Humanities Without Walls Funded Project: Political Ecology as Practice: A Regional Approach to the Anthropocene

Political Ecologies working group that has been supported by and hosted at UIC’s Institute for the Humanities, won a major Humanities Without Walls Environmental Humanities grant in 2016, as part of the research challenge “Work of the Humanities in a Changing Climate“. This multi-disciplinary collaborative project, entitled Political Ecology as Practice: A Regional Approach to the Anthropocene engages faculty and graduate students from the fields of Art History, Art, Anthropology, English, Rhetoric, Environmental Sciences, Latin American Studies, Urban Studies and Geography from the University of Illinois at Chicago in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Read the press release.

The project will host its first academic gathering  with a Master Class and a Workshop with Prof. Bruno Latour during the week of October 30-November 4, 2017.


Project Abstract

This project investigates the reciprocal relationship between the emergent theories of the Anthropocene, climate change, and the global environmental crisis, and how local ecological problems are experienced in various regions of the world. It will address two core questions: (1) do theories generated at the metropolitan center derive insight from regional ecological conflicts? If so, how? (2) Do these theories have an impact on the various communities in terms of their relationship with land, resources, and biodiversity? This project brings together scholars to discuss global theories of the Anthropocene and its new ontologies of time, materiality, and technology, while investigating their links to regionally specific practices and discourses. It initiates a multi-sited, comparative study of place-based ecological politics through a series of fieldwork initiatives led by faculty and graduate students in collaboration with artists. The fieldwork initiatives are developed from existing projects of collaborating institutions researchers, and involve field observations, visual documentation, interviews, and creative interventions such as public engagement events and art installations. The results of the field initiatives will be presented in public exhibitions, lectures, and publications. Multiple modes of presentation and dissemination will derive inspiration from the innovative format of the field initiatives and collaboration with the arts.

Project Description: the Research Problem

Academic discussions of the environmental crisis engage two distinct types of inquiry. The first is empirical and concerns a change in global climate and its growing impact on the ecologies of life on earth. The human impact on the atmosphere, the lithosphere, and the biosphere have been so dramatic that the human species is now recognized as a geological agent. The second is ontological, and requires us to rethink human-nature relationships, to grasp the temporality of the unimaginably slow processes of change, and to bridge the gap between “human time” and “geological time.”

If environmental theories of the Earth are being produced in academic institutions of the metropoleis with an increasingly heightened level of global urgency, how are local ecologies responding to and being affected by those global perspectives? This project proposes to investigate the tensions, exchanges, and interactions between global theories about the Anthropocene and the locally lived situations in the politics of the environment. It is a well-known fact that in the globalized economy of knowledge production, local places and micro-geographies can rarely remain immune from discourses in the global public domain. But how precisely are debates of climate change and the onset of a new geological epoch finding resonance, reflection, and response in regional imaginaries, in the rapidly changing contexts of human-land relationships, situated experiences of time and temporality, and concerns of immediate and deep future with respect to the availability of water, agricultural land, biodiversity, public spaces, cultural heritage, and other threatened spaces and things?

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