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Conference theme and plenary speakers

The Chair of Conference, Professor Sarah Whatmore (University of Oxford), is pleased to announce her programme of plenary speakers for AC2015. 

Chair's plenary lectures and panel sessions

Chair’s Opening Plenary: a joint plenary by Professor Will Steffen and Professor Kathy Willis

Date and time: Tuesday 1 September 2015; 18.15 (conference delegate registration will be open from 11.00 on Tuesday 1 September)

Location: Alumni Auditorium, Forum Building, The University of Exeter

The Anthropocene: Towards a bright future or global collapse?
Professor Will Steffen (The Australian National University, Australia)

The Anthropocene is a term now widely used within and outside research communities, and has been re-interpreted to mean many things to many people. But the core meaning is strongly grounded in Earth System science. The Anthropocene refers to a new geological epoch in Earth history, but one that is not due to the natural swings in Earth’s environment but rather to an accelerating set of human pressures. The advent of the Anthropocene raises a profound dilemma for humanity. A business-as-usual socio-economic trajectory creates large risks that we may destabilize our own planetary life support system. In the 21st century are we really headed for a bright future of development, wealth creation, with plenty for everyone on the planet, or are we headed for global collapse? The signs are equivocal but not encouraging, but we’ll almost surely know the answer by the middle of the 21st century, if not before.

The Anthropocene: 4 degrees and beyond – what does this mean for biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides to humankind?
Professor Kathy Willis (Kew Gardens, UK)

It is widely acknowledged that the ecosystem services provided by biodiversity are critical for addressing many of the global challenges facing humanity today –but how will biodiversity fare in the warming climates of the anthropocene? We don’t have to go too far back in Earth’s history to see intervals when atmospheric CO¬2 was 4 times higher than present and global temperatures between 5-10oC higher. Evidence also indicates periods of enhanced climatic variability and rapid rates of warming. During these times, despite rapid turnover of species and the development of novel ecosystems, terrestrial biodiversity persisted and in many cases, flourished.

The key difference between previous intervals of warming and the Anthropocene, is of course, that these occurred in the absence of humans. So does evidence for the persistence of biodiversity in previous intervals of climate warming provide hope for the future? Or are we in the process of causing irrevocable damage to biodiversity? Will global initiatives such as ‘developing a green economy’ and ‘valuing natural capital’ which aim to conserve biodiversity by valuing the critical ecosystem services that it provides to humankind, provide the necessary protection? Or is this anthropocentric view of biodiversity failing to recognize and protected the critical ecological processes that enabled resilience and persistence of biodiversity in previous intervals of warming?

The opening plenary will be followed by a panel discussion on Wednesday 2 September at 11.10am in the Alumni Auditorium.

Chair's plenary: Feral geographies: life in capitalist ruins

Date and time:  Wednesday 2 September 2015, lunch time

Location: Alumni Auditorium, Forum Building, The University of Exeter

Keynote speaker: Professor Anna Tsing (University of California, Santa Cruz, USA)

Two questions guide this talk.  First, how have industrial processes changed earth ecologies—even far from industrial centers?  Second, given that Anthropocene ecologies have moved outside human design, how shall we understand their geographies as simultaneously global and local?  Using invasive fungal pathogens, parasites, and decomposers as my entry point, I will examine histories of invasion that clarify overlapping human and nonhuman world-making, as this leads to feral geographies.  On the one hand, such histories illustrate unintentional design, that is, landscapes made by many living things.  On the other hand, they suggest that something new—and beyond human control—has emerged in our times, challenging the livable ecologies of earlier landscape dynamics. Indeed, newly deadly more-than-human capacities, with their feral geographies, give substance to the concept of the Anthropocene.  Mapping them allows Anthropocene to do crucial work: drawing together a transdisciplinary discussion of industrial effects.  The talk thus addresses the possibility of opening disciplinary and conceptual borders, not just for the critique of dichotomies between nature and culture, but also, more urgently, for the making of forms of knowledge, which, while not universal, know what travel is and how to chance it.  This is a challenge, then, for both theory and description.  Might joining the discussion called “Anthropocene” require humanistic social scientists to rethink our knowledge practices?  Meanwhile, the talk is a renewed endorsement of the importance of arts of noticing—and critical description—for our unsettled times. 

Discussants: Stephen Hinchcliffe, University of Exeter; Cheryl McEwan, Durham University; and Gail Davies, University of Exeter.

Chair's plenary: Anthropocene or Anglocene?  Debating Cause and Consequence in the Great Climacteric

Date and time:  Thursday 3 September 2015, lunch time

Location: Alumni Auditorium, Forum Building, The University of Exeter

Keynote speaker: Professor Amita Baviskar (Delhi University Enclave, India)

Questions of power and knowledge are central to debates about the Anthropocene, its causes and consequences.  They are also embedded in discussions about how the concept changes our view of the world, in terms of geographical and temporal scales, and how it urges us to act in ways that respond to this new understanding. My lecture will focus on whether the Anthropocene debate is indeed a shift from earlier positions in environmental politics, and whether its novelty does indeed engender new ways of thinking and acting. And if it does, which ideas and actors are legitimized, and which are excluded?   I shall illustrate my talk with examples from the Indian subcontinent.

Discussants: Colin McFarlane, Durham University; Emma Mawdsley, University of Cambridge; and Tariq Jazeel, University College London.

Chair's plenary: After Sexuality: Desert, Animist, Virus: Figures of Geontopower

Date and time:  Friday 4 September 2015, lunch time

Location: Alumni Auditorium, Forum Building, The University of Exeter

Keynote speaker: Professor Elizabeth Povinelli (Columbia University, USA)

For a longtime, and perhaps still now, many have believed that Western Europe spawned and then spread globally a regime of power best described as biopolitics. Biopolitics was thought to consist of “set of mechanisms through which the basic biological features of the human species became the object of a political strategy, of a general strategy of power.” Is it such a wonder that some believe a great divide separates the current regime of biopolitics from the ancient order of sovereignty? Or that some think disciplinary power, with its figure of the camps and barracks, and its regularization of life, and biopolitics, with its four figures of sexuality, its technological tracking od desire at the level of the individual and population and its normation of life arch their backs against this savage sovereign dispositif. But is this the condition of power that we face today? Does the biopolitical and its figures provide us with the concepts that we need to make sense of what is now all around us but outside our field of vision? This talk replies in the negative, exploring, through three new figures of power--the Desert, the Animist, and the Virus-- how our allegiance to the concept of biopower is hiding and revealing this other problematic—a formation for want of a better term I am calling geontological power?

Discussants: Nigel Clark, Lancaster University; Kathryn Yusoff, Queen Mary University of London; and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, University of Rio de Janeiro.

Geographies of the Anthropocene

The Anthropocene has been claimed to herald a new geological epoch in which human society is acknowledged as having become the greatest force shaping planet earth.  Although its recognition as a new age in geological history remains provisional, the idea of the Anthropocene has already captured the public imagination and that of scientists, social scientists and humanities scholars variously advancing new projects, agendas and critiques in its wake. For example, it has given rise to the ‘post-disciplinary’ ambitions of an Earth Systems Science that presents the integrative role of geography with new challenges; it marks a radical geo-political moment in which the earth shapes new concerns and forms of public engaged in the contestation of planetary governance; and it heralds new demands on our habits of thought in which ‘post-human’ or ‘more-than-human’ modes of theorising and analysis are stretching familiar models of historical, cultural and economic analysis in new directions.

This annual conference theme aims to bring all areas of the discipline to the table, including the physical geography and climate science communities, to explore the rich array of geographical work engaging this powerful idea and its consequences.

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