After 400 ppm: Science, Politics, and Social Natures in the Anthropocene -Deadline December 31

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A workshop for junior scholars at Rutgers University
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Rutgers University, March 27-28, 2014
Keynote speaker: Sarah Whatmore, Oxford University

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations now hover around 400 parts per million, a threshold that many scientists and environmentalists consider a path towards the catastrophic. At the same time, scholars in the social and natural sciences as well as the humanities are increasingly engaging with the notion that the planet has entered a new geological period, the Anthropocene, in which the Earth is fundamentally influenced by human activity on an unprecedented scale.

As many critical observers have noted, conceptualizing the Anthropocene in terms of 'the human species' acquiring the capacity to act as a geological agent obscures difficult questions about the wildly divergent capacities among humans for both impacting the planet and adapting to socioecological disruptions of the sort now becoming increasingly commonplace (c.f. Chakrabarty 2009, Nixon 2011).

This and other concerns underscore the importance of critical engagement with emerging narratives of the Anthropocene, particularly at the present moment as this still unstable discursive formation becomes an influential frame through which to understand and respond to a suite of interconnected social, ecological, and economic crises unfolding across the planet.

A recurrent concern throughout scholarly and popular discussions of the Anthropocene is science's role in framing the crisis as well as finding its solutions. On the one hand, apocalyptic scenarios and questions about the human species' chances for survival frequently accompany framings of science and technological expertise as the best, if indeed not the only, hope for responding effectively to cataclysmic threats (c.f. Launder and Thompson 2008). On the other hand, some philosophers and critical theorists argue that scientists' appeals to truths 'outside' the reach of social or political forces ultimately amount to a refusal to take responsibility for the central role played by science in expanding humanity's capacity to fundamentally transform the planet.

From this perspective, science's power to ameliorate the negative impacts of socioecological crises depends largely on abandoning "its…belief in detached objectivity [… and learning to] become reflexive about its own maintenance of the economic inequalities which make it possible" (Saldhana 2013). From both perspectives, however, it is clear that there can be no apolitical reckoning with science in the Anthropocene, leaving many scholars and thinkers to begin re-framing what constitutes politics and re-imagining what politics can do (Stengers 2005, Latour 2004, Whatmore 2002).

This workshop brings together early career academics and advanced graduate students whose research engages critically with the ways in which this profound transformation of the planet and its support systems also entails shifts in our understandings and practices of science and politics. By nature an interdisciplinary discussion, we invite scholars from all disciplines to submit proposals for inclusion in a series of roundtable discussions before an open audience at Rutgers University, March 27-28, 2014.

We seek a wide range of research foci, but potential topics and questions might include:

-Concepts of the 'political' in the Anthropocene
-Strategies for doing science reflexively
-The Anthropocene and human exceptionalism
-The Anthropocene and the masculine fantasy of control over nature
-Narratives of redemption in the Anthropocene
-Biopolitics in the Anthropocene
-Geologic life
-Climate justice
-Gender and race in the Anthropocene
-Anthropocene and Gaia
-Governance in the Anthropocene
-Anthropocene and the commons

Event details and application process

The workshop is open to scholars in all fields who are interested in cross-disciplinary explorations into the changing nature of entanglements between science, nature/society, and politics. The event will consist of a series of non-concurrent roundtable discussions, in which each participant will offer a brief (<10 min) presentation of their work, followed by a discussion facilitated by a senior faculty moderator. Participants will be expected to circulate papers to and read papers of their fellow panelists in advance of the event. Please send a CV, an abstract of no more than 250 words describing your research, and a brief statement of how your work relates to the theme of the workshop.

Deadline for submissions is December 31, 2013 . Participants will be selected and notified by January 15, 2014.

Send application materials as one PDF file, and direct any questions, to:

For those traveling to the workshop, we will make every effort to arrange accommodations with graduate students and faculty based on availability. Limited funds to defray travel costs might also be available.

Eric Sarmiento
Sean Tanner
Miriam Tola
Max Hantel

Sponsored by: The Departments of Geography and of Women's and Gender Studies and The Center for Cultural Analysis at Rutgers University