All of the readings for this unit ask us to reconsider the place of the non-human world within our understanding of human culture and communication. The readings for this week ask us to engage with media practices (the art installations discussed by Baker) and ways of thinking (with the notion of hyperobjects) that require a fundamental shift in views of the world (communication included.) One possible model for this is, which I briefly discussed in class, is the idea of the Anthropocene.
The Anthropocene is a way of describing our current epoch, noting that it involves the fundamental reworking of the entire global ecosystem as a consequence of human activity.
This concept has generated considerable discussion among contemporary cultural theorists that is bringing about a reconsideration of many fields of inquiry including the social sciences. As Clive Hamilton has recently written in a short online piece,
The advent of the Anthropocene shatters the self-contained world of social analysis that is the terrain of modern social science, and explains why those intellectuals who remain within it find it impossible to “analyze” the politics, sociology or philosophy of climate change in a way that is true to the science.
This is, as Morton reminds us, a big subject because it goes beyond the temporal and spatial scale at which humans can be seen as the centre of the action. Yet, it is also essential that we engage with the ongoing transformation of the world. Here is a recent talk by Donna Haraway (known to some of you for her writings on Cyborgs) talking about different ways of understanding the Anthropocene (I can’t embed it, but it is worth watching):