Scene Setting

Jamie Lorimer, “The Anthropo-scene: A guide for the perplexed,” Social Studies of Science 47:1 (2017), 117–42

It’s a fun title, and the article doesn’t disappoint: this is now the best and most up-to-date short survey of scholarship on the Anthropocene, succeeding Noel Castree’s work. Continue reading “Scene Setting”


New Papers from the Anthropocene Working Group (part 6)

Jan Zalasiewicz et al., “Petrifying Earth Process: The Stratigraphic Imprint of Key Earth System Parameters in the Anthropocene,” Theory, Culture & Society 34:2–3 (2017), 83–104

This is another paper from the splendid TCS special issue on ‘geosocial formations and the Anthropocene.’ It’s not strictly an AWG paper, in fact, but close enough. It’s signed by five key members (Zalasiewicz, Will Steffen, Reinhold Leinfelder, Mark Williams and Colin Waters), and it’s clearly continuous with the group’s project as a whole. Specifically, it complements the Steffen et al. paper I wrote about here last September. It continues to explore the question, broached there, of the relationship between the Earth System Science and stratigraphic versions of the Anthropocene. Continue reading “New Papers from the Anthropocene Working Group (part 6)”

Chakrabarty’s Lifeboats, Again

Dipesh Chakrabarty, ‘The Politics of Climate Change Is More Than the Politics of Capitalism,’ Theory, Culture & Society 34:2–3 (2017): 25–37

To recap:

Near the end of his seminal ‘The Climate of History,’ Dipesh Chakrabarty wrote this:

Climate change, refracted through global capital, will no doubt accentuate the logic of inequality that runs through the rule of capital; some people will no doubt gain temporarily at the expense of others. But the whole crisis cannot be reduced to a story of capitalism. Unlike in the crises of capitalism, there are no lifeboats here for the rich and the privileged (witness the drought in Australia or recent fires in the wealthy neighborhoods of California). (p. 221)

Continue reading “Chakrabarty’s Lifeboats, Again”

Of Form and Formalization

I spent the middle of this week at an exceptionally thought-provoking conference. I wanted to say something here in oblique response to one of the most interesting papers I heard.

My account of the Anthropocene puts a great deal of emphasis on the prospect of stratigraphic “formalization”: on the possibility that a new epoch-level unit called the Anthropocene might be added to the chronostratigraphic chart maintained by the International Commission on Stratigraphy. Why? Continue reading “Of Form and Formalization”

Brain Power

Catherine Malabou, “The Brain of History, or, the Mentality of the Anthropocene,” South Atlantic Quarterly 116:1 (2017), 39–53 (preprint, here)

Malabou’s penetrating essay begins with the seeming antithesis between Dipesh Chakrabarty and Daniel Lord Smail. Chakrabarty and Smail both propose powerfully innovative ways of thinking about deep history that have masses to contribute to discussions of the Anthropocene. The apparent contrast between them is that Chakrabarty is on the side of the geological, and Smail on the side of the biological—or more specifically, the neurological. Malabou’s aim is to undo and recast that antithesis. Continue reading “Brain Power”

Period of Debate

Erle Ellis, Mark Maslin, Nicole Boivin and Andrew Bauer, “Involve social scientists in defining the Anthropocene,” Nature 540 (December 2016), 192–193

Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin Waters and Martin J. Head, “Anthropocene: its stratigraphic basis,” Nature 541 (January 2017), 289

Karen L. Bacon and Graeme T. Swindles, “Could a potential Anthropocene mass extinction define a new geological period?” Anthropocene Review 3:3 (2016), 208–17

Philip L. Gibbard and John Lewin, “Partitioning the Quaternary,” Quaternary Science Reviews 151 (2016), 127–39

Last week’s paper is the most systematic recent contribution to the debate about the Anthropocene’s stratigraphic formalization. Here’s a round-up of a few others. Continue reading “Period of Debate”

New Papers from the Anthropocene Working Group (part 5)

Jan Zalasiewicz et al., “Making the case for a formal Anthropocene Epoch: an analysis of ongoing critiques,” Newsletters on Stratigraphy 50:2 (2017)

What’s been needed to move forward the debate about formalizing the Anthropocene epoch as a new entry in the official Geologic Time Scale? A paper exactly like this one. Over the last five years a string of papers have been published critiquing the Anthropocene as a geological concept. They’ve contained substantive arguments and weaker arguments; they’ve added to and overlapped with one another. In this paper, the AWG members (with one notable additional contributor) systematise and respond to those critiques. It’s invaluable, clarifying work. Continue reading “New Papers from the Anthropocene Working Group (part 5)”

The Rhythms of History

The blog is still in hibernation for now. But here’s a short piece I wrote for the UC Press blog about the 2017 American Historical Association conference.

The American Historical Association’s annual conference begins in Denver on January 5. The panel I’d most like to go to is no. 142, “The Anthropocene in History,” chaired by John McNeill. (I wrote about Prof. McNeill’s most recent book here.) Being used to more modestly sized British conferences, I’ve never seen an academic conference panel take place in a ballroom, as the programme claims this one will. Continue reading “The Rhythms of History”


In Britain, the common hedgehog goes into hibernation at just about this time of year. Its body temperature will drop (Hugh Warwick writes) by some 25°C; its heart will slow to five beats a minute; it can go for an hour between breaths. In the case of erinaceus, however, hibernation is triggered not by the cold but by the demands of the academic calendar. In other words, I’m putting the blog on hold until the spring because I’m busy with teaching. Expect a new series of weekly posts to begin next May. Continue reading “Hibernation”