The anthropocene: a gift to anthropologists

Bruno Latour’s AAA 2014 Keynote, ‘Anthropology at the Time of the Anthropocene – a personal view of what is to be studied’, is available online. There’s also a tweet based summary online.

Latour points out how the idea of the anthropocene links what might be considered as the cultural and the physical. Here’s a short excerpt from towards the end of the first half.

… ask the climate scientists who are part of the IPCC to tell you how it feels to be messengers of alerts that are not being heard by those who are most directly impacted. And then compare this politicization of “natural” science with the problems encountered by ethnographers forced to “politicize” their own involvement with their “own people” (as the saying went) while keeping within the standards of objectivity. You will realize that the question of political relevance and urgency has spread from scholarly fields to hard sciences. It is all the disciplines that are now fighting with the urgent mission of assembling humans on newly defined territories – exactly the problems raised by anthropologists long ago.
In that sense the concept of the Anthropocene pushes anthropology to the centre stage and requests from it to be worthy of its original mission – a mission that anthropologists probably never really wanted to have! Or that many thought the discipline had definitely abandoned in favour of a glorified version of story telling to which were added some radical pronouncements against power, injustice and domination.


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