Where and when does the Anthropocene come to matter? Looking at inundated low-lying islands, the melting Arctic, or the coastal wrath of super storms, many suggest such contemporary moments prophesy the future that awaits us all. Others, returning to the ecological fallout of the colonial plantation, hydrocarbon imperialism, or nuclear weapons, suggest our impending unraveling rests on deeper investments in destruction. This course invites reflections on these tensions, not necessarily to resolve them to but to reflect on what political realities they work to instantiate. As questions of planetary injury come to drive theoretical debates and reframe empirical studies in social research, this course inquires into the conditions of possibility for recognizing emergent scales and temporalities of earthly volatility. We will explore descriptions of ecological instability as a lived condition, including those experiences that find intuitive articulation on planetary scales and those contemporary inequities that do not. We are also interested in how infrastructures of surveillance are calibrated – or recalibrated – to earthly accruals of power, the commensurability’s such measures allow for, and the politics they imply. As the figure of planetary crisis gains moral authority to order and orient the present, such questions imply a rising need for new forms of understanding. It is becoming clear that the expenditures, sovereignties, and forms of objectivity that helped tilt earth systems beyond the fixtures of modernist life can no longer provide the basis of critical reflection and political action. What kinds of unruly language, historical alliances, and insurgent solidarities are now needed, if not to tame planetary volatility than to navigate more equitable ways of living through it?
This class will also culminate in a scholarly conference hosted by CAPA (May 26-28) with distinguished faculty from MIT, University of Chicago, and elsewhere. Students will help prepare for this conference and will be expected to attend.