Conference “Democracy and / in the Anthropocene”

Democracy and / in the Anthropocene

Interdisciplinary workshop at the Point Alpha Research Institute (PARI) in Geisa, Germany

The concept of the Anthropocene, coined once in the field of geology and earth system science, has been taken up by the social sciences and humanities in the last years.

The concept is used in different understandings, some are more theoretical and others quite material – but they all refer to a changing global, human and natural condition that challenges modern conceptions of knowledge and agency. Namely, the modern separation of “humans” and “nature” no longer holds, since visibly humans have by now impacted so much on nature that they are decisively affected by it in return. Backfire effects such as climate change underline humans are part of nature themselves. In terms of ontology the Anthropocene challenges the idea of a separation between humans/culture and nature that has marked modern thinking for centuries, as well as the ideas of linearity and simple causality. In material terms the Anthropocene entails the end of the stable geological epoch of the Holocene that has made the illusion of a stable stage for human history possible. The planetary ecological and geological system is becoming increasingly unstable and vulnerable and this directly affects humans and their lives.

The Anthropocene thus marks an end, or at least an inevitable turning point, for modernist thinking and modern modes of governance. Modernity seemed to have succeeded in making the world readable and thus governable based on linearity, causality, and progress.

Like the socialist version of modernity more than thirty years ago, now the western/liberal worldviews are challenged in many ways. Governance is no longer simply a matter of rational control and regulation, established modes of liberal democracy do not work as “they used to”, and future no longer appears as a promise of progress. It seems like the modern “order of things” is unravelling in front of our eyes in a very material and non-linear way. Instead we face imaginaries of decay, loss of control and apocalypse that no longer concern only the peripheries, but also the centres of global capitalism and liberal democracy. This triggers feelings of vulnerability, precariousness and uncertainty as well as a series of “crises” and their symptoms such as populism and technocracy.

We discussed questions such as:

  • To what extent are the current crisis symptoms related to the Anthropocene condition? How is this debated in academia?
  • What are the ongoing policy reactions to these crisis symptoms? How are policy fields such as climate change, artificial intelligence or security currently governed? Which strategies are deployed? Which patterns of reaction can we detect, and how do they refer (or not) to governing complexity, networks and systems?
  • What are conceptions, possibilities and practices of democracy in the Anthropocene? Is governing the Anthropocene at odds with democracy?
  • What new modes of power and governance are created within the terrain of complexity and what kind of exclusions and hierarchies do the new approaches enhance?
  • What is the relation of governing and ungoverning, knowledge, and not knowing, directedness and entanglements? Does is make sense to speak of “governing (in) the anthropocene”?
  • What kinds of “new weapons” are needed for (critical) theories and political analysis?
  • Which (new) concepts and sets of ideas and theories are useful in thinking the Anthropocene condition and its governance?
  • What are the potentials, pitfalls and limits of newly conceptualised “anthropocenic”, i.e. entangled, relational or participatory ontologies, thinking and practice? Are they more or less democratic than others?
We have recorded the roundtable discussion “Democracy after the end of the world?” and will post it online here in the near future.
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