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The question of the human in the Anthropocene debate

Daniel Chernilo


The Anthropocene debate is among the ambitious scientific programmes of the past 15 or 20 years. Its main arguments is that, from a geological point of view, humans are to be seen as a major force of nature so that our current geological epoch is depicted as 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 has reached tipping point, the very prospects of the continuity of human life are being questioned. My goal in this article is to explore the implicit notions of the human – indeed of the anthropos – that are being mobilised in the Anthropocene debate. I will proceed in two steps: first, I shall spell out the main the main arguments of the Anthropocene debate with a particular focus on trying to unpack its implicit ideas of the human. Secondly, I use of 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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