This podcast is the culmination of a year spent thinking and reading about people in a time some call “the Anthropocene”. “Anthropo” refers to us, humans, and cene meaning “new”. The Anthropocene indicates the indelible mark that humans have made on the planet, ushering in a new geological era. As a word that reflects our increasingly troubled relations with the non-human world, I have taken this idea as an important provocation, as a punctum, or a tipping point.
As a generative and ongoing project, the podcast has grown from a desire to learn, with a broader aim to continue interesting conversations outside of the university and into those inbetween spaces of daily life. Each episode explores a particular story from a person I have found to be inspiring. These stories cover vast terrain, but remain connected through an interest in what it means to be human right now; what are the risks, what are the possibilities?
All episodes are accompanied by a reading list, as a means to become more familiar with topics covered across the podcast. If you make any discoveries or enjoy what you are listening to please get in touch- I would love to hear about it: firstname.lastname@example.org
I must also emphasise my continuing gratitude to the guests who have taken part so far, with a willingness to share their ideas and time with me. This podcast is a result of a number of conversations and contributions from my friends and fellow anthropologists, Imogen Malpas and Ellen Forsman. May the great conversations continue.
In episode six, I spoke with Dr Daniel Finch-Race, a teaching fellow at the University of Bristol and a research fellow at the University of Venice; whose academic work sits at a crossroads between the Environmental Humanities, language and history. He works namely with French and Italian, challenging the idea that the climate crisis is an issue expressed solely in the English language. We examine the role of language in constructing meaning, and more broadly, the narratives that define our place in the world. We explore the arts as a kind of language, and Daniel’s interest in the languages of the visual, of film and paintings, that require attention as their own kind of vital storytelling.
As we converse in English, we reflect on the primacy of the English language, and the politics of translating other languages and worldviews; considering the urgency of a diverse and plural response to a changing global environment.
A principal called linguistic relativity (also known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis), holds that language affects the very ways in which its respective speakers conceptualize their entire world, in short their cognitive processes which often inform their actions.
– The Bureau of Linguistical Reality
Thus ways of life are, to a large extent, manifestations of concepts—of the ideas they foster and the possibilities of action.
reading list six: Daniel Finch-Race
Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer
If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?, James Baldwin |link|
French Ecocriticism: From the Early Modern Period to the Twenty-First Century, Daniel Finch-Race & Stephanie Posthumus |link|
Engaging with Cultural Differences: The Strange Case of French écocritique, Stephanie Poshumus |link|
The Language of the Master, Paul Kingsnorth |link|
Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World, Glenn Albrecht
In episode five, I met with the UCL Anthropologist and Ethnobotanist, Dr Lewis Daly. Lewis describes the condition, endemic to humans, of “plant blindness”: the idea that we can only see things that look like us. We trace the implications of this idea, discussing his anthropological research in the Amazon, the crisis of burning rainforest, the commodification of the botanical house plant and his fascinating insight into the perspective of plants as persons and kin.
Lewis conducted his fieldwork with the Makushi people in Amazonian Guyana, writing his doctorate around people-plant relationships. In his spare time, Lewis also edits an online magazine called TEA: The Ethnobotanical Assembly (https://www.tea-assembly.com/)
Ethnobotany is the study of a region’s plants and their practical uses through the traditional knowledge of a local culture and people. An ethnobotanist thus strives to document the local customs involving the practical uses of local flora for many aspects of life, such as plants as medicines, foods, and clothing.
reading list five: Lewis Daly
The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan
The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, Stefano Mancuso
The Overstory, Richard Powers
The Mushroom at the End of the World, Anna Tsing
How Forests Think: Towards an Anthropology beyond the Human, Eduardo Kohn
Earth Beings, Marisol de La Cadena
Staying with the Trouble, Donna Haraway
What Kind of People are Plants? The challenges of researching human-plant relations in Amazonian Guyana, Lewis Daly: |link|
Plant Worlds: Assembling the Ethnobotanical, Lewis Daly and Kay Lewis-Jones: |link|
House plants: the new boom economy, The Guardian: |link|
How trees communicate via a Wood Wide Web, (2016): |link|
Strategic botanical interventions: Planting ancient trees for a warming climate, Oliver Kellhammer: |link|
The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben
The Lost Gardens of the Anthropocene, Mike Maunder: |link|
How botanical gardens helped to establish the British Empire, The Financial Times: |link|
Why ‘plant blindness’ matters — and what you can do about it: |link|
For many tribes in the Amazon, fire is part of their livelihood and culture, Jayalaxshmi Mistry: |link|
Taking love seriously in human-plant relations in Mozambique: Toward an Anthropology of Affective Encounters, Julie Soleil Archambault: |link|
One in five of world’s plant species at risk of extinction, Damian Carrington: |link|
Jae Rhim Lee: My mushroom burial suit, TED talk.
Interaction with indoor plants may reduce psychological and physiological stress by suppressing autonomic nervous system activity in young adults: a randomized crossover study, by Min-Sun Lee, Juyoung Lee and Yoshifumi Miyazaki.
Episode four is a conversation with musician and poet, Alabaster dePlume, recorded in the former venue and music hub, the Total Refreshment Centre. Known well for his wilful experimentation, Alabaster’s musical performances traverse across poetry, jazz and folk. He emphasises an honesty and playfulness in performance, co-founding a vibrant musical residency across London named PEACH and releasing his fourth album in 2018. In this episode we move into the world of musical spaces and improvisation, exploring ‘political music’, creativity, empathy, and the responsibility placed on the image of an artist. (Find his work here: http://www.alabasterdeplume.com/)
When I asked about the works that inspire Alabaster, he chose the poems and lyrics of Vladimir Vysotsky. Vladimir was a Russian songwriter, poet and actor whose songs were famous across the Soviet Union for their political commentary and lyrical wit. Some of Vysotsky’s writings are listed below.
When you say to someone, ‘Thanks for existing’, you are saying to yourself, ‘if someone is wonderful just for being a human, so am I’. I like to ask people, ‘Have you been looking after yourself?
In episode three, I spoke with Julie Smith; an urban gardener and food enthusiast who manages the Skip Garden in Kings Cross (https://www.kingscross.co.uk/skip-garden). As part of the charity ‘Global Generation’, Julie is involved in a number of grassroots projects that focus on community outreach and collective food growing.
Food security is becoming a vital issue of the present and future. As climate instability ricochets through global supply chains, sprawling cities like London are increasingly taking up experiments in urban farming. Dietary trends and increasing controversy around meat eating have opened up further considerations in the debates around food; namely a focus on the real ecological and social cost of cheap and always accessible food products. Growing food has an intimate relationship with community empowerment and sovereignty, and as Julie illustrates, it is a collective act that allows us to pay attention to the fragile relations that sustain life.
When I asked which book has inspired her thinking and work, Julie recommended The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen.
reading list three: Julie Smith
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollen
The Energy Glut, The Politics of Fatness in an Overheating World, Ian Roberts
Sisters of the Soil: Urban Gardening as Resistance in Detroit, Monica White: |link|
How urban agriculture is transforming Detroit: |link| [TED talk]
In the second episode of the series, I spoke with Dr Paul Jepson, a conservationist and former director of the MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management at Oxford University. Paul now works as the Nature Recovery lead at Ecosulis Ltd, (http://www.ecosulis.co.uk/ ) an ecological consultancy based outside of Bath.
Rewilding has become a buzzword in conversations around conservation and progressive ecological thinking. Most fundamentally, the term sits in an emerging debate around how we value and use land, and ultimately at what ecological cost. Rewilding might be a contemporary movement in the UK, but its contention is caught up in a long history of land enclosure, agriculture and private ownership. As Paul illustrates, there is a huge amount of potential in reforming the way land is used at present, which could directly address issues like climate change and biodiversity loss. Outside of conservation debates, the imaginary of rewilding grows increasingly influential in discussions around art, language and politics.
This reading list was fascinating to compile, a combination of policy papers, debates and ideas that constitute present narratives around rewilding land. When I asked Paul which books have inspired him as a thinker, he responded with The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly and An Arid Eden by Garth Owen-Smith. See more of Paul’s writing on his website: http://www.pauljepson.com/
reading list 2: Paul Jepson
Recoverable Earth: a twenty-first century environmental narrative, Paul Jepson: |link|
Rewilding isn’t about nostalgia- exciting new worlds are possible, Paul Jepson: |link|
“New pastoralism”: a vision to revitalise our national parks, Paul Jepson: |link|
The first episode of the series is a conversation with the playwright, Skot Wilson. I encountered his play, ‘Kingdom, or the Anthropocene’ at Bristol Old Vic early this year; a play which is both prophetic and absurd, twisting together stories of rising sea levels, boxing kangaroos and a moment of recognition between a deep sea miner and a giant squid named Archie.
Skot works at the Natural History Museum, a place which constantly inspires his writing and curiosity. He is currently working on a play about deep sea mining, to be performed at VAULT theatre in 2020.
When I asked Skot to name a piece of writing that has influenced him most, he answered with Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. Skot and I have compiled a broad reading list for this episode about writing in the Anthropocene, ranging from contemporary plays engaged with human relationships to nature to a 2016 report on environmental risks of the future.