Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2017

The Politics of Nature in the Anthropocene:
Anthropology as Natural History

Lecturer: Associate Professor Andrew S. Mathews
Department of Anthropology
University of California, Santa Cruz, USA

Main discipline: Social Anthropology,
Environment and Climate

Dates: 31 July - 4 August 2017
Course Credits: 10 pts (ECTS)
Limitation: 25 participants


Objectives

The concept of the Anthropocene has become of concern to many anthropologists over the last few years, as we wrestle with our contemporary predicament, where all ecosystems have been impacted by human actions. A slew of scholars has rushed to argue that this is properly called the ‘Capitalocene’, the ‘Chthulhucene’, the ‘Plantationocene’, or some other preferred term. Rather than try to answer what the Anthropocene is or what we might best call it, this course focuses on the transformations that thinking and working on the Anthropocene are having upon anthropology, and how it affects our capacity to study time, language, materiality, and power.

This course offers a proposition, that in the Anthropocene, a reinvigorated practice of natural history that departs from particular landscapes, can help us make better sense of states, capitalist supply chains or global climate change models. Anthropology as natural history is a practice of speculative empiricism, of wondering and of paying attention to more than human relations. Natural history asks us to experiment with our methods, perhaps through drawing, through focusing our attention on multiple temporalities, or upon new forms of storytelling. One goal of this course is to think carefully and playfully about the methods that might come from taking the post-humanities seriously.

This course is not solely for environmental anthropologists then, but rather, it explores what anthropology looks like when some cherished categories and methods are no longer sufficient.

  • What happens when the division between the secular and the non-secular comes undone?
  • What can the post humanities say to scholarship on capitalism and the state?
  • How can anthropologists and natural scientists work together when they recognize the commonalities between their projects of noticing and describing particular landscapes, but at the cost of relinquishing beloved disciplinary boundaries?
  • What does this mean for our understanding of language when matter presses itself upon our imaginations, compelling us to tell certain stories?
  • What other forms of description might we engage in, and what forms of accountability does this produce?

The Anthropocene poses particularly sharp problems for linking pasts and futures. How are we to link the long time scales of geology and soil formation, the temporalities of trees and forests, and the times of daily life and practical politics? Across the course we will think about how temporalities get done, through practices of storytelling and of linking material objects or landscapes with these stories. Perhaps ethnography can be understood as a practice of straddling multiple temporalities and of building time machines. In recent years, anthropologists have engaged in intense conversation with scholars of science and technology studies (STS). Much of this body of work has been concerned with more or less stable facts and objects that emerge from laboratories. How does this tradition work when it confronts the kinds of partial knowing that emerge through engagements with landscape or with what we learn from studies of earth systems and climate change models?


A note on preparation for this seminar
I expect to lecture for about half of each seminar, followed by active discussion of key concepts that emerge from the readings. You will be expected to have read all of the materials for each class, and to have formulated two questions for every class session, perhaps in relation to your own research. I will expect each student to share their questions with the group, as a starting point to discussion. Please don’t feel intimidated by this requirement, these questions are not about showing how much you know, but about helping us notice the key difficulties or opportunities that a concept can open up. On the final day of class, students will informally present the topic/ideas of their final paper, if possible drawing upon or responding to material from this class.


Essential books

  • Ghosh, A. (2016). The great derangement : climate change and the unthinkable. The University of Chichago Press.
  • Tsing, A. (2015). The mushroom at the end of the world: on the possibility of life in capitalist ruins, Princeton.
  • Brown, K. (2013). Plutopia : nuclear families, atomic cities, and the great Soviet and American plutonium disasters. Oxford, London, Oxford University Press.
  • Braudel, F. (1972). The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean world in the age of Philip II. New York, Harper & Row. Pp. 1-167. This is an old book that should be widely available second hand, e.g. from Amazon.com.
  • Edwards, P. N. (2010). A vast machine computer models, climate data, and the politics of global warming. Cambridge, Mass. :, MIT Press.


Articles
All articles will be made available as pdf files/compendium.


COURSE OUTLINE

Monday July 31

Morning: The Problem of the Anthropocene. When did it happen, what do we call it?

  • Chakrabarty, D. (2009). "The Climate of History: Four Theses." Critical Inquiry 35(2): 197-222.
  • Latour, B. (2014). "Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene." New Literary History 45(1): 1-18.
  • Haraway, D. (2015). "Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin." Environmental Humanities 6: 159-165.
  • Steffen, W., Å. Persson, et. al. (2011). "The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship." AMBIO 40(7): 739-761.
  • Waters, C. N., J. Zalasiewicz, et. al. (2016). "The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene." Science 351(6269).


Afternoon: Literary Forms for Disaster and Deep Time. Telling Stories with multiple temporalities and multiple actors.

  • Anderson, B. R. (1991). Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. New York, Verso. Pp. 9-36
  • Ghosh, A. (2016). The great derangement : climate change and the unthinkable.
  • Braudel, F. (1972). The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean world in the age of Philip II. New York, Harper & Row. Pp. 1-167


Tuesday August 1

Morning: From Phenomenology to Landscape Stories and More than Human Histories

  • Ingold, T. (2011). Materials Against Materiality. Being Alive. Oxford, New York, Routledge.
  • Ingold, T. (1993). "The temporality of the landscape." World Archaeology 25(2): 152-174.
  • Keane, W. (2003). "Semiotics and the social analysis of material things." Language & Communication 23(3–4): 409-425.
  • Olwig, K. R. (1996). "Recovering the Substantive Nature of Landscape." Annals of the Association of American Geographers 86(4): 630-653.
  • Tsing, A. (2015). The mushroom at the end of the world: on the possibility of life in capitalist ruins, Princeton. Pp. 1-70


Afternoon: Relationality, Abduction, Transduction and Form. How we come into relations, and how we might show this.

  • Barad, K. (2003). "Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter." Signs 28(3): 801-831.
  • Myers, N. (2012). "Involutionary Momentum: Affective Ecologies and the Sciences of Plant/Insect Encounters." Difference 23(5).
  • van de Port, M. and A. Mol (2015). "Chupar frutas in Salvador da Bahia: a case of practice-specific alterities." Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21(1): 165-180.
  • Grove, A. T. and O. Rackham (2001). The nature of Mediterranean Europe: an Ecological History. New Haven and London, Yale University Press. Ch. 4. Pp 45-71
  • Mathews: On Drawing and Plant Form.

Of Interest:

  • Taussig, M. T. (2011). I swear I saw this: drawings in fieldwork notebooks, namely my own.


Wednesday August 2

Morning: Anthropology as Reimagined Natural History: Landscape Patterns, Patches, and Indeterminacy.

  • Canfield, M. R. (2011). Foreword, Introduction. Fieldnotes On Science and Nature, Harvard University Press: 1-19.
  • Schaller, G. (2011). The Pleasure of Observing. Fieldnotes On Science and Nature, Harvard University Press: 19-31.
  • Mathews, Andrew S. (2016). “Ghostly forms and forest histories.” In Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Stories from the Anthropocene. N.B. Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Elaine Gan, and Heather Anne Swanson ed: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Rocheleau, Dianne (1995). Maps, numbers, text and context: mixing methods in feminist political ecology. Professional Geographer 47(4):458-466.
  • Tsing. Mushroom at the End of the World pp. 151-327


Afternoon: On Sensing Spirits and Doing Magic When the World is Indeterminate

  • Bubandt, N. (2016). Haunted Geologies: Spirits, Stones, and the Necropolitics of the Anthropocene. Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, University of Minnesota Press.
  • Khan, N. (2014). "Dogs and humans and what earth can be: Filaments of Muslim ecological thought." HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4(3): 245-264.
  • Favret-Saada, J. (1989). "Unbewitching as therapy." American Ethnologist 16(1): 40-56.
     

Thursday August 3

Morning: Natural History of States, Economies, Affects

  • Mathews, A. S. (2011). Instituting Nature: Authority, Expertise and Power in Mexican Forests. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. pp. 147-202.
  • Masco, J. (2008). "Survival is Your Business: Engineering Ruins and Affect in Nuclear America." Cultural Anthropology 23(2): 361-398.
  • Günel, G. (2016). "What Is Carbon Dioxide? When Is Carbon Dioxide?" PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 39(1): 33-45.
  • Tsing. Mushroom 71-135


Afternoon: Earth Systems Models, Complexity, and Indeterminacy.

  • Edwards, P. N. (2010). A vast machine computer models, climate data, and the politics of global warming. Cambridge, Mass. :, MIT Press.
  • Oreskes, N., K. Shrader-Frechette and K. Belitz (1994). "Verification, Validation, and Confirmation of Numerical Models in the Earth Sciences." Science 263(5147): 641-646.


Of Interest:

  • Cooper, M. (2010). "Turbulent Worlds: Financial Markets and Environmental Crisis." Theory, Culture & Society 27((2-3)): 167-190.


Friday August 4

Morning: The Long Lives of Disasters. From Encounters to Afterlives.

  • Brown, K. (2013). Plutopia : nuclear families, atomic cities, and the great Soviet and American plutonium disasters. Oxford, London, Oxford University Press.
  • Masco, J. (2015). Catastrophe's apocalypse. The time of catastrophe : multidisciplinary approaches to the age of catastrophe. C. Dole, Ashgate. x, 145 pages :: 1-46.
  • Oreskes, N. and E. M. Conway (2013). "The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future." Daedalus 142(1): 40-58.


Afternoon: Anthropocene Politics

  • Morita, A. (2016). "Infrastructuring Amphibious Space: The Interplay of Aquatic and Terrestrial Infrastructures in the Chao Phraya Delta in Thailand." Science as Culture 25(1): 117-140.
  • Lane, S. N., C. Landström and S. J. Whatmore (2011). "Imagining flood futures: risk assessment and management in practice." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 369(1942): 1784.
  • Mitchell, T. (2009). "Carbon democracy." Economy and Society 38(3): 399-432.


The lecturer
Andrew S. Mathews is Associate Professor at the Anthropology Department, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA.

Tags: Social Anthropology, Environment and Climate, PhD, Summer School, Anthropocene, Environmental Anthropology
Published Nov. 16, 2016 8:52 AM - Last modified Aug. 14, 2017 1:09 PM