Reply To: Mon 17 Feb: World Systems, History and Ecology

Author Replies # Posted on February 18, 2014 at 14:58

I think like many people who were at the seminar with Moore, the most interesting thing about the discussion to me was his response to the question “what is the future of capitalism”? In his writings, Moore continually poses the question of the possibility of the neoliberal world system being able to re-establish the conditions for a new long wave of accumulation despite the exhaustion of the four pillars of capitalist production (cheap energy, raw materials, labor power, and food relative to the previous era). Is the depletion of “cheap ecology” a signal or epochal crisis to capitalism as world-ecology? When asked the question in person his response was capitalism is done for, and the next three decades (most of my adult life-span) will be determined by the end of the four cheaps, and made exponentially more volatile due to climate change. This is a pretty heavy statement, and while Moore may be simplifying the trajectory of the future, such a narrative demands attention.
According to Moore the imminent future will see a reorganization of relations of humanity and nature (the oikeios) in the post-“Capitalpocene”. Nature can no longer be construed as external, time cannot be understood as linear, and space is not flat. Moore also stressed that we need to approach this paradigmatic moment armed with the knowledge that social justice and environmental justice are one in the same.
As a student of archaeology, I began to ask myself, what is the significance of Moore’s declaration to my discipline? One possible offering of archaeology to this impending world reorganization is through the examination of how human environment relations have been configured over the longue duree and outside of global north perspectives. Archaeology can begin to examine the possibility of humans perceptually organizing nature prior to the Capitalpocene and without being ultimately and essentially compelled towards endless expansion. This in itself is an incredibly enormous task, and a thorough and enlightened discussion of the topic is certainly beyond the scope of my PhD. However, what I can get behind and approach in my own studies is an examination of societal perceptions of food prior to the Capitalpocene. Moore made the point that food is not cultural or social, and it is also not simply a natural phenomena, but that it is every one of those parts and more. For my thesis I am examining changing human settlement and landscape dynamics in the Amboseli basin Kenya, over the last 500 years. Today the Amboseli is largely enclosed as a National Park and conflicts over the four cheaps between pastoralists, agriculturalists (both subsistence farmers and agro-industrialists), conservationists, and those in the tourist sector encompass these dialectical relations and tensions between environment and human, and they are certainly structured along capitalism as world-ecology. I hope to educate myself on capitalist perceptions of the all-encompassing food concept so I can compare and contrast such notions with realities that may have existed prior to the Capitalpocene in the Amboseli.
I’ve always been inspired by a past for future approach to archaeological studies (archaeology as activism!), and especially inter-disciplinary collaborations. I’m was further motivated to knowledge share when Moore said if we want to understand climate change, we have to understand how global interest rates are set – what I’m taking from Moore is that we need to understand how capitalism functions to understand our future. So if anyone cares to comment back at me with your ideas about perceptions of food in the Capitalpocene, I’m anxious to hear!