Accepted Paper:

Welcome to the Anthropocene: a Pyrenean multispecies critique  


Tony Knight (University of Kent)

Paper short abstract:

Predicated on the nature-culture divide, neoliberal human activities are radically impacting the Earth. People seeking a rapprochement with nature contest this process. My multispecies study of pastoralists confronting Pyrenean large-predator rewilding exposes the flaws of Anthropocene mentalities.

Paper long abstract:

Welcome to the Anthropocene. Human activity is impacting every part of the Earth's geo-biosphere, its fragile (in)stability ominously reflected through anthropogenic climate change and the Sixth Great Extinction. Ironically, human capacity to be above, and to dominate, 'nature', is being contested by people who defy this nature-culture divide, who seek a rapprochement with nature. This is aptly illustrated in the French Pyrenees, where 'traditional' pastoralists are being confronted with the 'rewilding' of 'their' mountains.

Pastoralism is, perhaps, the oldest representation of human domestication of nature, and has been practiced in the Pyrenees for six thousand years or more. One result is that large predators, key actors in any ecosystem, have been almost extirpated: for local pastoralists, the 'wild' no longer exists. Today, however, brown bears have been reintroduced: the rallying call of the state and environmentalists has been that pastoral-predator cohabitation is essential for bio-cultural diversity. Complicating the situation even further, long-absent wolves have found their way, naturally, back to the Pyrenees.

This paper draws on my Pyrenean multispecies ethnographic research to explore these contested issues. By deemphasising anthropos, a 'multispecies' approach is anthropologically oxymoronic: I therefore draw liberally from history, geography, ecology, biology, STS, and philosophy to make sense of these complex epistemological and ontological issues. My approach clearly exposes the flawed premises that define our Anthropocene epoch. The realities of a holistic human-sheep-dog-bear-wolf-mountain relationship defy current neoliberal mentalities predicated on a nature-culture divide. Continued adherence might just cause the Anthropocene to become the shortest epoch in geological time.

Panel P034
Rethinking research topics in the Anthropocene: anthropological collaborations in global environmental change