Anthropological engagement with the Anthropocene: A critical review

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The new geological interval, the Anthropocene, or the ‘era of the human’ refers to the planetary scale of anthropogenic influences on the composition and function of the Earth’s ecosystems and all life forms (Steffen, Crutzen & McNeil 2007). Socio-political and geographic responses frame the unfolding but uneven topographies of climate change (Crate 2011; Moore 2010; Lazrus 2012), while efforts to adapt and mitigate its impacts extend across the social and natural sciences. This paper reviews anthropology’s evolving engagement with the Anthropocene, contemplative of the multifarious approaches to research. The growing body of contemporary thinking (Latour 2005, 2013; Haraway 2008, 2011) encompasses the emergence of multispecies ethnographic research (Kirksey and Helmreich 2010; Fuentes 2010; Tsing 2012; Paxon 2010) highlighting the entanglements of humans with other life forms. Such new ontological considerations are reflected in Kohn’s (2007) “Anthropology of Life,” ethnographic research that moves beyond an isolated focus on the human to consider other life processes and entities as research participants. Examples of critical engagement discussed include anthropology beyond disciplinary borders (Kelman & West 2009), queries writing in the Anthropocene (Rose 2009), and anthropology of climate change (Crate 2011). Although not exhaustive of contemporary anthropology, we demonstrate the diverse positions of anthropologists within this juncture in relation to our central trope of entanglements threaded through our discussion in this review.
Anthropocene, Entanglements, Multispecies Ethnography, Climate Change, Transdisciplinary, Anthropology
Environment and Society: Advances in Research, 2015, Autumn, 6 (1), pp. 5 - 27