The summer school gives motivated PhD students the chance to deepen their knowledge on political ecologies in the Anthropocene, and to interact with several conference speakers and other interesting invited scholars. In line with the theme of the conference, the course covers two broad and interrelated thematic areas of interest in contemporary political ecology: The emergence of the ‘Anthropocene’ and its competitors and The value of life in the Anthropocene.
The five-day intensive PhD summer school ‘Political Ecologies in/of the Anthropocene: value, life and critique’ precedes the inaugural Centre for Space, Place and Society (CSPS) conference on ‘the Value of Life’, held from 28-30 June in Wageningen, the Netherlands.
1. The emergence of the ‘Anthropocene’ and its competitors
It is increasingly asserted that we have entered a new phase in world history, namely the so-called ‘Anthropocene’. The term ‘Anthropocene’ was invented to signal ‘humanity’s’ enormous – even geology-changing – footprint on the earth; yet for many is a profoundly unsatisfying term. Jason Moore and others have recently started talking about the ‘capitalocene’ instead, while yet others talk about many different ‘o-cenes’ in designating this new era. Among other issues, such critics suggest that the term Anthropocene obscures the role of political economy in environmental impact as well as distinctions among the types and degree of impact caused by different groups of people.
The terms Anthropocene and capitalocene thus raise new yet somewhat familiar challenges for political ecology, for instance, in terms of longstanding questions of how to deal with the ‘ecology’ now that this is (again) being defined on a dramatically expanded geological level and timescale. The course will engage these issues in exploring how political ecology should/could address the Anthropocene discussion.
2. The value of life in the Anthropocene
If the Anthropocene signals a profound shift in the conditions of life on earth, how can we understand this shift, and what meanings does it give to human and non-human life? How does it change the governance of life, and how do we conceptualise this in terms of power, politics and ecology? How does this relate to growing discussions concerning how to ‘properly’ value life vis-à-vis, for instance, newfound promotion of ecosystem service valuation and natural capital accounting? The course will thus wrestle with the politics of how to value life in the Anthropocene as well.
What you will learn
These two themes are both complex yet intricately and intrinsically connected. The PhD course aims to provide students with an advanced introduction to these two themes, their interconnections, and recent academic thinking on both. In the introductions and discussions, the theme and practice of ‘contestation’ will be central. Theories on the Anthropocene are, of course, contested. We will delve into these contestations and employ them productively to get a handle on different trends and traditions in political ecology.
Special emphasis will be placed on identifying contestations between and among different theoretical traditions, empirical settings, material resources and political objectives that inform, or form the subject of, various political ecology studies. What consequences do different choices with regard to these ‘ingredients’ have for the types of political ecology presented in the literature and presentations? And how can we employ the contestations inherent in them to inform our own understanding and use of political ecology?
One of the outcomes of the course, then, is to answer the question how to start thinking about a political ecology of the Anthropocene.
Besides looking for contestations in the literatures and presentations, we will also practice contestation. In group-discussions (for which we have scheduled ample time during the course of the week), we will aim to stimulate intellectual debate through various strands of argument and critique and contest these from various angles. In this way, the course also explicitly incorporates development of academic debating skills.
Altogether, the workshop and these debates are also meant to support the second objective of the workshop and the conference that follows, namely to contribute to a broader understanding of the meaning and nature of political ecology in the 21st century.