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

Author Replies # Posted on February 18, 2014 at 00:29

<title=”The Anthropocene: Collaborating with or going against world ecology”>
During the discussion with Jason Moore, he clearly stated that the Anthropocene works under a Cartesian paradigm. With this he meant that nature and humans are seen as completely separate from each other, as living in different spheres, rather than in the same one. Nevertheless, they still affect each other. He also limited the Anthropocene to the last two hundred years, implying humans only had a major effect on their natural surroundings during that time.

I personally think these are, to some extent, misleading claims since the study of the Anthropocene has vastly expanded since it started. His claims are justified, however, when referring to the beginnings of studies looking into how humans have impacted and shaped nature and the environment. Albeit the initial studies see humans as disassociated from nature, they are still as equally valuable as world ecology studies. My reasoning comes from the fact that humans are agents and they actively choose to reshape the environment (be it for better or worse). They might see themselves as “on top of nature” rather than within, widening the divide between themselves and the environment. Their actions will, hence, be shaped accordingly. A classic example of this would be the green grabbing of land in Africa (e.g. Tanzania or Kenya) for national parks, evicting inhabitants, and trying to return these lands to a state before the modern Homo invasion. But Homo has been living in this area longer than anywhere else in the world. This is am example where humans have actively chosen to shape this environment and have seen themselves as living in a separate sphere. This should also then be studied in such a way.

More importantly, the study of the Anthropocene is improving and now sees humans as bounded together within/with an environment, as part of an oikeios. Since the rise of material culture theory (which basically theorises how humans interact with the world through objects and how objects change human perception) and phenomenology in the 1980s in archaeology, the discipline has become more focused on human-environmental relationships, and how humans live in an environment. This is visible in the rise of landscape archaeology, historical ecology, and the fact that people like Tim Ingold are major contributors to these discussions.

As other disciplines studying the Anthropocene, like palaeoecology, work closely with archaeology, they have come to accept this theoretical shift. This shift allows for the study of the Anthropocene within a world ecology. It also gives it the advantage that it provides an anthropocentric view on the past environmental changes, and gives additional qualitative and quantitative evidence. If we are to study the oikeios then we need to choose a point of departure to study the relationships within it. As humans are going to play a (deterministic?) role in the changing oikeios, it is particularly valuable to provide the anthropocentric view on the topic.

The studies of the Anthropocene are definitely worth considering when studying the world ecology and when talking about the world historical method. They, in my opinion, can collaborate and can complement each other. Furthermore, it gives humans a more active role in the environment compared to the world ecology/world historical method. From Moore’s explanation today, it seemed that humans are only passive participants in the changing environment and that the system (in this case capitalism) is to blame. I strongly disagree with this point. Even before the existence of any world ecology, like capitalism or feudalism, people massively effected their environments as shown in the pollen and archaeological record.

The research of the Anthropocene, then, has a lot to contribute to the study of world ecologies and vice versa.