological turn’ remains a producer of fascinating insights. As a more overtly metaphorical term, less bounded to the specificities of the geological timescale and less open to the possibility of misuse, it creates a wonderful space for conceptual play. Secondly, the ‘Anthropocene’ debate provides an unprecedented opportunity to consider disciplinarity in an age where increasing institutional pressure is brought to bear on the ideas of interdisciplinarity, and multi-disciplinary partnerships.  Mas lecture. Main points about this lecture. 





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