A series of events gathered under the title “A Matter Theater” started 10 days ago in Berlin (Positions, Roundtables, Dialogs, Screenings, Performances, Workshops). “What do material processes mean for the articulation of the world around us? Humans are not just in the world, humans also create the world. ” From Corporeality¹ to Stratigraphy and Technoecology, from live spider installations to talks and projections, these events are part of the larger The Anthropocene Project- a project meant to explore the impact of humanity on Earth, its evidence and meaning.
In short,starting from the assumption that the Industrial revolution marks a new era not only in the history of humanity, but also in the history of Earth, and given the major and growing impact of human activity on landscape, climate and so on, a group of scientists (and not just) is proposing the introduction of a new term to the Geological Society- the end of Holocene and the start of Anthropocene. In addition, the project was built as a trans-disciplinary endeavour, where various scholars from the fields of geology, geography, economics, sociology, archaeology, oceanography, environmental historians, political theorists, as well as artists are brought in to “produce new work inspired by this idea“.
This claim has a history of its own: it was established through a paper in 2000, “The Anthropocene” by the chemist P. J. Crutzen and E. F. Stoermer (Global Change Newsletter 41: 17–18), but others have been exploring the concept for years (see here). In the same time, works in social theory have been highlighting the human impact on Earth systems in relation to the advent of modernity, looking at the intertwined relations between the world of nonhumans and the world of humans, as well as trying to move the focus from an anthropocentric view. Thus, one can look at Bruno Latour’s works (and his ANT, along the idea that “we are summoned to appear before Gaia” and the latest 2013 book “An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence”) and Tim Ingold’s SPIDER theory, or at the archaeological works in symmetrical archaeology and new materialism which have been proposing to acknowledge the agency of non-human agents, the “ecology of practices” to use C. Witmore’s term, and which have been talking about entanglements, emeshments and so on.
There is also a marked interest in this new concept in archaeological theory, illustrated by the studies published in recent years by Christopher Witmore, Matt Edgeworth etc., or the first issue of the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology whose forum is dedicated to it.
By browsing throuh the journal or through The Anthropocene webpage one can get a grasp of the author’s intentions, arguments and activities. Some of them might not seem too relevant or with any major consequences for the way we do things, but there are also a couple of ideas which I find inspiring for finding
new interpretative tools for the field of archaeology:
2. constructing a trans-disciplinary project exploring the concepts of “ecology of things” and entanglement (though in my opinion some of those who have started using these concepts don’t really show a correct understanding of them): “social, performative, and cultural understandings of humanity, animality, materiality and time.”
3. the desire to rethink the experience of modernity, along the ethical implications of our actions
4. a claim which might redefine how we define and apply archaeological concepts and methods, such as “site” and “startigraphy”: “localise the effects of human activity within the dynamic structure of material cycles and earth states, geo-historical events and planetary techniques“. In this line, how do we identify the relevant stratigraphy of the Anthropocene? Should we move beyond localised sites to wider landscapes and networks? Should we replace the focus on bounded objects to “Hyperobjects” (see Timothy’s Morton concept, as published in 2013 in “Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World”)²
I definitely think that this is a topic we should keep an eye on, to see how we can develop new questions and methods that can push archaeological interpretation further- beyond the established ontologies. I am also expecting that some of the related projects will turn into a pretext for using eye-catching concepts, “trendy” key-words and forms without foundations, but we’ll have to wait and see.
¹”The notion of “body” moves beyond anthropocentric reductionism and instead seeks to articulate the finer distinction between “having” a body and “being” a body, between corporeal embodiment and carnal accident. The human body, as such, unfolds and reconfigures itself in its interactions with matter, taking on hybrid extensions, cyborg modifications, animal-becomings, and vibrant entanglements with the stuff and substances of the world. ” Yannis Hamilakis (Department of Archaeology at Southampton University, Southampton), Rana Dasgupta (author and essayist, New Delhi)
² The list is by no means limited to this and my exploration of the topic is just beginning, so this blog post is a mere introduction in the themes and ideas proposed by such works