Syllabus: Making Sense of the Anthropocene

The program of public events associated with this class can be accessed here:
Fall 2016 USF Davies Forum Public Events Program: Making Sense of the Anthropocene


Course: Davies Forum Seminar: “Making Sense of the Anthropocene”
Term: Fall 2016
Time/Place: M 11:45am – 3:25pm (LM 345)
Instructor: Stephen Zavestoski
Email: smzavestoski@usfca.edu
Office: Kalmanovitz 117
Hours: Wed 1-4; or by appointment
Syllabus: dynamic real-time syllabus (below) or static PDF


Class Notes

The Class Notes page is a week-by-week accounting of what we discussed in class. It’s also where you can find links for further investigation into to topics, issues or questions that popped up during class.


Course Description

The Anthropocene describes the idea of a new geological epoch distinguished by the geological scale of human impacts on the Earth’s surface, atmosphere, oceans, and systems of nutrient cycling. Other organisms, like the cyanobacteria that oxygenated the atmosphere two billion years ago, have disrupted earth systems. But what does it mean, as Andy Revkin asks, to be “the first species that’s become a planet-scale influence and is aware of that reality?” How do we make sense of this? Does our status as a world-altering species evoke hubris or humility? And what does the shift from the predictable and habitable climate of the Holocene to the climate instability of the Anthropocene mean in terms of our future?

So profound are the Anthropocene’s implications that the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the largest scientific organization within the International Union of Geological Sciences, has formed an ‘Anthropocene’ Working Group (AWG) tasked with developing a proposal to formalize the Anthropocene as a new geological epoch. The AWG will announce its recommendations later this year.

Meanwhile, historians, philosophers, artists, social scientists and others are debating  the ontological, phenomenological, existential and even theological questions that the idea of the Anthropocene triggers about our species, our planet, and our conjoined future. While academic debates around these questions are far from settled, at least one conclusion is clear: the concept of the Anthropocene is unsettling the stories we tell about our past, present and future. As artist Elizabeth Ellsworth has stated, “We humans do not yet know what it means to ‘live the Anthropocene.’ It is an unresolved, yet urgent, question.”

In this course we will be searching at the intersection of art, activism and academics to find the places where new stories are emerging about who we are, how we might go about living the Anthropocene, and what this means for our future. Our journey towards “making sense of the anthropocene” will be both a collective and individual one.

Robyn Woolston’s 2013 art installation at Edgehill University in England prompts us to think about what it might mean to enter into the anthropocene by riffing on a famous Las Vegas sign.

Collectively we will explore new stories and storytellers with an eye toward what they tell us about the perspectives, skills, and practices that might be required for living in the Anthropocene. Individually, you will be making your own journey into the Anthropocene, a journey that will be documented through reflections on what the Anthropocene means to you, your creative or artistic expression of the journey, and a personal manifesto for how you intend to “live the Anthropocene.”

Our journey into the Anthropocene will be shaped by our interactions with a series of guest speakers known as Davies Fellows. Davies Fellows–cutting-edge thinkers, writers, activists and artists who are engaged in their own attempts at “making sense of the anthropocene”–will give a public talk or workshop and also engage with us during class time.

The seminar-style class will be student-centered, meaning class discussions will be led by students. Students will also collaborate in giving shape to how, individually and as a class, we want to make a statement or expression of what it means to live in the Anthropocene. Davies Fellows will guide us by sharing the creative processes through which they produce their own interpretations of the Anthropocene.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • discuss and engage critically with the ontological, phenomenological, existential and theological questions that the idea of the Anthropocene triggers about our species, our planet, and our conjoined future;
  • express creatively a personal journey of making sense of the Anthropocene
  • articulate a personal vision or philosophy for living in the Anthropocene

Assessment of Learning Objectives

Critical Reflections (25%)—One-page reflections on the week’s readings and interactions with Davies Forum guests. Due Sunday evenings by 9pm. First reflection is due Sept. 11.

Discussion Facilitation (20%)—Each student will be assigned with a partner to facilitate discussion during two different class sessions. You will turn in a Plan of Facilitation by 9pm the day before your assigned class sessions. The Plan of Facilitation should include a synthesis/summary of the readings of the week and a series of questions, organized into themes or areas of focus, that you believe will allow the class discussion to delve deeply into the week’s assigned reading.

Creative/Artistic Project (20%)—To be discussed.

Personal Manifesto for “living the Anthropocene” (20%)—You will articulate through writing, video, or other media how your interpretation of the Anthropocene gives shape to the set of obligations, responsibilities, ambitions, hopes, strategies and practices you would like to embrace for living in the Anthropocene.

Class Participation and Attendance (15%)—As a Davies Scholar you are expected to arrive prepared by having completed the assigned reading for the week and submitted a critical reflection. If you do these two things, your participation in class discussions will be meaningful, thoughtful, and engaging.  Attendance is expected and required. You will be permitted one unexcused absence over the course of the semester. Additional absences will result in the lowering of your participation grade.

Grading

Each component of the course will be graded on a 100-point scale, weighted as indicated above.

A   = >93%
A- = 90-92.9%
B+ = 87-89.9%
B = 83-86.9%
B- = 80-82.9%
C+ = 77-79.9%
C = 73-76.9%
C- = 70-72.9%

There will be no rounding in determining final grades and no extra credit offered.

Required Readings

Most readings are available freely on the internet. Links in the schedule below will take you to them. Other readings will be available in a Google Drive folder that will be shared with you. The following are the books that you will need to buy. They are not available in the USF bookstore but can easily be found new or used at a range of online bookstores. There are also inexpensive ebook options that you might want to consider.

The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future
(Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, Columbia University Press, 2014)

Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization
(Roy Scranton, City Lights, 2015)

The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis: Rethinking Modernity in a New Epoch
(Clive Hamilton, Christophe Bonneuil, François Gemenne, eds., Routledge, 2015) [Available as eBook rental from vitalsource.com]

Course Outline

Aug 29–Anthropocene: What’s that?

Sep 5–Labor Day (no class)

Sep 12–Anthropocene: What’s at stake?

  • Required readings:
    • “Thinking the Anthropocene” (Clive Hamilton, Christophe Bonneuile and Francois Gemenne, in The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis: Rethinking Modernity in a New Epoch, Clive Hamilton, Christophe Bonneuil, François Gemenne, eds., Routledge, 2015) [REQUIRED TEXT]
    • The Inhuman Anthropocene,” (Dana Luciano, Avidly)
    • The Climate of History: Four Theses” (Dipesh Chakrabarty, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 35, No. 2 [Winter 2009], pp. 197-222)
    • Rifts or Bridges? Ruptures and Continuities in Human-Environment Interactions” (Jessica Barnes in Whose Anthropocene? Revisiting Dipepsh Chakrabarty’s “Four Theses,” Robert Emmett and Thomas Lekan, eds., RCC Perspectives, 2016/2)
    • “Anthropogenesis: Origins and Endings in the Anthropocene” (Kathryn Yusoff, Theory, Culture & Society 2016, Vol. 33[2] 3–28) [GDRIVE]
    • “Four Problems, Four Directions for Environmental Humanities: Toward Critical Posthumanities for the Anthropocene” (Astrida Neimanis, Cecilia Åsberg, Johan Hedrén, Ethics and the Environment Vol. 20, No. 1, Spring 2015, pp. 67-97) [GDRIVE]

Sep 19–Davies Fellow Public Event (see full program for details)
“Navigating the Anthropocene: Art and Artist as Guides through a Challenging Epoch”
5:30-7pm, location TBA 


Sep 19–Anthropocene: How names and stories reveal and conceal

  • Davies Fellow class visit:
    Aaron Czerny is a trans-disciplinary artist engaged in examining the contradictions between wildness and domestication and the line between the spiritual and tangible worlds. His current work focuses on themes of communication, migration and translation to interpret and transgress boundaries in the Anthropocene.

Sep 26–Anthropocene as stories from/about the future

  • Required readings:
    • The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future (Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway) [REQUIRED TEXT]
    • Selections from The World We Made (Jonathon Porritt, Phaidon, 2013) [GDRIVE]
    • Time Capsule Found on the Dead Planet,” (Margaret Atwood, The Guardian)
    • “Commission on Planetary Ages Decision CC87966424/49: The onomatophore of the Anthropocene” (Bronislaw Szerszynski, in The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis: Rethinking Modernity in a New Epoch, Clive Hamilton, Christophe Bonneuil, François Gemenne, eds., Routledge, 2015) [REQUIRED TEXT]
    • “Anthropocene, Catastrophism and Green Political Theory” (Luc Semal, in The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis: Rethinking Modernity in a New Epoch, Clive Hamilton, Christophe Bonneuil, François Gemenne, eds., Routledge, 2015) [REQUIRED TEXT]

Oct 2 (Sunday)–Davies Fellow Public Event (see full program for details)
“Living in the Ruins: Strategies for Building Autonomy in the Anthropocene”
5-7pm, Berman Room, Fromm Hall, University of San Francisco


Oct 3–Storytelling in/about the Anthropocene: Art and aesthetics

  • Required readings:
    • Making the Geologic Now: Introduction” (Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse, in Making the Geologic Now: Responses to Material Conditions of Contemporary Life, Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse, eds., Punctum Books, 2012)
    • Imagining Geological Agency: Storytelling in the Anthropocene” (Alexa Weik von Mossner, in Whose Anthropocene? Revisiting Dipepsh Chakrabarty’s “Four Theses,” Robert Emmett and Thomas Lekan, eds., RCC Perspectives, 2016/2) [PDF]
    • Anthropocenic Poetics: Ethics and Aesthetics in a New Geological Age (Sabine Wilke, in “Anthropocene: Exploring the Future of the Age of Humans,” Helmuth Trischler, ed., RCC Perspectives 2013, no. 3, 67–74) [GDRIVE]
  • Optional readings
    • “Art & Death: Lives Between the Fifth Assessment & the Sixth Extinction” (Heather Davis & Etienne Turpin, introduction to Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies, Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin, eds., Open Humanities Press, 2015) [GDRIVE]
    • “Visualizing the Anthropocene” (Nicholas Mirzoeff, Public Culture, 26[2]: 213-232, 2014) [GDRIVE]
  • Optional Multimedia:
  • Davies Fellow class visit:
    Stephanie Wakefield, Glenn Dyer and Clark Fitzgerald, co-founders of Woodbine NYC, an experimental hub for developing the skills, practices, and tools for building autonomy in the Anthropocene

Oct 9 (Sunday)–Davies Fellow Public Event (see full program for details)
“Amulets for the Anthropocene: Practices for Living in and as Change”
1-4pm, Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park


Oct 10–Museums as storytellers: Curating the Anthropocene

  • Required readings:
  • Optional readings
    • “Futures: Imagining Socioecological Transformation—An Introduction” (Bruce Braun, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 105:2 [20150, 239-243) [GDRIVE]
    • “In the Planetarium: The Modern Museum on the Anthropocenic Stage” (Vincent Normand, in Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies, Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin, eds., Open Humanities Press, 2015, pp. 63-78) [GDRIVE]
  • Davies Fellow class visit:
    Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse are artists and designers who pursue through their work “our most urgent and meaningful task as artists and humans: to invent and enact practices capable of acknowledging and living in responsive relationship to forces of change that make the world.” They are co-founders of smudge studio and of Friends of the Pleistocene, a blog dedicated to exploring sites and moments where the human and the geologic converge.

Oct 17–Fall Break (no class)

Oct 24–Old story plot devices: Agency and control, progress and liberation

  • Required readings:
    • Agency at the time of the Anthropocene” (Bruno Latour, New Literary History Vol. 45, pp. 1-18, 2014)
    • Human Agency in the Anthropocene” (Dipesh Chakrabarty, Perspectives on History)
    • “The paradox of self-reference: sociological reflections on agency and intervention in the Anthropocene” (Florence Chiew) [GDRIVE]
    • Human Destiny in the Anthropocene” (Clive Hamilton, in The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis: Rethinking Modernity in a New Epoch, Clive Hamilton, Christophe Bonneuil, François Gemenne, eds., Routledge, 2015) [REQUIRED TEXT] or [PDF]
  • Optional readings
    • “Beyond the Mirrored Horizon: Modern Ontology and Amodern Possibilities in the Anthropocene” (Aidan Davis, Geographical Research, Volume 53, Issue 3, Aug 2015, pp. 298–305) [GDRIVE]

Oct 31Davies Fellow Public Event (see full program for details)
“From the Dust of This World: The Dystopian Imaginary and the Anthropocene”
11:45am-12:45pm, Lone Mountain 345


Oct 31–Old story protagonists and antagonists: Human/non-human, nature/culture, and other binaries

  • Required readings:
  • Optional readings
    • “Rethinking Humanity in the Anthropocene: The Long View of Humans and Nature” (Kathleen R. Smythe, Sustainability 7(3): 146-153) [GDRIVE]
  • Davies Fellow class visit:
    Kristin Miller is an urban sociologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is a writer, photographer and documentary filmmaker interested in the ability of web-assisted storytelling to instantly create connections to new ideas, places, practices, and states of being.

Nov 7Davies Fellow Public Event (see full program for details)
The Bureau of Linguistical Reality: Creating Language for the Anthropocene through Public Participatory Artwork
5:30-7pm, location TBA


Nov 7–Old story missing voices: Towards a postcolonial, queer, Black Anthropocene

  • Required readings:
  • Optional readings
    • ‘After the End Times’: African Futures and Speculative Fictions” (Matthew Omelsky)
    • “Painfully, from the first-person singular to first-person plural: the role of feminism in the study of the Anthropocene” (Daniel Kirjner) [GDRIVE]
    • “The Anthropocene and its Victims” (Francois Gemenne, in The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis: Rethinking Modernity in a New Epoch, Clive Hamilton, Christophe Bonneuil, François Gemenne, eds., Routledge, 2015) [REQUIRED TEXT]
  • Davies Fellow class visit:
    Alicia Escott and Heidi Quante are artists and co-founders of the Bureau of Linguistical Reality, a public participatory artwork focused on creating new language as an innovative way to better understand our rapidly changing world due to manmade climate change and other Anthropocenic events.

Nov 14Davies Fellow Public Event (see full program for details)
The Unmonumental and Indeterminate: The New Commons of the Anthropocene
5:30-7pm, location TBA


Nov 14–(Un)becoming human in the Anthropocene: Towards new stories

  • Required readings:
    • Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization (Roy Scranton, City Lights, 2015) [REQUIRED TEXT]
  • Optional Readings:
    • “Anthropocenic culturecide: an epitaph” (Divya P. Tolia-Kelly, Social & Cultural Geography, 17:6 [2016], 786-792) [GDRIVE]
    • “The Anthropoceneans” (Lesley Head, Geographical Research, Aug 2015, 53[3]:313–320) [GDRIVE]
  • Davies Fellow class visit:
    Kris Timken and Cynthia Hooper are multimedia artists whose poetic visual and auditory narratives, informed by research into the landscapes and systems represented, aim to dissolve pre-Anthropocene divisions between humans and nature.

Nov 21–Death, Grief and Hope

  • Required readings:
    • Environmental Trauma and Grief (Marie Eaton, Curriculum for the Bioregion) [.DOCX]
    • “Reconstructing a future” (Clive Hamilton, Chapter 8 in Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change, Earthscan, 2010) [GDRIVE]
    • To Choose Life” (Joanna Macy and Molly Brown, in Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to the Work that Reconnects, New Society, 2014) [PDF]
  • Optional readings
    • Grieving for the Past and Hoping for the Future: Balancing Polarizing Perspectives in Conservation and Restoration (Richard J. Hobbs, Restoration Ecology Vol. 21, No. 2 [March 2013], pp. 145–148) [GDRIVE]
    • “On the Possibilities of a Charming Anthropocene” (Holly Jean Buck, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 105[2] 2015, pp. 369–377) [GDRIVE]

Nov 28–Anthropocene Creations/Curations: An Exhibition of Student Work

Dec 5–Visions of the future: Science fiction and solarpunk