The Anthropocene: Planetary Crises and the Age of Humans - SE558

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
(version 2)
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5 15 (7.5)







This module seeks to engage directly with the central provocation of the Anthropocene: that the speed, scope and scale of human industrial activities are having unparalleled, unintended and poorly understood impacts on the earth as a system, thus contributing to and significantly expanding the scale and risks associated with the crisis of modernity and its multiple dimensions: environmental, social, political, and cultural. In response to this crisis, and especially in light of the fact that human activities are so profoundly entangled with biological, ecological, geographical and geological process, a number of academic disciplines are reconsidering many of their core categories, boundaries and approaches. The Anthropocene constitutes an important, novel and challenging problem and a unique case study to attempt a more careful and effective integration of the different intellectual traditions and methods as exemplified in SAC: social and biological anthropology, human ecology and conservation. Some of the main areas covered in the module include: 1) A review of the key problems and issues signalled by the Anthropocene, including the evidence and the debates and areas of disagreement 2) The Anthropocene in relation to earth system science and the planetary, with a particular emphasis in the relationship between the history of the earth, the history of life and the history of humans 3) Some of implications of the incoming period of heightened risk, uncertainty and cascading crises 4) To consider the consequences of the changes and challenges signalled by the Anthropocene upon core categories and assumptions underlying the humanities and sciences, with particular attention to such key binaries as human-nature, living-non-living, and technology-biology 5) The need and challenge of simultaneously considering multiple and apparently incommensurable scales, both in time and space 6) The Anthropocene dilemma: humans as agents or victims? 7) Considering some of the challenges the Anthropocene raises for the practice of science, politics, law, governance, etc. 8) What do these problems, questions and debates mean in terms of our own individual and collective futures, both professionally and personally?


This module appears in:

Contact hours

Total contact hours: 24
Private study hours: 126
Total study hours: 150


Optional module for BSc Anthropology; Biological Anthropology; Human Ecology Wildlife Conservation; BA: Social Anthropology; Joint Honours; with a Language; with a Year Abroad; Environmental Social Science. Also available as a Wild Module.

Method of assessment

Research report (3,000 words) (60%)
Audio-visual or verbal research presentation (20%)
Quiz (20%)

Indicative reading

Davis, H. and E. Turpin, eds. (2015). Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies. London: Open Humanities Press.
Galaz, V. (2014). Global Environmental Governance, Technology and Politics: the Anthropocene Gap. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.
Hamilton, C. et al., eds. (2015). The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis. London: Routledge.
McNeill, J. and P. Engelke, P. (2016). The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene Since 1945. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
Moore, J.W. (2015). Capitalism in the Web of life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. New York: Verso.
Tsing, A.L. (2015). The Mushroom at the End of the World: on the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton University Press.
Selected readings from a wide range of relevant journals including: Anthropocene (Elsevier), Anthropocene Review (Sage), Global Environmental Change (Elsevier), Environmental Humanities (Duke), Environment and Society, Science, Nature, and others.

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