Exploring the politics of the Anthropocene and the great unsettling of Environmental Education

Year: 2017

Author: Dolin, Jenny, Duhn, Iris, Malone, Karen, Rooney, Tanya, Somerville, Margaret, Widdop Quinton, Helen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The idea of the Anthropocene asks hard questions of us. Temporally, it requires that we imagine ourselves inhabitants not just of a human lifetime or generation, but also of "deep time" - the dizzyingly profound eras of Earth history that extend both behind and ahead of the present. Politically, it lays bare some of the complex cross-weaves of vulnerability and culpability that exist between us and other species, as well as between humans now and humans to come" (Robert Macfarlane, journalist, The Guardian, April 2016: par. 4).

Philosophically and theoretically, the Anthropocene is a concept that works both for us and on us. In its unsettlement of the entrenched binaries of modernity (nature and culture; object and subject), and its provocative alienation of familiar anthropocentric scales and times, it opens up a number of possibilities for exploring concepts such as entanglements and differences. The politics of the Anthropocene demands that our entangled history is revealed and our future story is waiting bare to be unravelled. It asks of us, can the Anthropocene be the means for a way forward through a species thinking that acknowledges human and nonhuman relations as intra-active, agentic and lively. This work of reconfiguring the Anthropocene means getting beyond a view of the political as confined to 'humans', instead geophysical forces, the non-living, the human and nonhuman are all actors contributing to a transition between two epochs. In this transition 'sustainability' might begin to look like a 'time-bound and contingent goal at best, not an absolute one, so environmentalists will need to construct some other normative standard of value' (Davies 2016, p. 200). According to Geographer Jamie Lorimer the Anthropocene '...represents a very public challenge to the modern understanding of Nature as a pure, singular and stable domain removed from and defined in relation to urban, industrial society' and that 'This understanding of Nature has been central to western and environmental thought and practice' (2012, p.593). And while the death of Nature as we had come to know it, and the proposition of considering a new relationship with the more-than-human world is not entirely new, the current rise of theoretical work and the potential to reconsider the work of environmental educators has been slow in its uptake in academic writing. This panel format invites a number of environmental education researchers to explore the politics of the Anthropocene in their research. Drawing on their own research experiences Panel members will be asked to explore two questions:

1. Does the naming of Anthropocene produce a political jolt to our collective imagination of ourselves as environmental educators, and what does that means for the work that we do?

2. Can the naming of the Anthropocene become a way for re-configuring connections between humans and nonhumans by demoting the old mantra of sustainability and environmental education and open up new spaces for considering an ecological collective concerned with difference and diversity instead of sameness?

The six-member panel will be organised as a shared discussion, where each presenter will be asked to provide a two 10-minute position paper focusing on their own research experience in environmental and/or sustainability education addressing the two questions. After the six presentations the floor will then be opened to the audience for 30 minutes for questions and debate. The session will then end with a final summation by the discussant who will then have 30 minutes to provide final concluding statements inviting where appropriate panel members to respond.