Book plans: ‘Anthropocene’

I was delighted this week to sign a contract for a book to be simply titled Anthropocene, for Routledge’s Key Ideas in Geography series. As more and more people in geography and beyond have started engaging critically and creatively with the idea that we now inhabit the Anthropocene, and given that the concept is so inherently geographical (challenging our notions of nature/culture, human/nonhuman, near/far, local/global, past/present/future), this seemed like a good time to put such a book together. This will be a really nice way to build upon some of the teaching I’ve been doing in this area, and the intention is that the book will appeal both to students and researchers in geography and related fields. Here’s some of the summary material I included in the book proposal:

We now live, we are told, in ‘the Anthropocene’. The age of humans. The impact of humanity’s collective activities on the functioning of the Earth system is now so great, and so all-encompassing, that we can name a geological epoch after ourselves. The global climate is changing rapidly; biodiversity loss is accelerating; geochemical cycles are being altered beyond recognition; humans move more rock around the world than all ‘natural’ processes combined; pollution chokes urban air and despoils rivers and seas, and perhaps even hastens the spread of infectious diseases. The Anthropocene proposition offers a bracing catalogue of seemingly catastrophic processes of environmental change, which are quickly outrunning any fantasies of human control.  

Originating in the natural sciences, the idea of the Anthropocene has spread rapidly through the social sciences and humanities too. It has become an object of intense criticism, speculation, and collaboration. A veritable carnival of new thinking is underway concerning the relationships between humans and nonhumans, nature and culture, science and politics. The casual ‘we’ ingrained in the homogenising anthropos has been roundly challenged, and new theorisations offered of precisely who or what pushed the planet into this new state. The nature-culture distinction, a perennial target of criticism and argument for geographers, has had new light shone upon it – does the Anthropocene dissolve any illusion of human separation from nature, or does it re-inscribe it, in an insistence on human domination of the natural world? The onset of the Anthropocene likewise prompts new thinking about precisely what it means to be human, as the species is written into a global geological record and finds itself faced with new challenges to any efforts to control external environments – and perhaps some internal ones too.

All of these questions have long been at the heart of geographical inquiry, and the discipline finds itself in an ideal place to respond to the intellectual, practical and political challenges of living in the Anthropocene. A number of human and physical geographers have been at the forefront of interdisciplinary debate. Yet while the Anthropocene publishing industry is quickly gathering pace, as yet no book-length treatment deals explicitly with the relationship between Anthropocene thought and the discipline of geography. This book, aimed at undergraduate and postgraduate students in geography and related disciplines, as well as the large number of researchers now linking their work to Anthropocene ideas and conditions, aims to fill this gap. It aims to become a key point of reference for both human and physical geographers, who may be curious as to how both their sub-disciplinary colleagues, and those on the ‘other side’ of the disciplinary divide, are responding to, working with, and re-making the idea of the Anthropocene.

Contents

Prologue: The Anthropocene and Geography

Glossary

Part I – Welcome to the Anthropocene

  1. The Anthropocene moment
  2. The Anthropocene and the geographical imagination

Part II – Geo-histories

  • Empires and planetary transformation
  • Fossil capital and the industrial revolution
  • Geographies of the Great Acceleration

Part III – Geo-politics

  • Wild lives
  • Anthropocene bodies
  • Governing the geo

Part IV – Future-work

  • Geo-aesthetics
  • Placing the future

Epilogue: Geography transformed?

With any project like this one of the challenges is how to work out what research and ideas to cover, and what to leave out. I’m keen to try and use an STS sensibility here, to think how different forms of ‘geographical knowledge’ are being co-produced with the Anthropocene condition, and particularly to work through the political implications and affordances of different strands of geographical work. What kinds of politics do different forms of knowledge support or enable? What kinds of worlds and futures might be built with such knowledge? Those are the kinds of questions I want to thread through the whole thing, and really bring out in the final section.

I’ve been given until Oct 2023 to write it – which sounds like a long time. But then I think about the 6 months of parental leave I’m fortunate to have coming up soon, plus some uncertainties about research leave during the pandemic, and suddenly Oct ’23 doesn’t feel that far off. I’d best get on with it!

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