The Anthropocene Biosphere

I’m excited to announce a special project on the blog—a semester-long discussion of Erle Ellis’ 2015 paper ‘Ecology in an Anthropogenic Biosphere’ (Ecological Monographs, 85: 287–331. doi:10.1890/14-2274.1 ). In this paper Ellis proposes a general account of long-term ecological change due to human “sociocultural niche construction;” drawing from ecology, evolutionary theory, and the social sciences he proposes a theory, “anthroecology,” which aims to explain “why and how a single biological species gained the capacity to transform the biosphere” (p. 290).

Ellis’ paper thus deals with issues that are central to our concerns on this blog, and we decided to study it together in a kind of hybrid seminar. During the spring 2016 semester members of an interdisciplinary group of OU faculty (see below for the list of departments) will post brief discussions of the paper. Our goal for the collection of posts is to provide some analysis of the ambitious synthesis Ellis attempts in his paper. He brings together an impressive variety of disciplinary sources; from their own disciplinary perspectives members of our group will comment on his use of those approaches, and the overarching point of view he weaves together from them. In keeping with the format of the blog, some posts will focus on specific items from Ellis’ bibliography; these “reading posts” will consider his use of ideas from his sources. Other posts will be more general “reflections” on the paper as a whole. All the posts will be collected here.

Another dimension of this “Anthropocene Biosphere” project is that it will meld the on-line discussion on this blog with in-person discussions here on the OU campus. Each Friday during the project members of our group will meet to discuss the week’s posts. (This represents a return to our roots in a faculty reading group on the Anthropocene.) But any reader of the blog can have a virtual presence at these meetings: we will incorporate comments that appear on the week’s posts into the conversation, and post our responses to them. We hope, in this way, to take advantage of the blog to interact with an audience that can’t be physically present in the seminar room.

Further, the project will culminate when Ellis visits the OU campus April 14, hosted by the OU Humanities Forum. He will meet during the day with the bloggers for an extended author-meets-critics workshop on his paper. And that evening there will be a panel discussion of his ideas for the OU community. Watch for announcements on how those events will also be open to a broader audience via streaming, with opportunities for people anywhere to participate in the discussion.

[UPDATE, March 2, 2016. I’m delighted to announce that we are able to offer a set of prizes to OU students who participate in this project–see this announcement for details.]

We hope this project helps readers better understand and evaluate Ellis’ paper—and, more broadly, engage with the effort of bringing together the range of approaches required to comprehend how human beings inhabit the Earth. We invite you to follow our efforts as they unfold–use the buttons toward the bottom of the sidebar to the right to get notices of new posts. Please forward or link to posts you think are worth sharing—in coming weeks we expect to make citing them easier with doi numbers. And of course please add your voice to the discussion by commenting (initial comments are held for moderation, to ensure relevance and civility). If you have general comments or questions about the Anthropocene Biosphere project please contact the administrator using the form on the About page.

Project participants
(bio’s will appear on the Who we are page as posts go up)
Tom Burns, Sociology
Kirsten de Beurs, Geography
Steve Ellis, Philosophy
Kiza Gates, Biological Survey
Jeff Kelly, Biology
Cecil Lewis, Anthropology
Tom Neeson, Geography
Asa Randall, Anthropology
Ingo Schlupp, Biology
Peter Soppelsa, History of Science
Lynn Soreghan, Geology
Zev Trachtenberg, Philosophy
Stephen Weldon, History of Science
Jim Zeigler, English
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