Law and Politics in the Anthropocene, Birkbeck, 10 December 2018

Law and Politics in the Anthropocene, Birkbeck, 10 December 2018

Free to attend, but registration required

Speakers: Alain Pottage (LSE) / Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (University of Westminster) / Daniel Matthews (University of Hong Kong) / Lilian Moncrieff (University of Glasgow) / Mark Maslin (UCL) / Nayanika Mathur (University of Oxford) / Rory Rowan (University of Zurich) / Vito de Lucia (UiT Arctic University of Norway).

Many now claim that we have entered a new climatic regime (the Anthropocene) that marks a transition from the previous geological epoch (the Holocene), a peri- od of 12,000 in which human civilisations emerged. The Anthropocene thesis con- tends that collective human action has become so potent that it is shaping the earth’s systemic functioning. In this way, the Anthropocene reveals a new ontol- ogy or mode of being-in-the-world in which human agency is intimately bound up with the functioning of the earth’s biogeochemical systems and cycles, situating human agency and our political formations within rather than set against the so- called ‘natural environment’. However, within most legal and political thought this ontology remains remarkably difficult to grasp. Throughout modernity legal and political forms have largely been understood to transcend any connection to the inorganic, the non-human or the environmental. The aspirations of human civ- ilisation are commonly thought to depend on the postulation of an anthropogenic superiority in which a ‘natural condition’ (or ‘state of nature’) is overcome in the pursuit of a truly ‘political’ life. The prospect of human survival in this new epoch is bound up with a range of nonhuman forces that our political and legal thought has largely approached as an uninteresting backdrop against which human dra- mas are played out. In the relatively stable conditions of the Holocene this ‘back- drop ontology’ was perhaps understandable. But the Anthropocene tells us that the backdrop is beginning to move, the scenery and props have come to life.

With a focus on questions of method, orientation and encounter, speakers will address the flowing concerns:

    • To what extent do the methodologies which have largely defined modernity – dialectics, historical materialism, genealogy and so on – continue to assists us in the context of the Anthropocene?
    • Towards what ought our thinking on this topic be both temporally and spatiallyorientated: an unjust past or an apocalyptic future; towards Europe or China; the global North or South?
    • What are the fields of law (environmental law, international law, corporate law) and politics (international relations, security studies, biopolitics) that need to be brought into conversation?
    • How can we nurture interdisciplinary literacy across the natural and social sciences, arts and humanities in order to address the challenges that the Anthropocene brings into view?

This event is organised by BIH Visiting Fellow, Dr. Daniel Matthews, and is supported by the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities and the Birkbeck Centre for Law and the Humanities.


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