The question of the human in the Anthropocene debate

European Journal of Social Theory 20 (1):44-60 (2017)


The Anthropocene debate is one of the most ambitious scientific programmes of the past 15 or 20 years. Its main argument is that, from a geological point of view, humans are considered a major force of nature, thus implying that our current geological epoch is dominated by human activity. The Anthropocene has slowly become a contemporary meta-narrative that seeks to make sense of the ‘earth-system’ as a whole, and one whose vision of the future is dystopian rather than progressive: as the exploitation of the planet’s natural resources reaches tipping point, the very prospects of the continuity of human life are being questioned. This article aims to explore the implicit notions of the human – indeed of the anthropos – that are being mobilized in the Anthropocene debate. It will proceed in two stages: first, the article will spell out the main arguments of the Anthropocene debate with a particular focus on trying to unpack its implicit ideas of the human. Second, it will use my approach to philosophical sociology to highlight some of the limitations and contradictions of the ideas of agency, reflexivity and responsibility that underpin the Anthropocene debate.

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