in Curating, Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK)
Contesting Anthropocene Futures
Friday, 23 November 2018, 5pm
OnCurating Project Space
This talk will introduce the widely discussed concept of the Anthropocene and outline some of the critical debates around geo-politics, colonialism and human-nature relations that have emerged around it. It will focus on two major responses to the Anthropocene – Neo-Prometheanism and Catastrophic Withdrawal – exploring the political stakes of their contending visions of the future and how to think the political in the horizon on planetary scale socio-ecological change.
In recent years the Anthropocene – the so-called ‘Geological age of man’ – has emerged as a key concept in contemporary thought, moving from its initial home in the earth sciences to grasp the public imagination in a wide range of fields including the arts. Although widely embraced the Anthropocene has also been the subject of fierce critical debate. Much of this discussion has focused on the hotly contested question of the Anthropocene’s historical origins and the bearing this has on questions of responsibility for and vulnerability to anthropogenic environmental change.
This talk turns instead to the question of what futures are imagined to be possible or desirable within the horizon of a planetary scale socio-ecological change. It examines two common tendencies in responses to the challenge of the Anthropocene within contemporary social thought: Neo-Prometheanism and Catastrophic Withdrawal. Neo-Prometheanism places its faith in the promise of techno-fixes and growth detached from environmental impact whilst Castrophic Withdrawal suggests that a retreat from the delusions of progress is the only way to secure survival on a damaged planet. Whilst the former might be characterized by blind optimism the latter can at times be characterized by an equally blind pessimism, but both however present profoundly depoliticizing responses to environmental crisis and imagine geo-social futures void of politics.
By contrast this talk will argue that imagining more desirable geo-social futures that may also be possible requires locating the political at the heart of our imagination. Hence, it will be argued that facing the challenge of the Anthropocene requires returning to some fundamental questions about how politics is conceived and carried out – what its sites, subjects and aims might be – whilst demands that deeply embedded assumptions about human-nature relations are rethought.
Rory Rowan (b.1980, Belfast) is a political geographer and cultural critic. His research spans widely across critical social theory, political ecology and the environmental humanities, and currently focuses on the political and philosophical dimensions of the Anthropocene, planetary governance and the emergence of private industry in outer space. He is author with Claudio Minca of On Schmitt and Space (Routledge, 2015) and regularly contributes writing on politics, art and cultural criticism to a number of print and online publication as well as working collaboratively with artists and curators. From 2014 to 2017 he was a Lecturer and Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the Political Geography Research Unit at the University of Zurich.