The Anthropocene in Chile: notes from an experimental thinkshop
28 August, 2017
Between 27th and 28th of April, fifteen chilean scholars and practitioners gathered at the Catholic University (UC in spanish) Marine Costal Research Station in Las Cruces for the two-day thinkshop El Antropoceno en Chile: desafíos actuales, futuros posibles (“The Anthropocene in Chile: current challenges, possible futures”). Organized by Cristián Simonetti and myself as an experimental exercise, the meeting was exceptionally stimulating –and challenging.
The meeting aimed at engaging critically with the discourses and politics of and around the Anthropocene. First, and countering the all-too recurrent retrospective approach to the Anthropocene –i.e. to look back, or deep down, to unveil what or who went wrong—the thinkshop attempted at speculating about possible, desired or otherwise alternatives futures in the face of antropocenic damage. We didn’t want to avoid critique, the retrospective mode of thinking par excellence, but to prioritize the search for new vocabularies and practices to live in the ruins of capitalism (Tsing 2015). What possible futures can and should be imagined in the face of ecological destruction? Or borrowing from Haraway (2016), how can we live and die well in troubled times? The thinkshop was also devised as a way to problematize universalistic and humans-as-species approaches to naturecultural crises. A key impulse was therefore to reclaim the need of anchoring the debate on the Anthropocene in Chile and the specificities of its extractivist and neoliberal legacies. Finally, the event aimed at rehearsing more open, diverse and speculative ways of thinking and doing, particularly within academia. If the Anthropocene disrupts conventional divisions of labor in knowledge production, then what kind of conversations needs to be empowered to imagine new futures in and for the Anthropocene?
Guided by these propositions, the organization of the thinkshop was nothing but laborious. Our first decision was to limit the conversation to academic researchers (just for this time!) but opening up as much as possible the representation of disciplines and epistemological sensibilities. After several months of hard work, we finally enrolled an stellar group of participants: Catalina Bauer (art); Catalina Correa (art); Laura Gallardo (atmospheric science); Gabriel González (geology); Román Guridi (theology); Claudio Latorrre (ecology); Eric Pommier (philosophy); Sergio Navarrete (biology); Sebastián Riffo (art); and Bárbara Saavedra (Wildlife Conservation Society), plus the organizers and two young researchers, Carolina Sandoval (paleontology) and Martín Fonck (anthropology).
Participants were invited to engage in a very particular exercise. To start with, we explicitly explained to all participants that the meeting was intended neither to discuss about the scientific validity of the Anthropocene as a geological era nor to assess the damages inflicted to the Earth by human activities. The thinkshop, in this sense, was not neutral: it assumed from the get go that colonialism, industrialism, and extractivism, coupled with the endless extension of the technocentric politics, had profoundly and perhaps irreversibly damaged biophysical systems at diverse scales. The thinkshop, however, was not set up to iterate on this diagnosis. On the contrary, the invitation was to speculate about what kind of ethics, practices, institutions, and pedagogies we need to live in and cope with a dynamic planet in Chile and from its specific vulnerabilities and possibilities. The invitation was to think about the Anthropocene as an event that demands the imagination of new social projects for the collective composition of more livable futures.
After intense ruminations, we decided to invite participants to write a manifesto. From the Latin manifestare, or “making public,” manifestos are not about analyses or evaluations but about the public assertion of values and beliefs for the provocation of alternative courses of action. A manifesto is a guide, proposal, or map for sounding and intervening the future. Hence manifestos are inherently normative and political. They summon change, and are thus at odds with the ideal of objectivity and detachment at the core of scientific practices. So the invitation to spend two days preparing a manifesto was openly disruptive given the scientific background of most participants. Wouldn’t that be too ideological? What kind of scientific validity will a manifesto have? And how could a manifesto without hard evidence and strong research have any policy impact?
If writing a manifesto was in itself challenging, how to write it was an additional complexity. As organizers, we knew one thing for sure: if the Anthropocene demands novel ways of organizing knowledge, we needed to come with alternative modes of thinking and debating. The first thing we decided was that we would avoid the (shallow) dramaturgy of seminar and conferences. No PowerPoint, no 20-minute-soloists, no “one quick question before the next presentation.” Rather, we wanted to return to basic commensal exchange: the intimacy of people talking and thinking around a table. So instead of devising the meeting as a set of presentations, we organized it around collective activities, each one purposefully aimed at the preparation of the manifesto. One example: each participant introduced her/himself through an object representing his/her (affective, academic, political, activist) engagement with the Anthropocene. Another example: the themes of the manifesto were delineated and discussed in a walking seminar along the Pacific Ocean.
The result of the experiment was exciting in several and profound ways. We disagreed, we learned, we laugh, and we were pushed to think beyond our own modes of knowing and doing. The manifesto and a couple of collective documents are on their way.
Haraway, D. (2016) Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Tsing, A. (2015). The mushroom at the end of the world: On the possibility of life in capitalist ruins. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.