Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Anthropology and Environment Society
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Environment and Environmental Inequality
Secondary Theme: Resilience
The end of the world is on the horizon, or so we are told. The social imaginary of catastrophic extinction has become increasingly dominant over the last decade, as climate change, the proliferation of toxic matter, and ecological crises seem to point towards an ever more determined – and determinately foreclosed – future for the human species. The boundaries between life and non-life, as scholars such as Elizabeth Povinelli have recently argued, are shifting, with profound consequences on human (and non-human) social, political, and cultural life. As those boundaries shift, so too does the anthropological imagination, as we begin attending in new ways to the politics of adaptation and endurance in the face of existential endangerment at multiple scales.
In this panel we highlight a crucial dimension of these apocalyptic imaginaries – that of time itself. The figure of extinction, we argue, is always and inherently temporal, a breach in time in which life irrevocably becomes its antithesis, and around which multiple possible futures coalesce. The papers in this panel mobilize the anthropological imagination to explore these ecologically-inflected temporalities in a variety of different contexts and through multiple distinct lenses. They demonstrate the myriad ways that ecological imaginaries, whether at their most apocalyptic or striated by aspiration, draw on and are in turn constituted by temporal figures, by moralized choices between different horizons of possibility, and by complex intersections between pasts, presents, and futures.
Michael Cepek’s paper traces one such shifting set of temporal possibilities in Amazonian Ecuador, demonstrating how Indigenous Cofán actors are transforming oil from an historical engine of destruction into a future-oriented vehicle for political, economic, ecological, and cultural improvement. Joseph Weiss’ paper similarly explores the ways Indigenous communities negotiate ecologically-inflected futures, juxtaposing colonial perceptions of Aboriginal disappearance in settler colonial Canada with the contemporary emergence of a “politics of endangerment” within the Indigenous Haida Nation. Xiao-bo Yuan’s paper moves us from the Americas to China, articulating the complex network of temporalities - the ancient past, the near future, and the already-present cusp of environmental disaster – that are at play in the constitution of a “new silk road economic belt.” Simon May’s paper is likewise concerned with a near future of disaster, asking how Pacific Island populations will address a future in which their homelands might be literally destroyed. How will our concepts of sovereignty, indigeneity, and migration need to be reconfigured in the face of what May calls "terra obliterata"? Christopher Sheklian, finally, addresses the apocalypse in its theological context, drawing connections between dominant Christian attitudes towards time and the environment and contemporary Christian environmentalist groups.