The Anthropocene: The One, the Many, and the Topological

Authors: Tony Stallins*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Anthropocene, Geographic Thought, Coupled Human and Natural Systems
Keywords: Anthropocene, diplomacy, hysteresis, pragmatism, topology, wormholes
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 28
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Given the many discourses about markers for the Anthropocene, those peripheral to one’s academic niche may elicit indifference or even dismissal. Its converse is a shallow pluralism in which any Anthropocene demarcation matters equally as others. I propose a more diplomatic coexistence of ideas regarding the Anthropocene boundary issue. In this perspective, the choice of when to delineate the Anthropocene’s start and how to signify its presence is analogous to a modifiable areal unit problem. While geographic subdisciplines have acquired distinctive ways of sublimating socioecological patterns and processes into a timestamp, less attention has been given to how their respective temporal modes and ensuing markers of anthropogenic change overlap and relate to one another. I show how topology, as invoked in the biophysical sciences and social theory, integrates these temporalities of the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene can be framed as a cusp catastrophe, a folded surface in which different modes of change emerge from and coexist with each other. These trajectories of change, the gradual, the threshold driven, and those exhibiting hysteresis, encapsulate the interdependencies among past, present, and future invoked across different delineations of the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is less a fixed point in time as it is a moving window where human and natural processes are folded into one another. An Anthropocene represented as a folded surface rather than a timeline highlights the importance of unpredictably productive responses to the present Anthropocene moment.

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