The Context of the Anthropocene
The term ‘culture’ has its roots in the term ‘cultivation of the soul’ (cultura anima), and is meant to signify the cultivation of the human condition to a noble or highest state. Through the Romantic and Enlightenment eras, this term came to mean the development of a community towards the highest levels of human potential. In contemporary terms, it has come to indicate the ideological disposition and social practices of a community, and as it pertains to the arts, culture and aspirations of that community.
Therefore a traditional definition of Culture could be:
Culture is a social domain that emphasizes the practices, discourses and material expressions of a community. It determines the social meaning of a life held in common.
However in our current context, what geologists call the Anthropocene, We are interested in a far more rich and complex understanding of what Culture is. As shown in Anthropogenic Effects, we see the greatest anthropogenic effects from the beginning of the industrial revolution. With the advent of increasing consumption by the global North, we have seen an escalating anthropogenic impact in the last 50 years (1960, onwards). The global North is responsible for 92% of the contribution to the climate catastrophe in terms of historical emissions and material footprint. In this period we see the emergence of new social and cultural systems (e.g, globalization, neoliberalism and social dictatorships) that give warrant to rampant resource extraction and ecological destruction, exponential economic inequality and poverty.
Therefore we are inquiring into the cultural systems that have birthed and sustained the Anthropocene. In contrast to its initial meaning of ‘the evolution of the human condition’ we can see that Culture has a more pernicious implication for our evolution. As Terrence McKenna points out:
“Culture is for other people’s convenience and the convenience of various institutions, churches, companies, tax collection schemes, what have you. It is not your friend. It insults you. It disempowers you. It uses and abuses you. None of us are well-treated by culture.”Terence McKenna – Culture is not your friend
Therefore, for the purposes of our inquiry we can develop a more ‘contextually relevant’ working definition of Culture:
Culture refers to the normative values and belief systems that coordinate human activity.
Through these normative values, culture enacts ideological models that give meaning to how we understand ourselves and our place in the world. These ‘systems of meaning’ make implicit distinctions about social, political and ecological categories such as nature/culture, subject/object, knower/object-to-be-known, human/non-human, self/other. As the anthropologist Clifford Geertz famously stated, “Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun.” Culture is not inherently given or simply sui generis. It is a social/cultural/political construct that some, more than others, have a disproportionate responsibility in creating and benefiting from, although everyone affected by it contributes to it. Therefore, culture is both constructed and emergent, as well as felt/lived/experienced and invisible simultaneously.
Culture is not inherently given or simply sui generis. It is a social/cultural/political construct that some, more than others, have a disproportionate responsibility in creating and benefiting from, although everyone affected by it contributes to it.
We can ascertain which categories are prioritized by a given culture by looking at the social, political and ecological outcomes the cultural system produces. For example, let’s examine the dominant culture of the United States vis-a-vis race. In 2010 in the US, 40% of the prison population was made up of black people although they only made up 13% of the entire population. Additionally, in the same year, 60.7% of household wealth belonged to white households while black households owned only 3.8%. From this, it would be a fair inference that this cultural context prioritizes the normative category of “white” and in this prioritization it also deprioritises that which is “not white” through incarceration and impoverishment. Therefore we can gain insight into what normative values a culture holds by making empirical observations within its context.
Now let’s move to a global scale vis-a-vis the climate. As we have seen in Anthropogenic Effects, the ‘culture of the Anthropocene’ is one that prioritizes the unbridled conquest of the Global North in the ‘self-realization’ of its subjects. Moreover as Braidotti explains, this ‘subject’ is never a truly neutral category:
“…not all humans are equal and the human is not at all a neutral category. It is rather a normative category that indexes access to privileges and entitlements. Appeals to the “human” are always discriminatory: they create structural distinctions and inequalities among different categories of humans. Humanity is a quality that is distributed according to a hierarchical scale centered on a humanistic idea of Man as the measure of all things. This dominant idea is based on a simple assumption of superiority by a subject that is: masculine, white, Eurocentric, practicing compulsory heterosexuality and reproduction, able-bodied, urbanized, speaking a standard language. This subject is the Man of reason that feminists, anti-racists, black, Indigenous, postcolonial and ecological activists have been criticizing for decades.”
Taking this into account, perhaps the first clear assertion that we can make about Culture is that it is not always evolutionary (i.e. there is not a neat, tidy progressive narrative pointing to greater refinement, complexity, etc.). Rather, culture delineates a set of distinctions, assumptions, norms, beliefs about the world. At this juncture in our shared history it is essential that we develop ways to critically assess cultural systems, and in so doing find ways to evolve it.
The Genesis of History
To discern the evolutionary capacities of cultural systems, we must first understand the genealogical processes and component parts involved in their creation. As we gaze back into the history of human development, we can discern several developmental stages of cultural creation including (but not limited to):
- Language: All living systems, from automata to complex organisms, are embedded within an informational domain or evolutionary niche. This linguistic domain allows the living system to determine the features in its environment and therefore survive. Therefore, language emerges as the adaptive means of the organism to deal with the uncertainty of its environment. Language can take many forms and patterns, and does necessitate speech.
- Speech: Speech can then emerge as a means to communicate observations about ‘persistent phenomena’ in this environment. These speech acts correlate sounds to intersubjective phenomena, and through this the intersubjective field, a cultural field begins to form.
- Representation: Over time, these ‘persistent phenomena’ are represented in words and images. Embedded within these representations is an underlying syntax; and implicit in this are conceptions about the way things are, e.g. space, time, causality, etc. Therefore these representations become doorways to whole worlds of meaning/experience, and more importantly are means to communicate this.
- Self-identity: As this system of representation increases in complexity, the capacity for self-reflection in individuals develops exponentially. In other words, as we are able to make more detailed symbolic representations of the phenomena we experience, we also are able to build a more complex understanding of ourselves.
- Myth: Through the development of this self-identity, archetypal forms emerge that tell meta narratives that give meaning to shared social realities. These mythologies become the constellations upon which culture navigates through the uncertain and unknown lands of existence.
- Belief system: Belief systems are distillations of our shared mythos into ‘ways of being in the world’. That is to say that they dictate the ‘conditions for truth’ and provide the justification for actions we take. These belief systems are the ‘production machines of culture’ because they enact “cultural truths” (those truths that are unquestioned in any cultural context) into everyday practices and norms.
- Cultural Identity: Like the emergence of self-identity, cultural identity emerges as our understanding of the world and ourselves increases in complexity. This identity unifies multiple belief systems (ways of knowing and being) into a coherent identity or cultural disposition, e.g. The American Dream, Gen-X, etc..
Essentially, history emerges through self-reflexive social processes mediated through language, beliefs, mythologies and self-identity. In the articulation of the Self, we find fundamental ‘schema of experience’ such as time, space and causality. This schema is the scaffolding of culture, and is imprinted with the archeo-epistemology of ‘creation, life and death’ which stems from the identification with Self (and the Self’s subjective experience of birth, life and death). Therefore, the creation of Self within the dominant cultural context is the genesis of our conception of history. That is, things are born, they subsist and then die; all phenomena that this Self experiences are imprinted with this metaphysical form of space, time and causality.
The creation of Self within the dominant cultural context is the genesis of our conception of history.
Let us examine an archetypal developmental trajectory that exemplifies this metaphysical form in its three stages:
- The Fall: This phase is characterized by the belief of the Self as a distinct and independent entity, and through this the instantiation of the fundamental schema of (self) experience: space, time, causality and identity. This is the original separation that creates the predicament of the human experience and our subsequent ‘civilization’.
- History: In this phase we see an increasing complexification of cultural forms, novelty and density of relationships. It is a phase that seeks a resolution to the “problem of experience” or the belief in an independent Self. Novelty emerges precisely in order to grapple with the unsatisfying condition of independent Selfhood, and exponentially increases towards complexity and collective self-reflexivity.
- The Return: This phase is marked by a growing realization of the Self as a nexus of relationships, entangled with an infinite number of other beings, entities and ideas. With this awakening to interdependence, is a new kind of transpersonal ethics that marks a new evolutionary potential for Culture. Therefore it is a phase of reintegration into the web of life, and is the terminal point of History, in the dominant, linear, separatist-materialist-rationalist sense.
This deep archeo-epistemology is inscribed into every facet of our cultures. This means that deep in our consciousness we know that we are moving with great velocity to an end point of History. As McKenna traces this subconscious process:
“I mean, there is an end of the world built into your cosmology: the end of your world — which is, after all, the only world you know. So it may be that the planet will swing a hundred billion times around the [sun] before the consummation of time, but that doesn’t mean that you have permission not to contemplate final end states. Because you’ve got an appointment with one out there somewhere, ten minutes or fifty years in the future.“
deep in our consciousness we know that we are moving with great velocity to an end point of History.
To return to our task of evolving culture, we can start to see how critical it is to break from the momentum of History as the conqueror’s narrative (progress, civilization, globalization, etc.) to meta-narratives of the Return (e.g. symbiosis with the living world). Specifically, we can work with the genealogical processes and component parts for cultural creation to create more resilient, life-centric cultural forms.
As discussed above, the fundamental unit of Culture is the Self (or absence of self) and its relationship to Other, and we can ‘measure’ a Culture by critically assessing this unit in terms of its relationship to that Other (that which is not Self). The resolution to the ‘problem of culture’ lies in the evolution of the Self and its process of self-reflection towards a redefinition of Self in terms of Return narratives – i.e. narratives of radical-relationality, belonging, interdependence and interbeing – in order to create more resilient and life-centric cultural systems.
The Deep Structure of Culture
The resolution to the ‘problem of culture’ lies in the evolution of the Self and its process of self-reflection towards a redefinition of Self in terms of Return narratives (…) in order to create more resilient and life-centric cultural systems.
The basis of Culture is a generative model describing the relationship between Self and Other. Any cultural model holds implicit understandings of what constitutes Self (including the absence of Self or relationality as Self). This relationship is mediated by constructs that define the world through this lens of Self – this includes moral judgements, truth claims, value determinations, ontological lenses and theoretical models of reality.
This model of Culture provides a pathway to better understanding the dominant Anthropocentric cultural forms. Below are four predominant meta-narratives for organizing society determined through the triangulation of Self, Other and cultural constructs.
|Meta-narrative||Constructs||Conception of Other|
|Ethnocentric||Convention and tradition of in-tribe determines value/truth.||Outside of tribal and historical convention.|
|Humanist||The ideals of freedom and liberty for (certain) humans determines value/truth.||Outside the human in-group.|
|Rational||Instrumental models of reality that can be determined cognitively are valuable/true.||Outside the technical and rational models of cognition.|
|Pluralist||Acceptance of multiple values and positions of truth, determined by the subjective limitations to contain pluralities.||Singular positions of truth.|
These four dominant meta-narratives are not exhaustive, but rather indicative of specific stages of the dominant Anthropocentric, individualistic culture. All four of these models prioritize egocentric subjectivity and are rooted (to varying degrees) in ethnocentric exceptionalism. For example, although the humanist and rationalist movements were partly born out of a critique of ethnocentric logic (especially the dominant Christian model of religious tribalism), they still reified the Self as the primary unit of subjective experience, and defined the Self as the category, ‘ white, male European’. Since World War II, an ongoing dissatisfaction of these two meta-narratives have resulted in a more pluralistic paradigm, which of course, has also resulted in a bifurcation of nationalist, xenophobic reactions (e.g. European Community versus Brexit). Although pluralistic ontologies are supporting a reconception of the Self-Other-Construct triangulation, pluralism still lacks a defining point of view, an overarching moral philosophy, and a cosmology that describes the directionality of the Return.
The archetypal development trajectory of the dominant Anthropocentric culture will continue to re-create the fundamental error of separation, and therefore, create and enact Return narratives based on destructive cultural conceptions (e.g. Armageddon, apocalypse, collapse, etc.) until we “hack” the dominant conception of the Self-Other-Construct trinity. These alternative meta-narratives do not need to be created ex nihilo. There is a rich tradition of counter-narratives in epistemologies of the global South, including social movements and Indigenous communities. These narratives share a trans-personal sense of Self that is in radical relationality to both the human and more-than-human worlds, both the seen and unseen realms. They share a life-centric approach based on kinship with the living world, reciprocity, generosity, regeneration, consent, dialogue and solidarity.
There is a rich tradition of counter-narratives in epistemologies of the global South, including social movements and Indigenous communities. These narratives share a trans-personal sense of Self that is in radical relationality to both the human and more-than-human worlds.
Two examples of this are the ancient cosmologies of animism (seeing the world and its constitutive parts as living, relational and dialogic) and post-humanism (thinking/feeling beyond human gaze, care and concern). There are many other meta-narratives we could include here including buen vivir from Latin American traditions, ubuntu (”I am who I am through you”) from the Bantu African cosmologies, etc. What these trans-personal, life-centric narratives hold in common is an ethic of interbeing. This goes beyond interdependence into a radical re-definition of Self through Other, breaking the binary of Western, dualistic, rationalistic thinking.
We believe that part of the cultural evolutionary process requires an understanding of the deep logic, narratives, cultural codes and belief systems of the dominant system; researching and synthesizing life-centric alternatives, especially those rooted in Earth-centric, symbiotic cultures; and testing & iterating new/emerging/ancient narratives in realtime to expose, disrupt and shift cultural assumptions to create new/ancient/emerging narrative spaces for possibility, transformation, restoration and justice.
On Anthropocene: Explore the concept through other conceptualisations of the anthropocene: e.g, capitalocene (Moore, 2013); Chthulucene (Haraway, 2015); Anthropo-scene (Lorimer, 2017); Plastic-ene (New York Times, 2014); Plantationcene (Tsing, 2015); Mis-anthropocene (Clover & Spahr, 2014); Anthrobscene (Parikka, 2015); Ecocene (Norgaard, 2013); Plutocene (Glikson, 2017); Technocene (Hornborg, 2015). Moore, J (2013). “Anthropocene, Capitalocene and the myth of industrialization II.” World-Ecological Imaginations: Power and Production in the Web of Life; Moore J W (2014) The Capitalocene, Part I & 2 (On the Nature & Origins of Our Ecological Crisis/Abstract Social Nature and the Limits to Capital); Haraway, D (2015). “Anthropocene, capitalocene, plantationocene, chthulucene: Making kin.” Environmental humanities 6, no. 1: 159-165; Lorimer, J (2017). “The Anthropo-scene: A guide for the perplexed.” Social Studies of Science 47, no. 1: 117-142. New York Times The Editorial Board, (2014) Notes from the Plastic-ene; Tsing, A L (2015). The Mushroom at the End of the World. Princeton University Press; Parikka J (2015) The Anthrobscene. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press; Norgaard, Richard B. (2013) “Escaping economism, escaping the econocene.” Economy of Sufficiency. Wuppertal: Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy: 44-52.; Hornborg, Alf. (2015) “The political ecology of the Technocene: Uncovering ecologically unequal exchange in the world-system.” In The Anthropocene and the global environmental crisis, pp. 57-69. Routledge; Glikson, A Y (2017). The Plutocene: Blueprints for a post-anthropocene greenhouse earth. Cham: Springer International Publishing; Crutzen, P.J. and Stoermer, E.F. (2000), The Anthropocene: IGBP Global Change Newsletter, v. 41, p. 17–18. ; Latour B (2013) Agency at the time of the Anthropocene. New Literary History Vol. 45, pp. 1-18, 2014; Mirzoeff, N. (2014) Visualising the Anthropocene. Public Culture 26(2) 213-232.; Mbembe, A (2015) Decolonizing Knowledge and the Question of the Archive. Talk given at the University of Witwatersand, 22 April, 2015.; Turpin E (ed) (2013) Architecture in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Design, Deep Time, Science and Philosophy. Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press; Yusoff K (2013) Geologic life: prehistory, climate, futures in the Anthropocene. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 31(5): 779 – 795. Ruddiman, William F. (2003) “The anthropogenic greenhouse era began thousands of years ago.” Climatic change 61, no. 3: 261-293; Steffen, W, Grinevald J, Crutzen P, and McNeil J (2011). “The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 369, no. 1938: 842-867.
On Posthumanism (including: New/Neo-Materialism; and anchoring Posthumanism in Feminist, Queer and Critical Race Theories): Bringing “matter” back in counters the linguistic focus of poststructuralism, cultural theory and literary theory. Material/matter is “chthonic” (Haraway, 2006); “vibrant” and has “thing power” (Bennett, 2010). Note: there is a risk of posthuman new/neo-materialism reifying a colonial logic – have been criticised for failing to highlight differences among humans and downplay issues of race/gender/sexuality – so it is important to infuse these schools of thought with feminist, queer, critical race theories. Overviews: New Materialism (on Global Society Theory) or: Sencindiver, S. Y. (2017). New materialism. Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory, 1565; Haraway, D. (2006). A cyborg manifesto: Science, technology, and socialist-feminism in the late 20th century. In The international handbook of virtual learning environments (pp. 117-158). Springer, Dordrecht; Saldanha, A. (2006) Re-ontologising race: The machinic geography of phenotype. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 24: 9–24; Shomura, C. (2017) Exploring the promise of new materialisms. Lateral, 6.1 (Spring); Sundberg, J. (2014). Decolonizing posthumanist geographies. Cultural Geographies, 21(1): 33-47.; Tompkins, K.W. (2016) On the limits and promise of new materialist philosophy. Lateral, 5.1 (Spring).; Chen, M. Y. (2012). Animacies: Biopolitics, racial mattering, and queer affect. Durham NC: Duke University Press.; DeLanda, M. (2006) A New Philosophy of Society. London and New York: Continuum; ; Bennett, J. (2010) Vibrant Matter. Durham NC: Duke University Press; Fox, N.J, and Alldred, P. (2017) Sociology and the New Materialism. London: Sage; Jackson, Z. I. (2013) Animal: New Directions in the Theorization of Race and Posthumanism. Feminist Studies 39(9); Puar, J.K. (2007) Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham, NC: Duke University Press; van der Tuin, I. and Dolphijn, R. (2010). The transversality of new materialism. Women: A Cultural Review, 21(2), 153-171
On Alternative futures: On Prefigurative politics (e.g., on living the change you wish to see and being “conscientious objectors” to the dominant neoliberal system): Ladha, A (2018) From green growth to post-growth. TruthOut; Ladha, A (2020) Conscious capitalism is an alibi and an apology for our existing paradigm. DoubleBlind. Watch: Ladha, A., (2020) Sacred activism and being of place. Local Futures; Engler, M and Engler, P (2014) Should we fight the system or be the change? Open Democracy; On critical hope: Freire, P. (2014) Pedagogy of Hope. Written in 1992 to elaborate on Pedagogy of the Oppressed with a focus on hope; Parla, A, (2019) Critique without a politics of hope in Fassin, D and Harcourt, B (2019) A time for critique; Books in the genres of: Afrofuturism; Feminist futures; Disability futures; and see Global Social Theory’s page on Decolonial Speculative Fiction & Fantasy.
On decolonial/postcolonial theory: Castro-Gómez, S. (2005) The Hubris of Zero Point: Science, Race, and Illustration in the New Granada (1750–1816); Bhambra, G. and Boaventura de Sousa Santos. (2017) Introduction: Global Challenges for Sociology; Frantz, F. (1995). Wretched of the Earth; Choudhury, B. (2016). Ngugi wa Thiong’o: Decolonising the Mind. In Reading Postcolonial Theory (pp. 63-82). Routledge India; Bhabha, H. K. (2012). The commitment to theory. In The location of culture (pp. 59-87). Routledge; Césaire, A. (2001). Discourse on colonialism. NYU Press; Mamdani, M. (2018). Citizen and subject: Contemporary Africa and the legacy of late colonialism. Princeton University Press; Connell, R. (2007) Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge Production; Comaroff, J and Comaroff, J (2016) Theory from the south; Bayly, S. (2016) “Colonialism/Postcolonialism”, Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology.
On resilient societies (Animism, Indigeneity, Gaia, Non/pre-dualism): For overviews and critiques of the Ontological turn; “Perspectivism”; “Multi-Naturalism” and “Animism”, see: Bessire, L, and Bond D. (2014) “Ontological anthropology and the deferral of critique.” American ethnologist 41, no. 3: 440-456; Costa, L, and Carlos F. (2010) “The return of the animists: Recent studies of Amazonian ontologies.” Religion and Society 1, no. 1: 89-109; Kirksey, S. Eben, and Stefan Helmreich (2010) “The emergence of multispecies ethnography.” Cultural anthropology 25, no. 4: 545-576; Ramos, A R. (2012) “The politics of perspectivism.” Annual Review of Anthropology 41: 481-494; Chao, S. (2018) “In the shadow of the palm: Dispersed ontologies among Marind, West Papua.” Cultural Anthropology 33, no. 4 : 621-649; Ingold, T. (2013) “Anthropology beyond humanity.” Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 38, no. 3; Kohn, E. (2013) How forests think. University of California Press; Tsing, A L. (2015) The Mushroom at the End of the World. Princeton University Press; Kirksey, E, (2014) ed. The multispecies salon. Duke University Press; Viveiros de Castro, E. (1996) “Images of nature and society in Amazonian ethnology.” Annual review of Anthropology 25, no. 1: 179-200; see “Historical Ecology” literature which seeks to dereify concepts of nature/culture, e.g. Rival, L (2006). “Amazonian historical ecologies.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 12: S79-S94; see important debates in Gaia; Luisetti, F. (2017). Decolonizing Gaia or, Why the Savages Shall Fear Bruno Latour’s Political Animism. Decolonizing Gaia or, Why the Savages Shall Fear Bruno Latour’s Political Animism, 61-70 Latour, B. (2017). Facing Gaia: Eight lectures on the new climatic regime. John Wiley & Sons.
On cultural myth: A great example of using myth to develop new connections/meanings is: Cave, D. (1993) Mircea Eliade’s vision for a new humanism. Oxford University Press, 1993. Cave picks up and develops Eliade’s idea of a “new humanism” for modern culture. Eliade anticipated a modern culture (devoid of spirituality, demythologized, and overly material) developing renewed meaning through a restoration of archetypal myths/symbols. Eliade called this recovery of meaning a “new humanism” of existential meaning and cultural-religious unity, putting forward a radically pluralistic vision to bring people together; See how narrative change practitioners talk about the importance of using myths to change people’s understandings of reality (their values, relationships and identities): A case for the banality of myth, Wise Owl Communications, January (2022).
See the data
- James, P; Magee, L; Scerri, A; Steger, M (2015). Urban Sustainability in Theory and Practice: Circles of Sustainability. London: Routledge.
- Anthropocene is a term from the natural sciences that became widely used in the humanities and social sciences. It follows the Holocene (an epoch that started around 12000 years ago during the last glacial retreat, in which the stable and warm climate provided ideal conditions for the invention of agriculture: the Neolithic or Agricultural Revolution). There is disagreement as to when exactly the Anthropocene started: e.g. 8000 years ago when farming and agriculture became widespread (Ruddiman, 2003); or the peak of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century (Steffen et al, 2011). Acknowledging its beginnings as the Industrial Revolution implies historical responsibility for industrialized countries (Chakrabarty, 2018). See an overview of the Anthropocene or read key texts:. Chakrabarty Dipesh, The Climate of History: Four Theses. Critical Inquiry 35(2): 197-222 (2009); Chakrabarty, Dipesh. “Anthropocene time.” History and Theory 57, no. 1 (2018): 5-32; Zalasiewicz, Jan et al. “Are we now living in the Anthropocene?” GSA Today 18 (2): 4–8 (2008) see the Further Reading section for more information.
- See footnote 4 to read more about the cultural systems (or “fragile societies”) that have birthed and sustained the anthropocene. Learn about globalization through a decolonial lens in this free online course (with lectures and resources). Modules 1) The making of the modern world; and 3) Colonial global economy are especially relevant. Read short overviews on Racial Capitalism; or Capitalism and neoliberalism. Read more: Graeber, D., & Wengrow, D. (2021). The dawn of everything: A new history of humanity. Penguin UK; Hickel, J. (2017). The divide: A brief guide to global inequality and its solutions. Random House; Hickel, J. (2020). Less is more: How degrowth will save the world. Random House; Chomsky, N. (1999). Profit over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order Seven Stories Press; Luxton, M. and Braedley, S. (2010). Neoliberalism and Everyday Life. McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP; Springer, S. (2012). Neoliberalism as Discourse: Between Foucauldian Political Economy and Marxian Poststructuralism. Critical Discourse Studies, 9(2): 133-147; Harvey, D. (2005). A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford University Press;
- The cultural systems or “fragile societies”, include ethnocentric, humanist, rationalist, and even pluralistic cultural systems – as opposed to “resilient societies” (see footnote 20). These societies – albeit to differing degrees – promote an ego-centric conception of self, as opposed to an “interbeing/relational” conception of self (see footnote 18). This greedy, excessive and selfish nature of the west is named “wetiko” by North American First Nations (Ladha and Kirk, 2016). Such societies have birthed and sustained the Anthropocene for various reasons, including: the dualistic logics of thought stemming from a Cartesian dualism established during the Enlightenment that must always exclude a devalued Other (see footnote 6); their exclusionary ideas of who counts as Human; and their separation from nature in order to exploit it. Patel and Moore (2017) propose Cartesian dualism was even purposely created so that early capitalists could destroy the non-Anthropocentric perspectives that posed an obstacle to their exploitation and objectification of the natural world required by capitalism: dualism became am ontological justification for seeing nature and “native” as object and less than human – which legitimised ecocide, imperialism, and slavery. This coincided with the 16th century introduction of the printing press which represented the victory of the written “rational” language of the oppressor over oral traditions, which contributed to the marginalization of non-binary/non-anthropocentric Indigenous thought (ibid, 2017). See Mignolo, W D. (2011) Chapter: The Darker Side of Enlightenment: A Decolonial Reading of Kant’s Geography, in The darker side of Western modernity. Duke University Press; Dhawan, N. (Ed.). (2014). Decolonizing enlightenment: Transnational justice, human rights and democracy in a postcolonial world. Verlag Barbara Budrich. Patel, R., & Moore, J. W. (2017). A history of the world in seven cheap things. University of California Press; Anderson, B. (2020). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. Routledge; Shlain, L (1998). The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image. Viking Press; Ladha, A. and Kirk, M. (2016). Seeing Wetiko: On Capitalism, Mind Viruses, and Antidotes for a World in Transition. Kosmos Journal.
- Terence Mckenna is a North American ethnobotanist, mystic and New Age philosopher. Mckenna, T (1999) Culture is Not Your Friend; Mckenna, T (1999) What does it mean to be human in this cosmos?
- These (western) systems of meaning rely on binary oppositions (e.g nature/culture, self/other, rational/emotional, man/woman, modern/primitive, developed/undeveloped, advanced/backward, etc). Anthropologist Levi Straus (1977) established this dualism as the structure of basic human thinking and the building blocks of shared cultural meaning, and assumed his model was universal. This form of binary thinking is attributed to Enlightenment thinker Descartes and his separation of body and mind (Cartesian dualism). See postmodernist philosopher Derrida’s critical discussion of how one term is always given a more privileged position than its opposite, and the ‘logic of the negative other” in western thinking (Derrida, 1978; Morrison, 1994). Read more by exploring philosophies of “transcendence” (in which existence is divided into different realms, with one ruling over the other – e.g. European’s “transcended” above everything else) and how to move beyond this: postmodern philosophies of immanence in which all things share the same realm (Deleuze and Guattari, 1988). For a simple overview of binary/dualistic ways of thinking, see this one page explainer. This thinking structure is pervasive in “fragile” (see footnote 4), not “resilient” societies which tend to be pre/non-dualistic (see footnote 20). Levi Straus, Claude (1977) ‘Social Structure,’ Structural Anthropology, Volume; Peregrine books, Penguin, Harmondsworth; Derrida, Jacques., 1978. Writing and difference. University of Chicago press; Morrison, T., 1994. Playing in the dark: Whiteness and the literary imagination. New York: Vintage; Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. Bloomsbury Publishing, 1988.
- Geertz, Clifford. Thick description: Toward an interpretive theory of culture. Routledge, 2008.
- Viewing culture as a construct stems from a Constructivist perspective which opposes Positivism (knowledge is only generated in a scientific method, e.g. through logic and proof). Constructivism posits that nothing represents a neutral, objective perspective and that there is no single methodology to generate knowledge (read more about Critical Constructivism). Read about how constructivism has been used in emancipatory politics: Freire, P, (2005) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th Anniversary Edition; Kincheloe, Joe L. (2005) Critical constructivism primer. Vol. 2.
- The idea that certain groups/classes disproportionately create and benefit from cultural construction relates to the concept of Neo-Marxist Gramsci’s idea of “cultural hegemony” which moves beyond the pure economism of traditional Marxism, and looks at how power is held not only in the means of production, but in culture/consciousness (or the “superstructure”). Importantly, he highlighted the role of popular culture as contributing to cultural creation (or counter-hegemonic cultures that always run against dominant power/”common sense”). Also see how culture is embodied and reproduced through Bourdieu’s notion of ”habitus”; and performed through Butler’s notion of “performativity” (2010). Hall, Stuart. “Gramsci’s Relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.” Journal of communication inquiry 10, no. 2 (1986): 5-27; Gramsci, Antonio. “Prison Notebooks. Ed. Joseph A. Buttigieg.” Trans. Buttigieg and Antonio Callari. Vols (1992); Butler, J. (2010). Performative agency. Journal of cultural economy, 3(2), 147-161; Bourdieu, P. (1990). The logic of practice. Stanford university press.
- Source: Sakala, L. (2014). Breaking Down Mass Incarceration in the 2010 Census: State-by-State Incarceration Rates by Race/Ethnicity; Prison Policy Initiative. Figures calculated with US Census 2010 SF-1 table P42 and the PCT20 table series. The disproportionate targeting of racialized communities is prevalent across the west. Further reading for the USA context: Alexander, M., 2012. The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. The New Press; Tonry, M.H., 2011. Punishing race: A continuing American dilemma. Oxford University Press; and Europe: Fassin, D., 2018. The will to punish. Oxford University Press.Also see how the disproportionate targeting of certain individuals/groups based on their ‘race’ intersects with other elements of identity/biography that are devalued/deprioritized by the hegemonic neoliberal culture, e.g: Class: Wacquant, L., 2009. Punishing the poor: The neoliberal government of social insecurity. Duke University Press; Gender: Bosworth, M., & Kaufman, E. (2012). Gender and punishment. Handbook of punishment and society, 186-204; Migration status: In Europe: Aas, K.F. and Bosworth, M. eds., 2013. The borders of punishment: Migration, citizenship, and social exclusion. Oxford University Press. For a framework to analyze these interlocking systems of disadvantage – see Kimberly Crenshaw’s “intersectionality” framework (summarized in Global Social Theory’s page here). Crenshaw, K (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stan. L. Rev., 43.
- See footnote 2.
- Rosi Braidotti speaks from an explicitly “anti-humanist” position. She criticizes the humanism established in Classical Antiquity, developed through the European Renaissance and Enlightenment, used for European Colonialism, and embedded in the supposedly emancipatory politics of some movements, e.g. Liberal Feminism. She builds on the western philosophy that planted the seeds of anti-humanism (Nietzche, Heidegger and Foucault) as well as the more radical “postmodernist philosophies” (which she names “antihumaist philosophies”) such as anti-universalist Feminism; Post-colonial theory; and Poststructuralism – to arrive at her “post-human” position (see footnote 28 for more details). Although Braidotti does recognise the strategic importance of humanism for some postcolonial scholars (e.g. Fanon; Said; Spivak). Braidotti, R. (2020) “We” are in this together, but we are not one and the same.” Journal of bioethical inquiry 17, no. 4: 465-469; Braidotti, R, (2013) The Posthuman, Polity; Nietzsche, F. (1882) The Gay Science; Heidegger, M (1947), Letter on Humanism; Foucault, M (1966). The Order of Things; Said, E. W. (2004). Humanism and democratic criticism. Columbia University Press.
- The relation between language, speech, representation and how this develops our self-identity and relation to the world is complex. Language is a representational system: a collection of signs and symbols to stand for, or represent, concepts, ideas, feelings, self-identity, etc. Representation is the process by which people use language to produce meaning (Hall, 2003, p.61). This is a Constructionist approach to understanding how language is used to represent the world. Constructionist theories of representation suggest neither things in themselves, nor the individual authors/users of language can fix meaning into language. Meaning is contextual, so meaning is constructed in and through language. Hall, S. (2003) Encoding/decoding. Routledge; Hall, S, (2003) Representation: cultural representations and signifying practices/ SAGE publications. Read key overviews: Roberts, I. (2017). The Wonders of Language: Or How to Make Noises and Influence People. Cambridge University Press; Fromkin, V., Rodman, R., & Hyams, N. (2013). An introduction to language. Cengage Learning; Sperber, D (1995). How do we communicate? In J. Brockman & K. Matson (eds) How things are: A science toolkit for the mind. New York: Morrow pp.191-199.
Embodied cognition: Shapiro, L and Shannon S (2021). “Embodied Cognition”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; McNerney, S. (2011). A Brief Guide to Embodied Cognition: Why You Are Not Your Brain. Scientific American; Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (2012). Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living (Vol. 42). Springer Science & Business Media; Varela, F. J., Thompson, E., & Rosch, E. (2017). The embodied mind, revised edition: Cognitive science and human experience. MIT press; Wilson, D. S (2021). Reintroducing Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to Modern Evolutionary Science; Wilson, D. S., Ostrom, E., & Cox, M. E. (2013). Generalizing the core design principles for the efficacy of groups. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 90, S21-S32.
- See Anthropology and Political Philosophy literature on myth as containing shared social meaning. See Chiara Bottici’s work on the western, euro-centric “political myths” (e.g. Orientalist myths such as the “clash of civilisations” between “the West” and “the Islamic world”); Eliade’s (2005) work on origin myths which narrate a sacred history of chaos to order and provides a model for behavior/order; Sahlins’s (2003) work on how capitalist practice in the West is based on Judeo-Christian myths of origins, fall and redemption; De Castro’s (2007) exploration of the Amazonian Yanomami origin myth (that reaffirms the ontological state of interbeing/Animism – see footnote 20 on resilient cultural forms for more); Quinn (1995) on the environmental myths of “Takers” (modern civilisations since the Agricultural Revolution) Vs “Leavers” (pre-modern or indigenous societies). Read more: Cohen, Percy S (1969). “Theories of myth.” Man 4, no. 3: 337-353; Bottici, C, “Myth” In Political Concepts magazine by the New School. New York; Bottici, C, and Benoît C (2013) The myth of the clash of civilizations. Routledge; Eliade, M (2021). The myth of the eternal return: Cosmos and history. Vol. 122. Princeton University Press; De Castro, E V (2007) “The crystal forest: notes on the ontology of Amazonian spirits.” Inner Asia 9, no. 2: 153-172; Sahlins, M, (1996) “The sadness of sweetness: The native anthropology of Western cosmology. Current anthropology 37, no. 3 : 395-428; Quinn, D. (1995). Ishmael (Vol. 1). If you want more, explore this reading list on myth and the political imagination.
- Belief systems are shared ways of knowing and being and provide a framework for actions to be taken and make sense. Often, we are not fully aware of the clusters of beliefs in a system – or ideologies – that are operating around us – they are like the water the fish swims in. See overviews: Freeden, M. (2003). Ideology: A very short introduction. Vol. 95. Oxford University Press;. Or Maynard, J L. (2013) “A map of the field of ideological analysis.” Journal of Political Ideologies 18, no. 3: 299-327. Or more critical overviews by Antonio Gramsci and Stuart Hall (see short summaries of Hall’s and Gramsci’s work) “Stuart Hall.” (1996) Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies. London/New York; Horkheimer, M., & Adorno, T. W. (2017). The culture industry: Enlightenment as mass deception. In Karl Marx (pp. 405-424). Routledge
- See Quinn (1995) on cultural identity as an enactment of a story (a mythic narrative, describing an interrelation between gods, humans and the earth, with a beginning, middle and an end) Quinn, D. (1995). Ishmael (Vol. 1). See Stuart Hall (and the Birmingham school of cultural studies)’s writings on the development of hegemonic cultural identity and how it is infused with neoliberal ideologies/belief systems. Hall, S., & Du Gay, P. (Eds.). (1996). Questions of Cultural Identity: SAGE Publications. Sage; Hall, S. (2020). Cultural identity and diaspora (pp. 231-242). Routledge; Hall, S., Critcher, C., Jefferson, T., Clarke, J., & Roberts, B. (2013). Policing the crisis: Mugging, the state and law and order. Macmillan International Higher Education. Read about the development of a western capitalist cultural identity in the 15th century due to the invention of the printing press offering a common language/discourse for “imagined communities”: Anderson, B. (2020). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism.
- Read about cultural evolution: Kirk, M., Hickel, J., and Brewer, J., (2017). “All Change or No Change? Culture, Power and Activism in an Unquiet World.” State of Power; See the Center for Applied Cultural Evolution or the Cultural Evolution Society; Wilson, D.S., S.C. Hayes, A. Biglan, & D.D. Embry (2013). Evolving the future: toward a science of intentional change. Behavioral and Brain Sciences Vol 37 No 4; and revisit Quinn’s philosophical novel: where he outlines the myths and origin stories that Takers subscribe to (despite thinking they no longer believe in such narratives): the belief that humans are the pinnacle of evolution, that they are destined to conquer the world/nature which was made for them, which will supposedly bring about paradise, and without such control humans will go extinct. Quinn, D. (1995). Ishmael (Vol. 1).
- The concept of a transpersonal/interbeing/relational self tends to be the prevalent conception of the self in resilient/life-centered cultural forms (see footnote 20 for more). Broadly speaking, the experience of the self falls into a division between between the ‘closed, individuated, autonomous, egocentric, “western” self and an open, relational, interdependent, sociocentric, “non-western” self’ (Hollan 1992, p.294; Taylor, 2007). Einstein, C and Ladha, A, (2020). Oppression, Interconnection and Healing. Kosmos Journal (read or listen). Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching on “interbeing”: Naht Hanh, T. (1993). Interbeing: Fourteen guidelines for engaged Buddhism. Berkeley. CA: Parallax and a short video “To be means to interbe” (Plum Village); Hollan, D. (1992). Cross-cultural differences in the self. Journal of Anthropological Research, 48(4), 283-300; Taylor, C. (2007). A secular age. Harvard University Press.
- McKenna, T. (1996). Countdown into Complexity. Briefing for a descent into novelty workshop. Esalen Institute California.
- Resilient or life-centric cultural forms (which include but are not limited to Animistic or Indigenous societies) refer to cultural systems that are pre/non-dualistic, in which the sphere of sociality includes a spectrum of seen and unseen living beings including plants, fungi, animals, and spirits (as opposed to “fragile” cultural forms, see footnote 4). Nature and culture/society fuse into one another. See literature from Anthropology on multi-specism; perspectivism; and multi-naturalism to learn more – much of this came out of the “ontological turn” in Anthropology, in which the difference between cultures was no longer seen as a difference in worldview (multi-culturalism), but a difference in worlds (multi-naturalism) – which are all equally valid. At the heart of these cultural forms is a concept of the self based on interbeing, radical relationality and interdependence (see footnote 18 for more on interbeing concepts of the self). See: Descola, P. (2013) Beyond nature and culture. University of Chicago Press – especially chapter 1: Configurations of Continuity; De Castro, E V (2007). “The crystal forest: notes on the ontology of Amazonian spirits.” Inner Asia 9, no. 2: 153-172; and De Castro’s (2004) lecture-series on the ontological turn and multi-naturalism: Cosmological Perspectivism in Amazonia and Elsewhere HAU: Masterclass Series.
- Ethnocentrism involves an evaluation of another culture based on preconceptions developed from the standards/conventions of one’s own culture. See how it interacts with different constructs such as race, ethnicity, or nation: Brubaker, R. (2009). Ethnicity, race, and nationalism. Annual Review of Sociology, 35, 21-42; Bizumic, B., & Duckitt, J. (2012). What is and is not ethnocentrism? A conceptual analysis and political implications. Political psychology, 33(6), 887-909; Tambiah, S. J. (1996). The nation-state in crisis and the rise of ethnonationalism. The politics of difference: Ethnic premises in a world of power, 124-143
- Humanism was established during Classical Antiquity and developed during the European Renaissance and Enlightenment periods in which man was renewed as the “measure of all things”. Anthropos (human in Ancient Greek) or “human” (from Latin) were defined in relation to what they were not: either a god, an animal, or who the Greeks considered “barbarians” at that time. Read more: Davies, T. (2008). Humanism. Routledge; and a critique through the lens of anti/post-humanism: Braidotti, R, (2013) The Posthuman, Polity.
- Rationalism, developed during the 17th and 18th century Enlightenment, is the use of reason to gain knowledge. Read more through Foucault’s analysis of power and construction of truth. Foucault, M. (1975). Discipline and punish; Bristow, W, (2017) “Enlightenment”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Pluralism is a recognition, affirmation and aspiration of diversity and peaceful coexistence of different traditions, lifestyles, ideas and values (e.g. Interculturalism in Canada, multiculturalism in the UK). While there are attempts to make pluralism more inclusive: e.g. see critical multiculturalism, the frameworks often still rely on ecocentric conceptions of the self, not radical relationality. Pedersen, N. J. L. L., & Wright, C. (2012). Pluralist theories of truth. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Mason, E. (2006). Value pluralism.The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Kastoryano, R. (2018). Multiculturalism and interculturalism: redefining nationhood and solidarity. Comparative Migration Studies, 6(1), 1-11; Mack, E. (1993). Isaiah Berlin and the quest for liberal pluralism. Public Affairs Quarterly, 7(3), 215-230.
- See footnote 4 on the cultures that have birthed and sustained the anthropocene in which there has been a separation of self Vs other and separation from nature through other binary logics (e.g. culture V nature).
- Counter narratives in the epistemologies of the global South (e.g. key texts from Latin American, Asian and African scholars): Mignolo, W, D (2020) Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and Decolonial Freedom; Rivera Cusicanqui, S. (2012), Ch’ixinakax utxiwa: A Reflection on the practices and discourses of decolonisation, The South Atlantic, 111(1): 95-109 & see her Global Social Theory page.; de Sousa Santos, B, (2007) Another knowledge is possible; Spivak, G C (2003) Can the subaltern speak?; Mbembe, Achille (1992) Provisional notes on the postcolony. See how environmental movements have attempted to integrate Indigenous counter-epistemologies/ontologies (including reassessing notions of time): Wright, S., Suchet-Pearson, S., Lloyd, K., Burarrwanga, L., Ganambarr, R., Ganambarr-Stubbs, M, Maymuru, D. (2020). Gathering of the clouds: attending to indigenous understandings of time and climate through songspirals. Geoforum, 108, 295-304; Colchester, M. (2004). Conservation policy and indigenous peoples. Environmental Science & Policy, 7(3), 145-153; Mistry, J., & Berardi, A. (2016). Bridging indigenous and scientific knowledge. Science, 352(6291), 1274-1275; McGregor, D. (2004). Coming full circle: Indigenous knowledge, environment, and our future. American Indian Quarterly, 28, 385–410. And see an example from Culture Hack’s practice of how animistic, counter-hegemonic narratives have been used in Mexico to win environmental campaigns – Ladha, A and Sandoval, L, 2019. Campaign to defend Mexico’s sacred lake changes global activism. Truthout.
- See footnote 20 for more information on Animistic societies as a resilient cultural form or further reading on p.X. Animism is both a concept and a way of relating to the world – attributing a quality of being “animate” to a large range of human and non-human beings in the world, such as the environment, animals, plants, spirits, and forces of nature like the sun, moon, winds or oceans. For example, read about “Sila”, or life force, which has been an organizing principle for Inuit communities for thousands of years (Todd, 2016). A more recent iteration of Animism is Gaia theory (Lovelock and Margulis, 1974) – which popularized the idea of earth as an animate, living and self-regulating organism. Western theories such as Gaia, and animistic/indigenous cosmologies have also been “reinforced” by scientific developments shedding light on the self-organizing/”smart” structure of living matter, for example, the symbiotic relationship between the soil, fungi, and plants show that how trees/plants communicate through their roots and vast underground networks of mycelium (Gorzelak et al., 2015). The earth is indeed alive and animistic/Indigenous forms of knowledge are more and more seen as “empirically accurate”. Read an overview: Swancutt, K. A. (2019). Animism. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology, 1-17; Bird-David, Nurit. (1999) ““Animism” revisited: personhood, environment, and relational epistemology.” Current anthropology 40, no. S1; Todd, Z. (2016). An indigenous feminist’s take on the ontological turn:‘Ontology’is just another word for colonialism. Journal of historical sociology, 29(1), 4-22; Lovelock, J. E. (1972). Gaia as seen through the atmosphere. Atmospheric Environment, 6(8), 579–580; Lovelock, J. E., Margulis, L. (1974). Atmospheric homeostasis by and for the biosphere: The Gaia hypothesis. Tellus, 26(1–2), 2–10; Gorzelak, M. A., Asay, A. K., Pickles, B. J., Simard, S. W. (2015). Inter-plant communication through mycorrhizal networks mediates complex adaptive behaviour in plant communities. AoB Plants.
- Post-humanism (not to be confused with trans-humanism that is still humanist because it privileges human capacities) is Life-centric (or, Zoe-centric) because it centers life in all its forms (both human and non-human, seen and unseen beings). There are different variations of posthumanism due to different intellectual geneaologies (e.g., Rosi Braidotti’s critical post-humanism developed out of anti-humanist Philosophy/Cultural Theory Vs Bruno Latour’s analytic post-humanism developed out of Science and Technology Studies). Posthumanism is not only critical, but also constructive (or creative – Braidotti): it aims to build new alternatives to humanism by developing new concepts/vocabularies to enable us to move beyond western binaries. Two important examples are 1) Rosi Braidotti’s call for a Life/Zoe-centric Egalitarianism and 2) Karen Barad’s “onto-ethico-epistemology” – which argues that what is in the world (ontology) and how we know what is in the world (epistemology) can not be separated as two distinct realms that do not affect one another – and the implications of this entanglement on how we should engage in the world (ethics). Much of this literature developed out of the 21st century “material turn” and the Neo/New-materialism of ecocentric scholars attempting to decentre the human and analyze relations, or “intra-actions” (Barad, 2007) between humans and nonhumans (e.g. animals, bacteria, rocks, etc). Material/matter is understood as “vital” (Barad, 2007), vibrant, alive, relational, plural, open, complex and contingent. Read more: Latour, B. (2012). We have never been modern. Harvard university press; Haraway, D. J. (2016). Staying with the Trouble. Duke University Press; Braidotti, R., & Hlavajova, M. (Eds.). (2018). Posthuman glossary. Bloomsbury Publishing; Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway. Duke University Press; Sencindiver, S. Y. (2017). New materialism. Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory, 1565; or read an overview: new materialism (on Global Society Theory); Ladha, A and Akomolafe, B, (2017) Perverse particles, entangled monsters and psychedelic pilgrimages: Emergence as an onto-epistemology of not-knowing. Ephemera Journal.
- Read more about buen vivir: its connection to indigenous cosmologies, its inspirational content for social movements, and how “the subject of wellbeing is not the individual, but the individual in the social context of their community and in a unique environmental situation” (Gudynas, 2013). Gudynas, E. (2011). Buen Vivir: today’s tomorrow. development, 54(4), 441-447; The Guardian, (2013) Buen vivir: the social philosophy inspiring movements in South America.
- Read/listen to more about Ubuntu and how it may be a counterweight to rampant individualism or heal society/nature/self relations: Ogude, J, “I Am Because We Are”: the African Philosophy of Ubuntu; Le Grange, L. (2012). Ubuntu, ukama and the healing of nature, self and society. Educational philosophy and theory, 44(sup2), 56-67