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The politics of the Anthropocene

Maslin and Barry in Geo debate

The politics of the Anthropocene

UCL Geography Professors Andrew Barry, a human geographer, and Mark Maslin, a physical geographer, have been having a dialogue about the politics of the Anthropocene in Geo: Geography and the Environment, the open access journal of the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).

A critical feature of the controversy revolves around determining the boundary of a distinct contemporary, ‘human’ controlled, geological time unit. It also raises political and conceptual questions about the relationship between geological and human history, and between the geosciences, geography and the environmental social sciences and humanities.

The aim of the dialogue is not necessarily to agree about how the Anthropocene should be defined, but to open up the question of the politics of the concept and its definition. This  revolves around three issues:

(1) The politics of the geoscientific definition of the Anthropocene Epoch.

(2) The relation between the geoscientific debate and the burgeoning literature on the Anthropocene in the social sciences and humanities, including human geography.

(3) The relation between geoscientific and political concepts.

Mark argues that the formal and informal debates about the Anthropocene should be kept distinct, while Andrew believes that this separation is proving both difficult to sustain in practice and problematic to maintain in principle.

In effect, they differ on how to conceive and enact the relation between science and politics. Despite their differences, they both argue that many of the questions they raise have been insufficiently addressed in the geoscientific literature on the Anthropocene.

They are thus concerned that debates about the Anthropocene may end up reproducing existing divisions between the natural sciences, on the one hand, and the social sciences, humanities and arts, on the other. The Anthropocene may also turn out to be an anti-political concept that effectively reduces the potential space for disagreement. The challenge will be to make sure that neither of these possibilities are realised.



Andrew Barry and Mark Maslin

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