Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Anthropology and Environment Society
Primary Theme: Environment and Environmental Inequality
Secondary Theme: The Political
This session seeks to develop an ethnographically oriented dialogue about the ways in which sociocultural, political, and material landscapes are formed and transformed, activated and constrained by planetary affordances. In his pioneering ecological approach to perception, James Gibson developed a concept of affordances that mapped environments in terms of what they offer their inhabitants, for good or for ill: “The different substances of the environment have different affordances for nutrition and for manufacture. The different objects of the environment have different affordances for manipulation. [...] What other persons afford, comprises the whole realm of social significance for human beings” (1979: 120). Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari later pursued some of the political implications of such an approach to the Earth with their notion of geophilosophy, asking how to deterritorialize contemporary philosophy —that is, how to uproot it from our current democracies in order to reterritorialize it elsewhere and otherwise, and thereby constitute an earth and a people yet to come (1994:108). More recently still, John Durham Peters's "philosophy of elemental media" (2015) argued for thinking through the mediational capacities of the Earth itself. For Peters, the elemental categories of water, fire, sky and earth do not simply designate inert substances, but are rather rife with mediational possibilities. Finally, Elizabeth Povinelli (2016) has issued a challenge to conceive of the ways in which what she calls “geontopower” subtends the biopower with which we, as a discipline, are already familiar.
The presentations in this session adapt and enrich these concepts through empirical anthropological inquiry, raising the following questions:
How do the communities with whom we work understand, make designs on and act upon their complementarities with the Earth?
How do they mobilize the mediational properties of the planet and its elements?
How do they scale their efforts between specific geographies and the entire planet, or vice versa?
How does such an approach to the Earth reframe or recontextualize the epochal framing of the Anthropocene?