Accepted Paper:

The Anthropocene: A fossilized view of becoming  
Cristián Simonetti (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)

Paper short abstract:

The scientific definition of the Anthropocene seems characterized by - paraphrasing Bergson - a fossilized view of becoming. I argue this view belongs to a wider understanding of change, marked by a punctuated and retrospective view of history.

Paper long abstract:

Although the 'Anthropocene' is seen by many scholars across the sciences and humanities as a tool for political action, its validating procedure in the hand of geoscientists looks extremely conservative. Soon after Crutzen's coinage of the term, to highlight humanity's influence on the planet, geoscientists embarked on a quest to locate the start of this new era in stratigraphy. According to leading members of the Anthropocene Working Group, only signals that are already buried in stratigraphic sequences, clearly identifiable across the globe, are candidates to securely tell us when the Anthropocene started. Accordingly, signals need to become fossils before scientists are able to take action, for example, by officially introducing the term in geological charts. Grounded on ethnographic work among geoscientists and an analysis of the history of the geosciences, I suggest that this petrified understanding of time corresponds to what could be described, paraphrasing Bergson, as a fossilized view of becoming, where time is seen as a punctuated accumulation of solid surfaces and the past remains accessible only to a selective group of experts. I conclude by suggesting that this view belongs to a wider understanding of change marked by retrospection, common also in anthropology, for example in how Evans-Pritchard studied time reckoning among the Nuer. I suggest that in order to address the temporal challenges currently imposed by deep time, anthropology needs to address the particularities of this shared fossilized view of becoming.

Panel P42
Time and the changing climate