More than scaling up the study of conservation, our project also seeks to figure out how Anthropocenic formations, knowledge and politics are experienced, reshaped and produced in multiple contexts. We thus aim to make a timely ethnographic contribution to nascent cross-disciplinary studies of the Anthropocene—one that underlines both its ‘lumpiness’ and its epistemological, conceptual and political effects.
This project grapples with ‘the Anthropocene’ on two levels. First, building on current efforts to theorize ‘Anthropocene’ ontologies, it will explore how a diverse range of ‘Anthropocenic’ forces and developments—from annual forest fires to oil palm ecologies—are experienced, encountered and engaged with in various contexts on the ground. How, for example, do humans and orangutan become ‘companions’ (Yusoff 2010) experiencing burning peatlands and choking haze? What new ecologies of human-animal coexistence and conflict are generated by oil palm expansion? Such questions will add much-needed depth and texture to current, relatively abstract, theorizations of ‘the Anthropocene’ in the social sciences and humanities.
Asking such questions, however, means taking seriously the often glossed-over fact that the ‘anthropos’ in the Anthropocene is not singular and homogenous, but deeply striated by socio-economic inequalities, power imbalances and other differentials (Malm and Hornborg 2014). These disparities urgently signal the need for a critical level of analysis that treats ‘the Anthropocene’ as a ‘problem space’ (Moore 2015) built around highly contingent assumptions that generate and organize specific realities, relations, politics and imaginaries.
A key aim of this project is thus to examine the diverse ways in which the truth-claims of Anthropocenic discourses and politics are deployed, contested or ignored. It asks, for example: What forms of ‘Anthropocenic’ reasoning are adopted by conservationists, governments and publics as means of accounting for specific events (e.g. forest fires, a rescued orangutan) and apportioning blame? What becomes framed as an ‘Anthropocenic’ problem, and what ‘solutions’ does it demand?