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Strata and Three Stories: Toward a Multidisciplinary Anthropocene

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There are lots of ways that Earth System science and humanistic disciplines might come together to tell stories of the Anthropocene. Here I discuss three approaches. The first might be called “anything goes.” While this pullulating richness of definitions and terminology is dazzling, I’ll argue that it isn’t helpful. If we’re to construct meaningful conversations among the disciplines, we need to respect different forms of expertise (while reflecting on the purview and limits of our own). Two other kinds of stories among disciplines are possible: one interdisciplinary and the other multidisciplinary. The interdisciplinary approach combines rocks and people, strata and stories into a single coherent narrative. While compelling, there are problems with this approach because a single story can never capture all the many “anthropos” of the Anthropocene and the way different forms of endangerment in the Anthropocene. Furthermore it hints that mitigation efforts are best pursued under the auspices of a single collective, global authority. The third, multidisciplinary approach allows for many stories about the same phenomenon. In other words, everyone responds to the same reality but asks distinctive and qualitatively different questions about it. Reality, even the enormous and encompassing reality of the Anthropocene, does not dictate one comprehensive human story—either looking back or looking forward—and that provides more avenues toward hope.

This talk is part of the Pembroke Environment Seminar series.

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