Plunging into the Anthropocene

For geographers, discussion around the Anthropocene provides an interesting recent take on long standing disciplinary debates over issues such as ‘Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth‘, human impacts and human relations to nature. Last year I was struck by the parallels between how people are conceptualising and talking about the Anthropocene, and how the Neolithic or agricultural revolution has been discussed in archaeology over the last few decades.

I am not talking  about the debate over whether the Anthropocene started 8000 or so years ago as a result of methane emissions from rice agriculture, as argued by William Ruddiman, although that is a fascinating and important discussion. Rather it is about how phases or periods of history can become reified in public and scholarly consciousness, to the detriment of considering their spatial and temporal nuances. If we’re not careful we can end up with deterministic and teleological rather than contingent understandings of historical change. Continue reading

‘Engaging Tactics’ – how we do what we do

I recently participated in a workshop titled ‘Engaging Tactics’ (30th April – 1st May), which explored creative methods emerging in the social sciences. Engaging Tactics was a Postgraduate and Early Career symposium organised by graduate students of the Sociology Department at Goldsmiths, University of London, and sponsored by the British Sociological Association.

On the opening morning the organisers explained that the motivation for the symposium was in part the current push for emphasis on ‘impact’ in academic work. They were interested in asking ‘how can we think about impact differently?’ The conference did just that. It pressed participants to consider the methods or ‘tactics’ we employ when researching or communicating with the public (or with our publics – whatever they might be). To reflect not only on the substance of our work, but on how we do what we do, and what effect that has.

The workshop was remarkable for its use of spaces within and around Goldsmiths and the New Cross and Deptford area – a railway tunnel, a public library, a community project, an elevator, a University corridor, a pedestrian crossing, a local café, a lecture theatre, a heating plant room, a former police station and prison cell. The organisers did a fantastic job of designing a workshop structure and presentation format that allowed participants to demonstrate and explore the tactics we’re using.

Photo: José Borges Reis

I presented some of the work I’m doing as part of ‘SiteWorks’ – an ongoing collaborative project coordinated by Bundanon Trust, based on the Shoalhaven River. Here I’m interested in what interdisciplinary collaboration – in this case artists, geographers, scientists, local craftspeople making and doing projects together – reveals about a place or a problem. I’m struck by the extent to which how we do what we do – engage, investigate, communicate – shapes the effects or impacts of our work, whether it be in academia, in the community or elsewhere. Both SiteWorks and Engaging Tactics are teaching me about how we might think differently about the ‘impacts’ of research.

 

Leah Gibbs is a Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Wollongong. Her interests are in the cultural and social geographies of nature, and in particular cultures of water, water governance, and interdisciplinary research methods.