The Possibilities and Limits of Experimentation in the Anthropocene

Wed 2nd December 2020, 5-7pm GMT
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The Possibilities and Limits of Experimentation in the Anthropocene
Stephanie Wakefield (Life University)

This talk will draw on resilience ecology’s adaptive cycle to suggest that liberal societies have left the Anthropocene’s ‘front loop’ and entered its ‘back loop,’ a period of collapse, chaos, and reorientation, in which not only populations and climates are being dislocated but also physical and metaphysical grounds. Analyzing coastal urban resilience infrastructures, ‘entanglement’ critical theory, and a range of informal, everyday practices from survival skills to amphibious architecture, the talk will trace an analytical framework for understanding prominent modes of back loop response, highlighting how ‘experimentation’ has become a key methodology for diverse actors operating at distinct scales. These efforts often let go of past frameworks, hubristically experiment with new uses, allow the unknown, and confidently explore autonomous pathways. As such, they offer a politically compelling mode of Anthropocene practice and suggest that the back loop, long imagined in the singular, is opening onto myriad trajectories. As the century progresses, will emancipatory trajectories of experimentation take shape at a comparative scale and depth of power to those of the planet’s ruling classes? Will the epoch be marked by a widespread movement of peoples delinking from dehumanizing structures to create other, rich, unbounded territories, ones infrastructurally and subjectively capable of deciding how to live on their own terms (and is this possible or desirable)? Or will the oft-touted liberatory potential of the back loop be cut short by some of its own responses and conditions, such as critical theory’s anti-humanism, neoliberal innovation, or the extreme asymmetry between well-resourced governments’, designers’, and academic institutions’ capacity to experiment and explore potential transformation in the Anthropocene, and the ability of the poor and working class to do the same? Through what epistemological and practical tools can ordinary people outmaneuver these roadblocks to access the possibilities, not just the risks, of the back loop?

Stephanie Wakefield is an urban geographer whose work critically analyzes the environmental, social, and technical transformations of urban life in the age of climate change. She is currently Director and Assistant Professor of Human Ecology at Life University in Marietta, GA. Previously she was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Culture and Media at The New School and taught urban and environmental studies and planning for many years in the Department of Urban Studies and Environmental Studies Program at Queens College.She is the author of Anthropocene Back Loop: Experimentation in Unsafe Operating Space (Open Humanities Press) and co-editor of Resilience in the Anthropocene: Governance and Politics at the End of the World (Routledge), as well as numerous articles in academic and cultural journals including Political Geography, Geography Compass, Geoforum, Environment and Planning E: Nature and Place, and e-flux architecture. Drawing on research she conducted as an Urban Studies Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow based at Florida International University and co-lead of the NSF-funded Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research Project Human Dimensions Working Group, she is now finalizing a new book manuscript titled Urbanization in the Anthropocene, which critically analyzes experimental sea rise resilience infrastructures in Miami and traces an emergent Anthropocene spatial paradigm beyond both urban resilience and urbanization itself.