Start › Forums › Courses › Current Debates and Themes in Global Environmental History › Mon 17 Feb: World Systems, History and Ecology
|February 17, 2014 at 13:52 #11610|
Student organiser: Sanna Karlsson and Mirabel Joshi
Instructions: Read the text and follow instructions given by the student organisers. A 1 page reflection according to instructions given by the student organisers must be submitted on 18 feb 18.00 in discussion forum. You must also comment a fellow students text before 19 feb18.00.
17 Feb 14.15-16.00 Student-led pre-seminar
|February 18, 2014 at 00:29 #11612|
<title=”The Anthropocene: Collaborating with or going against world ecology”>
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.
|February 18, 2014 at 12:17 #11613|
As a GEH (global environmental history) student, Moore’s articles are confusing to me in three senses.
First and foremost is the language. As had been discussed yesterday, Moore interchanges some concepts without defining them in specific contexts, which makes me uncertain and have to question the legitimacy of the usage. For example, nature (ecology), oikeios (antroposcene), historical method (imagination), etc. Take “nature/ ecology” as an instance, for what we had discussed, they are both broad and ambiguous concepts, although in some cases they can be interchanged. Still, if Moore could set a specific context for the concepts, it would be easier for readers to evaluate and comment on his work. Nevertheless, I appreciate Moore’s proposal of new language in order to avoid the misunderstanding of the mutually shared concepts.
Second, the trans-disciplinary issue. Moore’s articles at a first glimpse seem all center on ecology, food, or environment-oriented topics from a historical perspective. In my opinion, however, Moore’s work, in fact, is focused either on economical history or political history rather than GEH. As a consequence, this causes a problem for me, which is to recall my insufficient knowledge in economics and politics to explain environmental phenomena. This is exhausting and frankly speaking, the text is hardly understandable. Like what we fiercely discussed: some believe that the finical circuit is ruled by hegemonies and consequently the cheap food majorly flow to the hegemonies. Some worry that one day capitalism would lead to not only the end of cheap food but the end of food. Others refute that the world is based on the capitalist system. Not until another system would emerge and could replace capitalist, would the debate worth of discussing. Personally, the debate strikes me as it virtually reflects Moore’s diverse perceptions on GEH. If only Moore could explain how his multiple insights (like economics and politics) are corresponded to environmental studies, I should be able to better understand the articles.
Last but not least, Moore’s articles are more or less theoretical interpretations to me. Wherever I read between the lines, I seldom find proofs to support the arguments. The cheap food interpretation, for example. Should Moore exemplify how world food has become cheaper or does it merely occur in the hegemonies? Or compared to which historical period has the food become cheaper? If Moore can provide me with more facts and figures, the articles would become more clear.
|February 18, 2014 at 13:33 #11614|
Seminar 2, Mon 17 Feb:
I will base my reflections on J. W. Moore’s articles on the above theme with regard to Immanuel Wallerstein’s perceptions who was the first to develop a theoretical framework to understand the historical changes involved in the rise of capitalism up to the modern day world systems. Both authors agree that ‘the world is one unit connected by a complex of network economic exchange relationships.’ J. W. Moore goes on to refer this phenomenon as an ‘oikeios’ which is a Greek terminology that means ‘belonging to one household and also being related to each other.’ Thus, the universe should be regarded as a family of interrelated units which include; ‘flora, fauna, geological and biospheric configurations ie cycles and movements.’ However, according to J.W. Moore, the expected harmonic relationship has been altered in time and space by historical changes which have been characterized by successive socio-ecological shifts relying on capitalistic demands.
The history of capitalism and its impact on world ecology has been well tackled by both Immanuel Wallerstein and J.W. Moore, tracing it right way from around 1500 to the present. It was still the nature-society relationship that saw the collapse of feudalism and the growing of capitalism in Europe. This was a mere change of system to ensure continued economic growth. However, the so called civilisation and capitalism combined, ignored nature as a ‘historically variant webs of life’ but even went further to look for new frontiers to sustain accumulation with cheap products, leaving behind trails of exhausted and disused ecosystems. Capitalism discards the notion of ‘oikeios’ but rather, only regards the ‘extra-human nature as an external entity which is only a source of wealth and power. The process of human-ecological history that run through the period 1450-1750 up to the present day has been characterized by globalization of world resources, developmentalism, finacialism and accumulation whose negative results on ecology, have been registered in climate change, agro-ecological exhaustion, diseases etc.
In conclusion, my reflection goes to the shifting of capitalism from frontier expansion of a direct socio-ecological hegemony to the present day finance hegemonies. While the former seemed to have been halted by the end of colonialism, the latter still makes no difference on affecting ecology. Colonial empires plundered their frontiers for cheap resource extraction through agriculture, mining, and slave labour, but the modern states have only mutated into a new system of neocolonialism by hiding behind world financial bodies like IMF and World Bank to continue sustaining the aims of obtaining cheap products. However, according to Immanuel Wallerstein the strong modern states or core states have only facilitated a ‘skewed development in which economic and social disparities between sections of the world economy have increased instead of providing prosperity for all.’ It is thus predicted that ‘a worldwide economic crisis is imminent and that the capitalist world economic system will collapse, giving way to new revolutionary changes’.
|February 18, 2014 at 14:58 #11615|
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.
|February 18, 2014 at 15:19 #11616|
Seminar 2 Jason Moore. 17 Feb 2014.
|February 18, 2014 at 15:28 #11617|
SEMINAR 2, 18th february 2014. Nisa Dedic
|February 18, 2014 at 15:51 #11618|
Reflection (17 February) by Yaqi Fu
“Cheap food” I think is one of the most interesting topics and ideas in Moore J.W.’s three articles. In “Cheap food and Bad Money”, he poses the concept of “four cheaps” which means cheap food, energy, raw materials and labor. While his focus is mainly on the issue of cheap food, He agrees with the claim that “the ‘end of cheap food’ has arrived”. This prediction seems quite horrible to most of us. What’s the foundation of such judgment? Until the time we get out off the benefit of “cheap” food, how did it happen once in history?
According to Moore J.W., capitalism is bound with cheap food, for “Every great wave of capitalist development has been paved with ‘cheap’ food” (The End of the Road, 389). To achieve cheap food, it’s necessary to have an agricultural revolution. In the history of capitalism as he viewed, after certain agricultural revolution, there would be some food surplus in at least certain range of countries and these countries were preferably to gain hegemony in the wave of capitalism. I think the logic is like what I interpret above. From this logic maybe the last hope of cheap food lies on the burst of agricultural revolution. Moore J.W. puts this hope on the era’s greatest economic ‘miracle’ China and his answer to this hope is apparently pessimistic. As he said “there is little to suggest that China is on the brink of an agricultural revolution that will not only feed the world, but lead capitalism to a new golden age” (The End of the Road, 402)
I feel his logic is a little misleading and dangerous. Is agricultural revolution so powerful as the nuclear weapon in North Korea that will not only save the world, but lead capitalism to a new golden age? Actually I can not believe it and do not want it. If the world is becoming more and more democratic or towards such direction, the responsibility of cheap food is neither proper to be still put on certain countries, nor possible on the miracle of a revolution. Even the pursue of cheap food is suspicious for it reveals the mechanism of neoliberalism or historical capitalism that “redistribution from poor to rich” (Cheap food and Bad Money, 234). Surplus then becomes cheap and fosters rich, while “making a famine where abundance lies”.
Maybe it arrives the time to stop the pursue of cheap food and do not want some radical changes as well. What we need is to reflect ourselves twice, or even three or more, to make sure fairness and justice when we do anything anywhere, to prepare to live a simple life as one can and to suppress the lust of enjoyment in our mind growing as revolution.
|February 18, 2014 at 16:26 #11628|
The three articles written by American scholar Jason W Moore are all fascinating and I would have needed much more time and space to reflect on the ideas he advances. “Capitalism as world-ecology” appears to me as the most striking concept that Moore elaborates on. Moore considers capitalism in a holistic way and according to him capitalism is much more than an economic or a social system, since it determines the whole relationship between human and extra-human nature. Moore argues against the traditional binary division between “Nature” and “Society”: “Capitalism as world-ecology is therefore a protest against, and an alternative to, the Cartesian worldview that puts nature in one box, and society in another” (Moore, 2011: 119).
|February 18, 2014 at 17:28 #11632|
Reflection on Jason Moore Discussion and Skype Seminar, 18th February 2014
The element of the reading, discussion and seminar which most interested me about Jason Moore’s work and the group’s responses to it was the tension (both positive and negative) between the political context of Moore’s work, and the apparently a-political analysis which gets him to his conclusions. That is to say that Moore explicitly takes his starting point from a broadly Marxist position while presenting the process of his analysis as a neutral one, arguing that capitalism – and in particular neoliberalism – will fall on its own terms, through its cannibalistic tendencies, and erosion of the Four Cheaps, rather than that capitalism will fail by other measures, such as social equity or environmental justice. The distinction between total collapse and failure according to explicitly stated political measures is an important one which I would argue that Moore blurs.
Much of his analysis is very convincing; however, I would argue that the politicisation of the argument could go much deeper. When arguing that capitalism will collapse it seems important to understand what that collapse might look like, and who will be affected. As Moore’s – and myriad others’ – work shows us, all environmental problems are social and all social problems are environmental; therefore a further exposition of the social and environmental (and world-ecological) nature of the collapse which Moore posits would seem to be critical.
For example, Moore argues that we will see the end of Cheap Food but during the discussion he emphasised that this is not because of a calorific lack, or a lack of land, but because of the capitalist system. However, if the issue at stake is providing cheap food to the proletariat then in that case it would be possible to redistribute access to food and remain within the capitalist system. Whilst it may be the case that Moore would argue that such a redistribution is not possible within the neoliberal capitalist system there are many other scholars who would propose that it is. It would be interesting to understand further how Moore would respond to shifts within the capitalist system, perhaps through reforms that move away from financialisation and neoliberalism towards new and different structures within a continuing capitalist paradigm. How would this fit into his argumentation? Does he think such reform is possible? And if not, why not, given the variety in existing structures within the global neoliberal capitalist system?
These questions return to the issue raised above because they require a consideration of what the funamental aims of the analysis are in a political / philosophical sense. It would be helpful to Moore’s analysis to understand his political assumptions for example with regards social justice, environmental justice and bioethics. This would help to locate his analysis more clearly within a political framework, and perhaps therefore help to understand what kind of collapse he envisages, and what it’s world-ecological consequences would be.
|February 18, 2014 at 22:41 #11633|
I was not able to submit this in time since I did not have login access for some reasons. It is now sorted so here is my reflection.
Reflection on Seminar: World Systems, History and Ecology
What I found interesting, or rather perplexing, in our discussion with Moore was that I did not seem to get a straight answer on solutons to the envrionmental and financial problems which capitalism has lead us to today. We spoke of the Anthropocene and how climate change has accelerated by the Industrial Revolution. This was due to an efficiency in production of foods, clothing and such, leading up to an overproduction and overconsumption of natural resources. As far as we all can agree on the latter, Moore did not consider the Antrophocene to be a concept that would make us more alert to deal with the current climate change than using a vocabulary such as world-ecology and oikeios. His answer then is to understand capitalism in a historical perspective with the ecological touch. I do think he has a point in this, but still believe the explanation of the Antrophocene could make a lot of people more aware of the actual acute environmental problems we are in today. According to Moore, speakers of the Anthropocene are usually people who speak much but act little. What I would have liked to hear was in what way Moore acted on the climate change, and not only spoke of it? It seemed he mostly focused on a new way of defining capitalism and not how this in practice can change climate change, which I consider people speaking of the Antrhopocene give suggestions to (less carbon dioxide release into the atmosphere for example). I refrained from asking him this since I did not think I could ask it in a good way just then. Why I consider this to be important, is that all of us in the class discussed the different concepts without getting to a solution. Perhaps I was to focused on how this might help in the environmental issues, like a quick answer, than really understand how Moore tried to explain the role of captalism in envrionmental problems.
|February 19, 2014 at 09:59 #11635|
Reply to Sanna’s post:
I agree with you that what matters is how people act to environmental problems rather than speak of it. First, however, we must point out the environmental problems and realize how the problems are connected with other disciplines in order to find out the complexity of the environmental problems. In Moore’s cases, the environmental problems are majorly linked to finical and capitalist issues. Besides, you point out that not only the discussion we had but also Moore’s articles concern little about solutions to the environmental problems. In my opinion, it is the complexity of the problems that makes the solutions hard to decide. Since the problems are so complex to solve, why don’t we begin with simplifying the problems instead of solving them directly, which are hardly to achieve?
I’m so happy that you’re considering working in environment field. If you virtually determine to work in that field and hope to change the world into a better place. I suggest you start from a small picture instead of a big one since environment is already a big concept. If you start with small issues, one day you may achieve big ones.
The biggest reward in our program, in my point of view, is that we all have different academic background. Every time I discuss with you, I absorb new knowledge from you. It’s really a nice learning experience and I like the structure of this course, especially the discussion part. By the way, Sanna, you did a good job as a student organizer.
|February 19, 2014 at 11:00 #11639|
Reply to Kristina by Sabbath
Thank you Kristina for your thoughtful reflection on J.W. Moore’s perspectives and the main theme ‘World systems, History and ecology’. I agree with you that it was the evolution of capitalism or rather the individualistic and institutional greed for the accumulation of property and financialism in the guise of development, which created the so called ‘world systems’. This was nothing but the systems of socio-economic hegemonies (capitalocene) whose aim was to plunder Mother Nature in search of the ‘four cheaps’. In due process (historical process), man-made ecological systems came into existence due to the ‘rush’ for new frontiers at the expense of natural environment.
As students of environmental history, I notice your concern about the order of things much as I do, which is also supported by Moore on his reaction about the fate of capitalism. He said that ‘capitalism is done’, in other words the system has already reached its limits. Moore chooses to emphasize this in his metaphoric titles and expressions like ‘end of the four cheaps’ and another article entitled ‘The end of the road’. However, to bring the whole issue to our current experience, capitalistic world systems are mutating in that the end of colonialism and ‘the four cheaps’ has gradually been replaced by financial hegemonies in the process of prolonging degradation of environment. The usual suspects now are the World Bank and IMF which are controlled by powerful states disguising as development partners. The result of this has been climate change, agro-ecological exhaustion, crop diseases and chronic indebtedness among the poor states.
According to Immanuel Wallerstein who is actually the pioneer scholar to develop a theoretical framework to understand the historical changes involved in the rise of capitalism up to the modern day world systems, these strong modern states or core states have only facilitated a ‘skewed development in which economic and social disparities between sections of the world economy have increased instead of providing prosperity for all.’ It is thus predicted that ‘a worldwide economic crisis is imminent and that the capitalist world economic system will collapse, giving way to new revolutionary changes’. Moore himself supports these changes, according your reflection that ‘we have to define our own new world-ecologies’ for future survival of both human and extra human nature. Thank you for your reflection Kristina.
|February 19, 2014 at 11:15 #11640|
Reply to Sabbath Sunday’s post
What you have written is a great and concise summary of all of Wallerstein’s and Moore’s points on the effects of capitalism on the world ecology. While I to (a great extent) agree with all of the points, due to my socio-economic and political stance, I nevertheless seem many problems with their theoretical methodology. (I will particularly refer to Moore, as I only know of Wallerstein’s writing in passing).
I completely agree with studying the environment and everything in it as an oikeios, as I come from a historical/archaeological background and am completely aware of the constant changing relationships. Furthermore, I believe that phenomenology (a philosophical branch that maintains we only know the world through our relationships with it) can further enlighten the study of world ecology. I think, though, that Moore himself does not elucidate to a reasonable extent these relationships between human and extra-human nature and how they were cooperating/relating to each other, neither does he particularly elaborate how they changed through time. We need to remember that if we are doing a world historical study of the oikeios that we need redefine each concept/notion/idea as we move along through history, which might get confusing.
Another thing we should also be aware, is that ‘world’ studies may or do lose attention to detail and might miss plenty of ‘local’ ecological changes. As an example from science, palaeoenvironmentalist are getting a different picture trying to determine the weather patterns of East Africa in the past 2000 years when looking at a regional vs global scale.
|February 19, 2014 at 13:09 #11649|
Reply to Anna S. by Sarah R.
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