versations about the Anthropocene, in two overlapping ways.
First, we intend to survey a particular question we believe the Anthropocene raises, namely, the question of habitability: the question of the affordances it will provide for—or withhold from—human and other life. Second, we intend to explore that question both through our own reflections, and by assembling an interdisciplinary set of scholarly readings. Our focus on habitability will inform (but not determine) the choice of scholarship we will present—we will highlight works that bear on the Anthropocene quite broadly, and works that provide conceptual background to the phenomena of habitation. But we will also consider ways that ideas relevant to the theme of habitability can be seen in the wider discussion of the Anthropocene beyond the academic literature, e.g. in journalism or on other blogs, and we will discuss the theme (and others) directly.
We certainly will not ignore the apocalyptic visions of the Anthropocene which suggest that its onset spells the end of Earth’s habitability for humanity and other forms of life. Less dramatically, we will examine some of the many, many practical questions about what human beings can do to respond to the challenges to habitation posed by the Anthropocene. And more fundamentally, we will explore ways the Anthropocene idea—that human beings have changed the most fundamental conditions of their physical environment—makes salient a long recognized but perhaps underappreciated conceptual point: habitability is not a given feature of a place organisms live; more importantly it is a result of the activities organisms engage in to live in that place. That fact is key to our understanding of humans as natural beings. And because the Anthropocene is by definition the work of human beings, we will also explore the prospect that people can, through deliberate practices of habitation, live in ways that make an Anthropocene that is more habitable.
As is widely recognized, the Anthropocene is an inherently interdisciplinary topic, hence conversations about it ideally include people from a range of intellectual backgrounds. That recognition guided the assembling of an “Anthropocene Learning Community” at the University of Oklahoma, composed of faculty from the natural and social sciences, the humanities, and engineering, who (starting in 2013) met regularly to discuss key articles bearing on the Anthropocene from each other’s fields. This blog grows out of that series of discussions; it is administered by Zev Trachtenberg, who convened the group; its original authors were all members (see the Who we are page for bios); and the focus on habitability emerged from our discussions.
Our experience during our sessions vindicated the notion that intellectual interactions across disciplinary boundaries can be fertile and exciting—but also revealed an obstacle that can frustrate interdisciplinary work: despite a shared topic, and even in some cases a shared vocabulary, our different approaches led us often to misunderstand the works we read in common, and sometimes each other. But our commitment to the enterprise prompted each of us to make the effort to articulate the assumptions that can go unstated within our own disciplines, in order to render the observations we sought to share comprehensible to colleagues from other departments. As a result, works from fields quite distant from our own became genuinely available us, in an experience of profoundly rewarding collegiality.
We hope with this blog to maintain that spirit of collegiality—and to reproduce the intellectual service we provided each other. That is why one of our goals is to highlight scholarly works from a wide range of academic disciplines that we find particularly useful in understanding the Anthropocene in general terms, and the issue of habitability more specifically. We will use conventional disciplinary organization as a convenient heuristic for categorizing the works we present—as indicated in the “Disciplines covered” menu under “What we’re reading” at the top of the page. Our readings of the works we present will, obviously, be influenced by our own disciplinary backgrounds. But we will approach them in an interdisciplinary spirit (and of course from our own individual points of view). Thus, we will try to make those works more accessible—by, for example, highlighting a key insight they provide, or by explaining their disciplinary characteristics and advocating the value of that approach to scholars in other fields, or by articulating the value of a work drawn from outside one’s own field. We intend our ongoing effort to produce a kind of annotated bibliography that makes the works we present more useful to readers from varied intellectual backgrounds.
Finally, we seek with this blog to develop a set of linkages among key works. Linkages might indicate that one work is an influence on or is influenced by another, or they might indicate a more idiosyncratic intellectual response, of a scholar seeing a previously unrecognized connection between works from disparate fields. Thus, our posts on given works will include suggestions for further readings—and we enthusiastically invite comments that provide connections to other readings as well. Over time we hope this blog develops a curated network of itineraries through the terrain of relevant scholarship, emergent from the judgments of its contributors, aimed at fostering interdisciplinary engagement with the practical and intellectual challenges of inhabiting the Anthropocene.