Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen

Photo by H. Heyerlein.

The idea of an Anthropocene has spread with astonishing speed, dislodging familiar terms like nature and environment from their customary preeminence as signs of the world beyond ourselves. These developments pose a peculiar challenge for those of us in anthropology. To be sure, everyone suddenly seems to share our concern for that singular creature, anthropos. Yet, the Anthropocene is a gift armed with teeth, with a hau of demands and reciprocal tethers that have left many anthropologists rightly cautious about embracing its tale of an overwhelming human agency. What would it take, we wonder, to see this time and its configurations, agencies, and effects otherwise? With this lexicon we hope to develop a resource that is helpful for this task.

This Theorizing the Contemporary series is meant to confront the challenge of vision and sensibility, of finding new ways of conceiving, engaging, and expressing the felt impasses of the present. It first sprung to life as a “pop-up” panel at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, with contributions emerging on the fly amid the tumult of an annual academic carnival. In that spirit of experimentation, we invite you to help populate this compendium of alternative vantages on the ecological present, to contribute your own keywords, musings, sounds, and visions.

[Editors’ Note, 6/28/17: We are pleased to share one last round of new entries to the web version of the Lexicon: Acceleration, Apocalypse, Business, Death, Dispossession, Exposure, Monoculture, Seeds, Smugglers, and Surreal. Stay tuned for news about the book version, which will include additional entries not appearing on the Cultural Anthropology website.]

Posts in This Series

Introduction: Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen

Introduction: Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen

This is a work in progress, and we hope that you might also think of pitching in. We write in the midst of a dramatic revaluation of the epoch at hand, as a sub... More

Acceleration

Acceleration

At present, we accelerate. Or, so argue scientists who claim that the epoch of the Anthropocene is also the time of the Great Acceleration (Steffen et al. 2004;... More

Address

Address

Dear Climate, What if we killed off all of our first-born? Stopped moving? Stopped time? What if we cordoned off 50 percent of the world from us; you take that ... More

Apocalypse

Apocalypse

Many of those concerned with climate change in the Anthropocene have a story they tell about that moment the scales fell from their eyes and they realized just ... More

Business

Business

Businesses, especially green businesses, promote a peculiar optimism in the face of climate and energy crises. They supply environmentally friendly products tha... More

Carbon

Carbon

During the 1950s, Dave Keeling developed a set of techniques for systematically measuring atmospheric carbon dioxide. The problem was not simple. How does one c... More

Care

Care

I propose care as a methodological mode of attention that can ground the sometimes frightening implications of the Anthropocene as an epoch. Care as a method he... More

Cloud

Cloud

Theorizing the Anthropocene means considering the air in which we live and which comprises the atmospheric fabric of earthly ecosystems. Our engagements with ai... More

Cosmos

Cosmos

The supposed collapse of planetary and human processes into each other implies also the collapse of two fates: humanity and the earth, conjoined in their future... More

Death

Death

My artwork deals with nature. It participates in an interrogation of the solidity and certainty of our assumptions about what we call nature—normative judgments... More

Dispossession

Dispossession

We sit on the veranda of a house on the outskirts of Goroka, Papua New Guinea (PNG), while two international oil company representatives describe the benefits t... More

Distribution

Distribution

Distribution in an atmospheric key begins from a reckoning with how things lift off, move, or settle: tracking agitations, suspensions, and sedimentations;, fol... More

Dream

Dream

The mode in which we humans talk to ourselves about ecology is largely taken for granted, like an old, reliable vacuum cleaner. And, like one of those old vacuu... More

Earths

Earths

In 2012, an infographic depicting how much land (and atmosphere) would be necessary in order to sustain the world’s seven billion people if they lived like the ... More

Ecopolitics

Ecopolitics

I have written a book called How Forests Think (Kohn 2013), which is drawn from my work in the Ecuadorian Amazon and concerns a mode of thought that I call sylv... More

Environing

Environing

Trouble the boundaries and enmesh the cosmos, but an Anthropocene ecology remains housebound. Ecotheorists are fond of pointing out that the oikos in ecology is... More

Expenditure

Expenditure

If the Holocene is marked by stability in the earth’s climate, then the Anthropocene (if our present era comes to be by this name) is marked by dissipation. It ... More

Exposure

Exposure

Here we are now, exposed to the Anthropocene. Within an Anthropocenic logic, we are exposed to ourselves. Human-induced environmental change at a global scale h... More

Flatulence

Flatulence

The Anthropocene is the age of flatulence. Cars, ships, and trains belch copiously into the air as they transport an ever-growing number of bodies and goods acr... More

Generation

Generation

Postextinction imaginaries of future Earth as present-day Mars depict a degenerated planet refigured as a despoiled desert.1 In a moving, but inert future world... More

Gluten

Gluten

How does the Anthropocene taste? Inspired by Stefan Helmreich’s meditation on the sounds of the Anthropocene, I probe another sense—taste—as part of the embodie... More

Heat

Heat

We used to call it “global warming.” Behind the Anthropocene, we are told, is a gathering heat. Perhaps it emanates from the birth of internal combustion. Perha... More

Hyposubjects

Hyposubjects

We live in a time of hyperobjects, of objects too massive and multiphasic in their distribution in time and space for humans to fully comprehend or experience t... More

Industrialism

Industrialism

Industrialism is founded upon an imperious humanism that not only imagines an inherent right to all that it beholds, but also presumes the savvy capacity to man... More

Leviathans

Leviathans

Four thousand years ago they knew the world would end the same way it began: with dragons. Humanity’s first experiments with the state, city, and surplus were a... More

Melt

Melt

How does the Anthropocene sound?1 Sound can provide an unexpected way into apprehending developments in the Anthropocene, or, to take Jussi Parikka’s (2015) ter... More

Models

Models

In the Jorge Luis Borges fable “On Exactitude in Science,” an empire’s cartographers construct a map so detailed that it covers the entire territory. Yet the ma... More

Monoculture

Monoculture

Agriculture—or more accurately, horticulture—marks human settlement. Growing plants is both a means of making place and a reason to stay there. When agricultur... More

Nature

Nature

“Back to nature, back to somewhere else” is a line from the song “Back to Nature” by the English postpunk band Magazine, from their 1979 album Secondhand Daylig... More

Nemesis

Nemesis

I can smell the word on your dank breath: “Anthropocene.” It has a too-sweet, cloying scent. Hubris. Its reek has reached me on the solar wind. (All those elect... More

Petroleum

Petroleum

The film Petroleum Dreaming was composed in 2014 for a screening of the Karrabing Film Collective’s When the Dogs Talked at the Oslo National Academy of Fine Ar... More

Photosynthesis

Photosynthesis

Photosynthesis is my keyword for this era that we keep calling the Anthropocene. Photosynthesis circumscribes a complex suite of electrochemical processes that ... More

Plastic

Plastic

Plastic substances are now a ubiquitous planetary presence, far beyond the human places for which they were meant. At this point, ninety percent of global seabi... More

Power

Power

The Anthropocene posits a very powerful species, one whose presence has registered even on the densely slow scale of the Earth’s geology. But how singular is th... More

Predation

Predation

The Anthropocene initiates new discussions not just about the agency of anthropos, but also about how we are to understand agentive action and planetary impact ... More

Preparedness

Preparedness

In March of 2016, France’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Bernard Cazeneuve, announced that exercises simulating terrorist attacks would be organized in the ten ... More

Probiotic

Probiotic

The Anthropocene names an antibiotic age: an era marked by systematic efforts to extinguish or control the diversity and complexity of the living world. Some of... More

Relationships

Relationships

To speak about Indigenous people’s relationships to land, water, law, language, history, and futures, it is important that I first foreground my statements by t... More

Ruin

Ruin

To contemplate the end of the world, I had to get there. So I flew to Longyearbyen, the largest permanent settlement in a Norwegian archipelago called Svalbard,... More

Seeds

Seeds

Seeds are stories that sprout in the telling. They seem to show us our roots and natures. Indigenous advocates remind us that seeds are part of our deepest hist... More

Shit

Shit

Most people living in modern industrial (and postindustrial) cities have very limited responsibilities when it comes to the management of their most intimate fo... More

Smugglers

Smugglers

“It was because of Mitch. They let me in because of Hurricane Mitch.” Wizard sprinkles a bump of shitty cocaine onto the tip of a gold key. It quickly disappear... More

Species

Species

In an era of extinction, it has become difficult to understand the scale of loss and to develop responsible practices of intervention. Cultural anthropologists ... More

Stability

Stability

In 2014, the state of Oklahoma, located in the middle of the United States and far from its most famous active faults, had three times as many earthquakes measu... More

Steps

Steps

Ippo. Ippo. Ippo. 一歩。一歩。一歩。 One step. One step. One step. As we humans engage and act within emergent Anthropocene materialities and events, we produce new temp... More

Surreal

Surreal

It is a word often at the tip of the tongue when a moment feels off the rails or inflected with difference. Flies buzzing at Christmas in Ontario. Desert dunes ... More

Sustainability

Sustainability

“Sustainability is an English word.” This statement is so obvious that the problem it poses is often ignored, but that problem is exactly what the speaker from ... More

Timely

Timely

Some of us remember Watchmen. This was the graphic novel of deconstructed superheroes, nonlinear plot timing, and, perhaps most famously, the bloody smiley face... More

Vulnerability

Vulnerability

Intensified rainfall, species migration, and wildfires are just some of the disturbances that characterize vulnerability in the Anthropocene. Perhaps it is now ... More

Wildness

Wildness

Two decades before the idea of the Anthropocene gained global traction, the environmental historian William Cronon (1996) made a call to think not of wilderness... More

Zoonosis

Zoonosis

We are at the cusp of this new age of the Anthropocene, an age in which humans have colonized evolutionary time. To contain and prevent pandemics, scientists ar... More