Interdisciplinary Chicago-Vienna workgroup: »The Anthropocene and the Humanities« (18.-22. September 2017)
The concept of the Anthropocene – the geological epoch that is marked by man’s imprint on the Earth’s life system – has come to be the the shorthand for the massive ecological crisis we are currently facing. While climate change, species loss, resource depletion, the transformations of water cycles, ocean acidification etc. seem to be topics reserved to the natural sciences, the term Anthropocene has brought these issues to the humanities. It calls into question some of the fundamental predicaments of these disciplines. An age where the planet is profoundly marked by man’s technological and industrial impact challenges the very concept of the »human« as the common denominator of the »humanities«. Who is the »anthropos« of the Anthropocene? How can we approach the human condition – be it in the form of social institutions, history, or the works of art – in a moment where the categories of »Nature« and »Culture« start being blurred? What are the consequences of this new stream of thought?
The humanities and the social sciences, we would like to propose, have to re-frame themselves theoretically and conceptually in the face of the global crisis. Defining the »human« in the age of the Anthropocene has to deal with several »rifts« or tensions between entirely different conceptualizations of the human (Chakrabarty): In a traditional, humanist approach, mankind is seen as »humanus«, a being capable of reasoning, of the creation of cultural artifacts and social institutions. As such, the »humanus“ (or – in Aristotle’s term: bios) has been the long-established object of the humanities. Yet, seen through the lens of the current ecological crisis, a different concept of man emerges: the human being as »anthropos« (or zoé), a living body, a biological species among others, a being with an infinitely long evolutionary history. This »anthropos«, however, emerges today as a species that has come to be ecologically so dominant that it has become deleterious to many other species – and even to its own survival. The tension between these two conceptions of humans – »humanus« and »anthropos« – demands that the disciplines dealing with human cultures and societies have to recast their focal point of inquiry.
The goal of the interdisciplinary Chicago-Vienna workgroup will be to identify and discuss the methodological and theoretical challenges as well as the conceptual difficulties in the various fields of the humanities raised by the Anthropocene. The group therefore includes historians, enviromental historians, anthropologists, literary scholars, sociologists, and political scientists.
Univ.-Prof. Dr. Eva Horn
Department of German, Vienna University/Forschungsverbund Umwelt
Prof. Dipesh Chakrabarty
Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor at the Department of History and Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago
Solvejg Nitzke · 21. Juni 2017, 13:02 Uhr