The preliminary results of the field initiatives will be studied through the lenses of three main analytical frameworks: (a) ownership and possession, (b) technospheric governance and (c) ecology, scale and human agency. These frameworks contribute to the “Work of the Humanities in a Changing Climate” with three angles of intellectual interventions, and will guide the thematic focus in the post-fieldwork workshops.
1. Ownership and Possession
Property relations are foundational for understanding both the legal and economic beginnings of the Anthropocene and its future. The ideas of ownership and possession, whether communal or private, conjoined human potentialities and made them realizable. The current expansions of global finance, which are at the basis of many development projects, are rooted in complex property relations. If ownership, property, and potentiality have led to Anthropocenic excess, it is not surprising that these terms continue to structure public debates about the Anthropocene and climate change. This project’s field initiatives offer local laboratories for thinking deeply about property relations and potentiality at all scales, since the worldviews of human communities frequently evoke ownership claims. We will study the embeddedness of ownership claims and property relations in the evolution of the Anthropocene and local sites.
We propose that ownership and possession depend on a self or group extending itself into a not-self (land, water, or things) so that the not-self becomes likened to the self. The mind comes to inhabit objects of need and want, and customary laws ratify this metaphorical extension of self into not-self. This perspective reinterprets John Locke’s ontological analysis of the origins of private property: “he [humankind] hath mixed his labour with [nature], and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.” We suggest, instead, that there is no “true” origin but rather a commonplace in which a foundational boundary between a self (or group) and a not-self gets erased. Ownership of legal property comes into being when the mind extends itself into that which is other than itself and makes that difference nonexistent. In so becoming, the thing owned is no longer its own entity, acquiring its distinctive reality, utility, and spirituality. This is a heuristic thesis, by which we hope to understand the origins of the Anthropocene, and the shared logic and values that underlie both large-scale development projects versus local, sometimes defensive, responses to the potential loss of land and water.
2. Technospheric Governance
The present extent of global industrial development can be summed up in one word: the technosphere. Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt (Berlin)’s Anthropocene Project describes technosphere as a “worldwide fabric of earthly, technological, and living systems, a hybrid field of infrastructural activities that has today achieved geo-systemic parity with other spheres such as the bio-, the hydro-, and the atmosphere.” Its defining characteristic is interoperability, allowing myriads of components to merge into a dynamic unity. What are the forces that articulate, orient and orchestrate the moving parts of this complex system? How can this chaotic ensemble be subsumed into a single whole? In short, how is the technosphere governed?
We believe that cybernetic finance has become the archetype of global governance. Here, the self-reinforcing feedback loops have split off from the material goods and human services whose invention, production and distribution continue to be coordinated in real time and at a massive operational distance. Computerized finance has a contradictory nature. First, it is autopoetic, i.e. sustains itself on its own dynamics, ceaselessly conjuring money in a positive feedback loop that prioritizes the creation of its own instruments, networks, urban environments and conscious subjects. Second, it is allopoetic, i.e. it is dependent on the continuous augmentation and acceleration of underlying streams of material production, which it constantly evaluates and supports through the targeted distribution of investment capital. In finance, the autopoetic function has intensified to an extreme, with disfiguring consequences on production, nature, and human beings. This raises a central question for this project: How can we identify the influence of technospheres and technospheric governance in this series of fieldwork initiatives?
3. Ecology, Scale and Human Agency
Continuous dialogue between ecological sciences and the humanities is one major objective of this proposal. The discipline of ecology (“the scientific study of the distribution and abundance of organisms or biogeochemical cycles”) has struggled with where to place humans in ecological theory. Can human populations be studied from the same theoretical perspective as other species? In some ways they can — but what about human agency? Until recently ecological scientists simply have ignored the problem of human agency. The Anthropocene has forced ecologists to confront this question, dragging human agency into ecological theory.
A second challenge to ecological theory is scale. How one incorporates scale into approaches to ecological research hinges on clarifying the concepts of space and place —a challenge shared by all fieldwork initiatives in this proposal. The other key element of the proposed research, climate change, is central to contemporary ecology and likewise demands a critical understanding of scale. Ecological research on climate change across a multitude of scales will contribute to the framing and interpretation of findings from the proposed research program. Focused work on ecological theory through a dialogue between natural sciences and the humanities will produce an initial breach in the wall that separates disciplines. This opening and exchange will help the ecological sciences face the implications of the Anthropocene, contributing to the emergence of a new discipline, the critical study of anthro-bio-geo-chemical cycles. Through the analysis of scale and human agency, the experiences from the various field initiatives will be compared in order to create an ideal but realistic scenario of collaboration between the humanities and the natural sciences.