The Arrival of the Anthropocene in Social Theory: From Modernism and Marxism towards a New Materialism

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Since its origin in the natural sciences in the early 2000s, the concept of the Anthropocene has spread far and wide. Following the concept’s journey away from the natural sciences, where it was invented to designate the advent of a new geological epoch, and into the social and human sciences, its meaning has opened up to many different interpretations. This article examines three competing theoretical narratives about the Anthropocene, which have gained particular traction within social and political theory in recent years: The ‘good’ Anthropocene promoted by ecomodernists. The ‘bad’ Anthropocene, or so-called Capitalocene, critiqued by eco-Marxists. And, lastly, the ‘uncanny’ Anthropocene envisioned by new materialists. Each of these three stories differ not only in their interpretation of the Anthropocene, they also engender notably different political responses. Echoing the insights of new materialists such as Jane Bennett, Bruno Latour and Donna Haraway, the article argues that we cannot rely on a single grand narrative of the Anthropocene today. What is needed, instead, is the proliferation of a multiplicity of different Anthropocene stories: Situated, troubling and more-than-human stories that seek to displace idiosyncratic notions of the autonomous human subject so that we might begin to see what else is there.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Sociological Review
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)243-260
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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