This week in New York City, Latin Americanists from all over the world will gather to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA). We'll be there to salute LASA for 50 years of fostering intellectual discussion, research, and teaching on Latin America, the Caribbean, and its people throughout the Americas. We invite attendees to stop by our booth at the 2016 annual meeting for our newest titles, to pick up a subject catalog, and for an exclusive LASA offer.
Explain the concept of the Anthropocene and how your work wrestles with defining this “new” geological epoch.
The Anthropocene is rooted in the idea that human activity on the planet has been so impactful and pervasive that we have ushered in a new epoch in geological time. Paul Crutzen, the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist, is recognized for popularizing the term in 2000. However, in the past five years or so, it has really gained traction. It is not just being adopted by natural and physical scientists but also social scientists and scholars in the humanities. This is what I really appreciate about the concept of the Anthropocene: it’s encouraging truly interdisciplinary and even transdisciplinary dialogue. As a consequence, it has also generated considerable debate and controversy. One of the current debates centers on the origins of the Anthropocene. When did it begin? Crutzen and a few of his colleagues have traced it back to European industrialization while other scholars have suggested that it began with the development of agriculture. Still others have promoted later origin points including World War II and the radiological signatures left by the atom bomb. Most recently, a team of geologists has claimed that industrial plastics will stratigraphically define this new epoch. Regardless of when the Anthropocene began (which is a debate that will likely carry on), most scholars link it to the rise of modern industrialization and global capitalism.
In this book, I look at the Anthropocene from the vantage point of the rural Brazilian Amazon. In doing so, I highlight some of the problems with its current conceptualization. One problem I point out is its subtle Eurocentrism. In tracing the origins of the Anthropocene to industrial Europe, it is overlooked that people across the world have been implicated in and directly linked to the broader processes driving the Anthropocene. I show, for example, that many of rural Amazonia’s contemporary inhabitants are descendants of migrants who moved to the region to tap natural rubber, which fueled the burgeoning tire and automobile industries in North America and Europe. Another problem I highlight is the anthropocentrism embedded within the concept of the Anthropocene. While it’s suggested that humans are coming to dominate the planet, every day we get news about how various forces and life-forms that make up our environment are constantly pushing back against us: hurricanes, tsunamis, the Zika virus, flesh-eating microbes, and CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere. The Anthropocene should remind us that while our technologies have expanded our ability to impact the planet, a much broader array of life-forms and forces is constantly thwarting our attempts to wrest control of the world around us.