From where to think and subvert the Anthropocene? Latin American thought and alternative anthropocenes.

Receipt: January 17, 2024

Acceptance: January 18, 2024


The Anthropocene, as a concept and framework for thinking and producing knowledge on contemporary issues, has given rise to multiple debates on the validity and scope of its proposals. The richness of the concept has made it possible to situate a threshold, a turning point in planetary life, and has summoned various disciplinary frameworks to think and discuss the complex articulation of dimensions that make up the multiple global crises: climate change, alteration of vegetation cover, extreme use of natural resources, loss of biodiversity, alteration and degradation of the biosphere, intensive pollution of surface and groundwater bodies, limitless energy demand.

Meanwhile, the natural and earth sciences are debating whether or not this is a new geological era, in which the intervention of the human species would play a primordial role; however, other debates have arisen from the social sciences and the humanities. On the one hand, it has been questioned the location of all The paper argues that this conception dilutes nuances and differences in the attributions of responsibility by different groups and social strata for the consequences of interventions and modifications of the geobiophysical environment. Thus, other terms are proposed to name and situate this epoch, loaded with different meanings and senses: capitalocene, plantationocene, chthulucene. On the other hand, from Latin America, it has been pointed out the need to incorporate the historical dimension and the analysis of power to refer to colonialism and the different extractivisms and neo-extractivisms, as well as exclusions and inequalities, which have placed the region in a subordinate and disadvantaged manner in the multiple crisis that constitutes the Anthropocene era. Another area of debate raises the feasibility of alternatives for moving towards "other anthropocenes", and questions how radical the systemic transformations - economic, political, social, cultural and technological - would have to be to enable this transition.

From your work as a social researcher in the contemporary world, do you consider that the questioning of the term Anthropocene is pertinent because it does not incorporate differentiating elements of economic, social and cultural order, as well as the positions of power from which the planetary crises have been provoked?

I consider these questions about the concept of the Anthropocene to be pertinent, but we must be precise: of course, the socioeconomic inequality of contemporary societies casts doubt on the conscience of humans as a "species", which homogenizes the way in which our actions have affected the environment and have put at risk, without exaggeration, the viability of the species and of life in general on this planet. Indeed, I believe that this notion hides the fact that responsibilities are differentiated and that the effects of environmental degradation also have a different impact. On the one hand, the privileged sectors and large corporations are much more responsible for ecological deterioration, in addition to the fact that the greater purchasing power of many of these populations allows them not to experience to the same extent the negative effects that do harm the large impoverished masses. A classic example is access to water: as water sources run out and desertification progresses in many territories, privileged groups have measures of power to ensure that they do not lack it, while those who are at a disadvantage and do not have enough power or resources suffer shortages or total lack of it. However, I believe that this should not lead to the easy solution that only the powerful are responsible and, therefore, the only ones to be blamed for the environmental crisis.

It is true that the era of modernity has favored a way of life that is environmentally depredatory because, in the eagerness to have more comforts, there is an excessive consumption of energy, water is wasted, large amounts of garbage are generated, among other actions. Therefore, I believe that there is a level at which we all have responsibilities to clean up the planet and that any project that is carried out from below for this purpose, no matter how small it may seem, can make a contribution. The idea of species, on the other hand, without the desire to homogenize human beings and erase inequality, does refer us to the fact that we are part of nature and that there are other living beings and resources that accompany us and are indispensable for life, so it should not be discarded out of hand, but repositioned in the discussions on inequality, responsibilities and effects of environmental degradation.

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The main criticism of the term Anthropocene and the concept that defines it is related to the intrinsic reference of the term to "humanity" as a whole, without distinction of geographical areas, social classes, economic systems and activities and other specific categories, with which, it is argued, instead of stimulating the urgently needed social and political change, it obscures the concrete responsibility by emphasizing intrinsic human qualities, instead of emphasizing the choices resulting from established capitalist interests. To speak of the Anthropocene means, on the basis of this critique, to speak of the Capitalocene (Trischler, 2017: 50-51), so that one would have to delve into the origins of capitalism and the expansion of the frontiers of the commodity in order to account for this current phase. From this perspective, the current crisis should be conceived as a long-term process in which new ways of ordering the relationship between humans and the rest of nature are being drawn, dialectically connecting the mode of production and the mode of extraction (capitalization and appropriation), through which capitalism takes over -and then quickly exhausts- regional sources, to then expand over new territories (Svampa, 2019: 33-53; Machado, 2016; Moore, 2017).

The concept of "Capitalocene", in addition to being widely discussed, has been accompanied by the development of a series of analytical categories of specific character, related to the production and consumption systems themselves, regional differences and the differentiated impacts of the most varied sociometabolisms on the most diverse social collectives. Plantationocene (Haraway, 2016; Lowenhaupt, 2015), econocene (Norgaard, 2013), technocene (Hornborg, 2015), phallocene (Acosta, 2018) and basurocene (Armiero, 2021), are just some of these concepts developed, either to account for specific dimensions of the Anthropocene recognizing its difficult generalization, or to shy away from the reductionism that has been pointed out to the capitalocene concept. Based on the above, I consider that the criticisms of the term Anthropocene are of great value, as ways of making visible the specificities and responsibilities in the socio-historical construction of an unsustainability that, while global, is profoundly differentiated. The criticisms, however, also account for the necessity and validity of the term Anthropocene itself, without which the abundant academic discussion and social action on its possibilities and limits would not have taken place.

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First, the launch of the term Anthropocene by the two natural scientists, Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer, in 2000 was important in signaling the scope and urgency of this planetary crisis. This proposal also addresses one of the dimensions (the planet) that are difficult for researchers in the humanities and social sciences to grasp, as they are generally beyond their research interests (and capacity). Moreover, it touches on the issue of the difference between the natural sciences and the humanities mentioned in the introduction to this section. In fact, Crutzen and Stoermer cannot be blamed for their "disciplinary narrowness" and thus for their insufficient inclusion of geopolitical and social factors. Nor can one accuse geology, which is the leading discipline in ratifying the Anthropocene as a new geological epoch, of this. But It is precisely this discrepancy between the scientific idea of an Anthropocene and the social (and historical) implications that this idea harbors that has fueled the debates that have been going on for at least ten years.

From this sticking point have emerged all the debates around the very concept of the Anthropocene and the question of dating this geological epoch, especially exciting for historians, the question and critique of the concept of the human species as the "culprit" of the Anthropocene process, as well as another very decolonial and critical perspective of "European modernity", and far-reaching questions of environmental, climate and racial justice. In my opinion, the ongoing interdisciplinary questioning of the concept of the Anthropocene and the work around it remains very fruitful. Last but not least, it has triggered an intensified debate among social scientists and scholars in the humanities from the global North and South, without which our Handbook calas on the Latin American perspective of the Anthropocene would not have seen the light of day.

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Considering that from Latin America there are various currents of thought on contemporary crises, both from the academic world and decolonial thought, as well as from other forms of knowledge and wisdom, what are the strengths and contributions of Latin American thought(s) that you would highlight within the framework of these debates?

To follow up on the above reasoning, it is pertinent to recall that Latin American societies are among the most unequal and environmentally degraded on the planet, largely due to the history of conquest and colonization. This has resulted in politically independent nations that still suffer from the effects of colonization, as decolonial theorists have rightly pointed out (Quijano, 1992; Mignolo, 2008, among others). These effects lead to the fact that the priority of caring for the environment does not appear in political leaders and elites; on the contrary, a feeling of inability to achieve a supposed development in the image and likeness of Western powers has been generated, which leads to considering nature and ecosystems as mere resources that must be used without measure to achieve it. Together with decolonial theorists, critical approaches to this supposed development have emerged, the sacrifices they have caused for the sake of achieving it in Latin American countries, as well as the urgent need to seek different and own alternatives (Escobar, 2014).

At the same time, since colonial times, the unrestricted extraction of natural resources to satisfy the needs of the metropolis has been a constant. After the various industrialization efforts, with their degrees and nuances, in which the region became involved during the 20th century, the region's industrialization process has been a constant in the region's history. xxIn recent years, when we are just beginning to speak of the "Anthropocene", we have witnessed the emergence of a "neo-extractivism" (Svampa, 2019a). In this, the major source of income is once again based on the export of primary goods, even in the so-called "progressive" governments, which have been concerned with mitigating inequality, but not with preserving the environment and seeking less predatory ways of inserting themselves into the global market.

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In Latin America, Astrid Ulloa has rightly warned about the distance between the more global narratives, linked to climate change, in the key of the Anthropocene and the Latin American critical narratives, linked to environmental conflict, on the dynamics of neo-extractivism (Svampa, 2019: 40).

In the global South, but especially in Latin America, there are numerous experiences that deserve to be rescued as alternatives to the neoextractivism that characterizes this phase of neoliberal capitalism from the social and solidarity economy, whose social subjects of reference are the most excluded sectors (women, indigenous people, youth, workers, peasants) and whose logic is based on the production of usage values or livelihoods. There are also numerous experiences of self-organization and self-management of popular sectors linked to the social economy and self-control of the production process, forms of non-alienated work, reproduction of social life and creation of new forms of community. These processes of working with nature and not against it are accompanied by a new political-environmental narrative, associated with concepts such as Good Living, Rights of Nature, Common Goods, Ethics of Care, among others (Svampa, 2019: 44). The rescue of biocultural memory (Toledo and Barrera-Bassols, 2008) and the development of a post-normal science, whose north is complexity and theoretical-conceptual holism, social utility and the co-production of knowledge ethically oriented to the sustainability of life (González de Molina and Toledo, 2012: 169; Jiménez-Buedo and Ramos, 2009: 731; Díaz, Rodríguez and Santana, 2012: 169), are other alternatives inherent to the ecological paradigm, emerged as a counterposition to the modern worldview and built from criticism, but also from the inclusion of new theories and scientific disciplines. All these alternatives have two fundamental characteristics that deserve to be highlighted: 1) most of them tend to blur the scientific-academic production of social action, since both tend to be interdependent; and 2) although not all these theoretical, epistemological and political contributions are exclusively Latin American, it is in our subcontinent where they have seen both a greater academic development and a remarkable practical application.

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The strength of Latin American contributions to the Anthropocene comes from the long tradition of Latin American critique of the concept of modernity (e.g., Aníbal Quijano, Walter Mignolo, Edgardo Lander) and with it the critique of the concept of development. In the context of the genealogy of the Anthropocene, both notions have also been critically re-examined by researchers in Indian postcolonial studies (Dipesh Chakrabarty, Amitav Ghosh). Closely related to these two themes and particularly relevant to the topic of the Anthropocene is Latin American social science and humanities research on extractivism and neo-extractivism (e.g., Maristella Savmpa, Eduardo Gudynas, Nelson Arellano, Astrid Ulloa), as this topic reveals the interconnectedness of natural resources, (geo)politics, environmental justice, racism, and social vulnerability. It is precisely the understanding of such socio-environmental interdependencies that makes the complexities of the Anthropocene crisis truly clear. This means that Latin American research on supposedly "familiar issues" can bring new, important and, above all, locally and regionally relevant perspectives to the new planetary context of the Anthropocene. On the other hand, the Anthropocene perspective also challenges this research to think in new dimensions and contexts. Another characteristic and very relevant contribution in Latin America is the indigenous knowledge, embedded in indigenous cosmovisions, through concepts such as Buen Vivir or sumak kawsctiva. With this knowledge, alternative relationships between humans and nature can be highlighted; indeed, for the Global North they can be thought of first and foremost. These alternative perspectives on "the world" are a central concern when it comes to the question of how we really want and can live on this planet in the near and distant future.

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From your perspective, would there be possible alternatives to move towards "other anthropocenes"? Are "other anthropocenes possible" without a radical systemic change?

I believe that many of these changes are underway and that our continent is a hotbed of sustainable experiences that seek greater social equity and respect for nature. Many of these projects arise from the cosmovisions of the native peoples, which are in no way remnants of the past, despite having been considered savage and backward since colonial times and in the discourse of "development". This is how we have in Mexico, but not exclusively, thousands of indigenous, peasant and urban experiences that seek another form of production and consumption through cooperative relationships and respect for nature (Toledo, 2021). That is to say, although a radical change is necessary to fundamentally transform the race towards planetary destruction that we see in the global Anthropocene, I observe local experiences that put life at the center and seek to become viable alternatives, some of them with several decades of life. These experiences can be understood as the search for biocentric societies, as an option to the social homogenization implied by the term Anthropocene. Whether these projects will be able to transform national and even global political power is a complex issue, but there is no doubt that they have been gaining prestige and legitimacy and, in some cases, have influenced political changes, such as the current governmental programs in Mexico that seek to promote agroecology, the Buen Vivir approach that reached the Ecuadorian and Bolivian constitutions at the beginning of the 20th century, and the "Good Living" approach that has been adopted by the Ecuadorian and Bolivian constitutions since the beginning of the 20th century. xxi or the Rights of Nature in the Ecuadorian case. Whether they will be able to advance towards a radical transformation remains to be seen, since the ups and downs of the search for democracy in Latin America have led to setbacks in the case of governmental measures, which has implied that sustainable biocentric processes have been transformed into resistance and defense of the territories.

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It should be noted that this recognition that there are different interpretative positions or contrasts does not imply the abandonment of the notion-synthesis of the Anthropocene, but rather leads to consider it as a complex and heterogeneous field, from which different narratives emerge, sometimes opposing and, at the same time, proposals for different ways out of the crisis (Svampa, 2019: 49).

The analysis, reflection and social and political action that promote the creation of genuinely sustainable alternatives for collective well-being, tending to revert the patterns of environmental injustice that reflect deep multi-scale inequalities in social, age, ethnic and gender terms, are an ethical imperative that cannot be avoided.

The alternatives presented have something in common: they promote radical systemic changes (economic degrowth, welfare over "development", collectivism instead of the dominant individualism, conceptual and epistemological holism instead of deterministic reductionism, among other possibilities). This implies that, given the premises of the Anthropocene as the ultimate indicator of planetary unsustainability, the aim is to resist it in order to get out of it and not to incorporate minimum corrective measures to the "dominant Anthropocene", as proposed by the alleged "green capitalism", considered clearly insufficient to ensure the survival of humans and non-humans on the planet. This does not mean that, precisely because of the dominant nature of the logic of dispossession of neoliberal capitalism, changes and the implementation of alternatives to the logic(s) of the Anthropocene cannot or should not be carried out gradually, from below, from the interstices of power, as has happened with the historically most important changes for the general welfare of the peoples.

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First of all, I believe that we must take seriously the diagnosis of the Anthropocene, according to which humans, with their collective actions, have a huge and detrimental effect on the planet. Immediately afterwards, of course, we must differentiate between these "humans". International climate policy (even if the Anthropocene cannot be equated with climate change) has already established an understanding of the historically differentiated responsibilities for emissions of co2. The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (common but differentiated responsibilities) can also be applied to the question of the Anthropocene. Although the species perspective has been criticized for the lack of social and racial differentiation and the absence of a political level, it has the advantage that it unites humans in perspective as humanity and places them in connection and on the same level as other species. With this example I want to illustrate a principle that for me is important in the context of the Anthropocene issue: to analyze concepts - even though we may not be able or willing to accept them in their entirety - to see what useful, unfamiliar and challenging perspectives they bring to us, rather than accepting or rejecting them outright. This approach also helps us to continue to communicate and stay connected across disciplinary divides. I believe that this attitude, perhaps eclectic or experimental, can also be a way of agreeing on possible futures, that is, on alternative anthropocenes. For me, however, the question of systemic change does not concern "only" the scientific or philosophical level (where we humanists and social scientists may be more at home), but also very clearly the material level of our infrastructures and cultures. I do not believe that we can move towards an alternative and sustainable future - alternative anthropocenes - without radically changing these material systems, the use of fossil fuels, which are now the basis of so many societies on this planet.

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Yolanda Cristina Massieu Trigo D. in Economics from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, a Master's degree in Rural Sociology from the Universidad Autónoma de Chapingo and a Bachelor's degree in Veterinary Medicine and Zootechnics from the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Xochimilco, where he teaches in the Bachelor's degree in Sociology, the graduate program in Rural Development and the Master's degree in Sustainable Societies. His research topics are the following: socioeconomic, environmental, political and cultural impacts of agricultural biotechnology; technological innovation in agricultural production and agricultural workers; biodiversity, common goods, political ecology and intellectual property; peasantry and food sovereignty; agrofuels and energy crisis; as well as socio-environmental, socioeconomic, technological and political problems of contemporary society in general. He does collaborative work with several social organizations related to his areas of expertise. She is a member of the National System of Researchers level 2. She has multiple publications, including three books as sole author, has presented more than one hundred papers in various academic events and has directed 45 undergraduate and graduate theses on topics related to her specialty.

Anthony Goebel Mc Dermott D. in History from the University of Costa Rica. Professor at the School of History and researcher at the Centro de Investigaciones Históricas de América Central (cihac) of that university. He currently serves as director of the Central American Postgraduate Program in History at the University of Costa Rica. He has conducted research in the areas of environmental history, history of science and economic history. His recent publications are "Socioecological Transformations at the Specialized Productive Space in Coffee and Sugarcane in the Context of the Green Revolution. Costa Rica (1955-1973)", in Ecological Economicsvol. 208, June, 2023, 107790 (coauthored with Andrea Montero Mora); "Land and Climate: Natural Constraints and Socio-Environmental Transformations," Robert H. Holden (ed.) (February 2021). The Oxford Handbook of Central American History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 1-34 (digital); "Environmental History of Commodities in Central America," in. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021, pp. 1-28 (co-authored with Andrea Montero); "Forgotten pandemics: the case of Asian influenza (a/h2n2) en Costa Rica (1957-1959)", in David Díaz and Ronny Viales (eds.). Covid-19 and history in Costa Rica: global and local crises and pandemics (centuries xx-xxi)San José: Universidad de Costa Rica, cihac, 2022, pp. 173-225.

Eleonora Rohland is Professor of Intertwined History in the Americas at Bielefeld University since 2015. She trained as an economic, social and environmental historian at the University of Bern (Switzerland) and received her PhD at the Ruhr-University Bochum (Germany) in 2014. Since 2017 she is co-coordinator of the research group Confronting Environmental Crises at the Maria Sibylla Merian Center for Advanced Latin American Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences (calas), University of Bielefeld/University of Guadalajara, Mexico. Also since 2017 she is principal investigator at the Center for Collaborative Research (crc) 1288: "Comparative Practices: Ordering and Changing the World" at Bielefeld University. Since 2023 Rohland has been a member of the management of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF) at Bielefeld University. His current research focuses on environmental history and, in particular, on the history of climate impacts and catastrophes from the perspective of interwoven history. In this context, he is also interested in the Anthropocene and its important (and uneven) prehistory in the Americas.

Susana Herrera Lima is a professor-researcher in the Department of Sociocultural Studies at the iteso. D. in Social-Scientific Studies and Master in Science and Cultural Communication from the iteso. Coordinator of the Permanent Seminar in Water Studies of the iteso. Her lines of research are located at the intersection between Public Communication of Science and Communication of socio-environmental and socio-water problems. She develops and coordinates transdisciplinary research projects and public communication of science on socio-environmental problems with citizen participation. Member of the National System of Researchers, level 2. Teacher and tutor in the Master in Science and Culture Communication and in the Doctorate in Scientific-Social Studies. Co-coordinator of the Laboratory "The Anthropocene as a multiple crisis. Perspectives from Latin America", at the Maria Sibylla Merian Center for Advanced Latin American Studies (calas) and editor of the Handbooks of the Laboratory. Researcher of the Observatory of Communication and Culture of the iteso, etiuswhere she develops the research project "Communication and culture in the Anthropocene era". Founder and coordinator of the book collection "De la academia al espacio público. Communicating science in Mexico". She has national and international publications and participates in specialized international editorial committees.


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