Anthropocene Topologies

Authors: Tony Stallins*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Anthropocene, Social Theory, Geographic Thought
Keywords: Anthropocene, topology, geographic thought
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Anthropocene represents a culmination of two pervasive explanatory forces in geography, the nomothetic and the idiographic. Through this tension the Anthropocene is inextricably a boundary issue. Like the modifiable area unit problem, the choice of where to demarcate the Anthropocene's start and how to signify its presence can be selected from a large range of biophysical and human social phenomena. Each has their own space-time axis of change and ways of sublimating pattern and process into a timestamp. These trajectories of change range from the gradual, to threshold-driven, as well as those that exhibit hysteresis. I show how topology, as it is invoked in social theory and the biophysical sciences captures the signifying geometry of the Anthropocene. Rather than a point on a timeline or a layer in the geological record, the Anthropocene may be described as a folded surface in which different modes of change and movement can coexist. Insofar as the Anthropocene has also been considered a dissolving of boundaries, hysteresis can account for how contraposed states or conditions can exist within the same context. A topological view sees the Anthropocene not as a new period, but a folding in of the new with the old in novel ways, an intensification of the paradox that we are both separate from and part of nature.

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