Interrupting the Anthropo-Obscene: The De-politicized Politics of the Anthropocene as Immuno-biopolitical Fantasy

Erik Swyngedouw, SEED, University of Manchester, UK.

Monday.  10.Apr.2017.

3:00-5:00pm.  SS5017.

100 St. George Street

Tea. Coffee. Cookies.

ABSTRACT: The staging of the Anthropocene inserts humans as active agents into what hitherto was largely understood as the de-humanized acting force of non-human dynamics. This opens up all manner of new possibilities, ranging from calls for a more modest and ‘adaptive’ human-nonhuman articulation to advocating geo-engineering and geo-management perspectives to manicure the dynamics of the earth system. While recognizing a wide-ranging debate, we hold that ‘the Anthropocene’ is a deeply depoliticizing notion that off-stages political possibilities. This off-staging unfolds, we contend, through the creation of what we refer to as ‘AnthropoScenes’, the mise-en-scene of a particular set of narratives that are by no means homogeneous, but which all broadly share the effect of off-staging certain voices and forms of acting. Our notion of the Anthropo-obScene then, is our tactic to both attest to and undermine the performativity of the depoliticizing stories of ‘the Anthropocene’; a hacking of a popularized term to render sensible its uncanny underbelly.

The presentation is organized in four parts. We depart from ‘the event of the Anthropocene’ as Bonneuil and Fressoz call it. The Anthropocene argument not only fully recognizes the active role of humans in co-constructing the earth’s deep geo-historical time, but also potentially inaugurates a new ontological framing of relational symmetry between humans and non-humans. In the second part, I interrogate how versions of such symmetrical relational ontologies fuel a new cosmology, a new ordering of socio-natural relations. Despite its radical presumptions, I contend that this new cosmology opens the specter (albeit by no means necessarily or intentionally so), for a deepening of particular capitalist forms of human-nonhuman entanglements. In the third part, I suggest how this framing of the Anthropocene provides for an apparently immunological prophylactic against the threat of an irredeemably external and revengeful nature. The displacement of an external nature that struck back, because not properly attended to, to the reflexive and symmetrical Anthropocenic cosmology offers a symbolization of humans’ apparent desire to protect itself, to immunize itself from the vagaries of nature’s acting without excess. Roberto Esposito analysis of immunological bio-political governmentality, enhanced by Fréderic Neyrat’s psychoanalytical interpretation, may help to elucidate this de-politicizing deadlock.

In the final section, we to explore the contours of re-politicizing the socio-environmental conundrum we are in, while fully and radically embracing humans’ interdependence with non-humans. Drawing on post-foundational political thought, this perspective recognizes exteriority and separation as the condition of possibility for interdependence and relationality.


Intersections: Lectures, etc. Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto

Political Ecology Cluster, Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto

Co-sponsored with

School of Environment, University of Toronto

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