Denis Byrne and Paul James

The Anthropocene is a phenomenon which has taken up residence in our minds and our research practices. Some might argue for variations in naming the phenomenon — the Capitalocene,[1] the Chthulucene,[2] and so on — but the process through which humans have come fundamentally to impact the planet is now too well documented and measured to be dismissed. The concept of the ‘Anthropocene’ entered the purview of researchers in the Institute for Culture and Society by way of a cultural shock. We, along with many others, have been forced to recognise that many environmental ‘systems’ are no longer independent of human social action.[3] We find, for example, that the carbon emitted by everyday activities, which are intrinsic the complex lives of so many of us, have contributed to changing the world’s climate. Now, even our simplest activities, once avidly pursued with all their unintended ecological consequences, are revealed to have a ‘carbon footprint’.

The reality of the Anthropocene cuts the ground cleanly out from under the doctrine of Progress, the ideology which underpinned the industrializing West’s esteem and confidence, as well as serving to excuse industrial capitalism’s negatives, including environmental pollution and workplace death and injury.[4] Recognising the passing of Progress, we structure this essay around an alternative conception of human history over the last few centuries as a kind of dance, or what one might call the ‘Anthropocene shuffle.’ This essay represents the coming together of two perspectives on the contemporary global environmental crisis — those of archaeology (Denis) and of social theory (Paul).

Four Steps Back and One Step Forward

As a research institute focused on finding better ways of living in a rapidly changing world, we find it no longer possible to study ‘the social’ independent of ‘the environmental’. But if the environment or nature can no longer be thought of as just a background to or setting for the social, and if it is accepted that the human-social permeates the earth system, equally — and this has also come as a shock — we must now contend with the realization that earth’s many ‘sub-systems’, which we were brought up to see as being all around us, are actually also inside us as biosocial beings. The environment is no longer just out there. To be sure, the environment continues to be the integrative space in which we exist, but thinking in this double way — as both context and constitutive being — requires basic changes to our research vocabulary, thinking and practice.

This is why we have chosen, following its Greek etymological roots, to define ‘ecology’ as a domain of the social — along with economics, politics and culture. It is the domain that concerns the materiality of the intersection of the social and the environmental, just as culture concerns the meaning of social relations, including the relations of that intersection. The environment in this sense comes to be understood as that which both grounds our existence (in every way) and exists far beyond even the most expansive definitions of the social or the ecological. This means that it no longer even makes sense, except in very well-defined circumstances, to talk of the ‘more-than-human’ to describe the environment. We can no longer be comfortable with treating the human as the point of departure for all beings and things, as if they are only ‘more-than’ us.[5] At same time, any suggestion that becoming post-human is a viable politics, ignores the contradictions entailed in leaving behind what constituted us as humans across the natural/social history of our being.

Hence, in our research thinking, there is first the need for taking a few steps backward from the mainstream (modern) centring of the human and also from the fashionable (postmodern) flattening of ontological difference into a single plane of being. Full recognition of the complexities and contradictions of the Anthropocene would force this upon us.

Backward Step 1. Recognize that non-human being is constitutively enmeshed in human being — but not as an ontological flattening of the human and natural.

‘Social space was never exclusively human’, as Timothy Morton puts it.[6] But this doesn’t just mean we share this space with nonhumans or that we relate to nonhumans within social space; it means also that nonhumans are present in the space of our bodies in old and new ways. We have long known we embody nonhumans in the form of bacteria and we now know there are around ten times the number of microbial cells in the human body as there are human cells. But in addition to this old ecological enmeshment with nonhumans, we have produced the elements of new kinds of enmeshment. For example, over the 240 years since we have been burning serious amounts of coal for industrial production and power generation, millions of us have breathed in significant volumes of fine particles released by this burning. It is partly with this in mind that Kathryn Yusoff proposes that we rethink the Anthropocene as being characterised by a ‘corporeal geology of/in the blood, rather than a universal stratigraphic trace in some future geologic record’.[7] The chemicals in makeup and other skin products, for example, constitute one ecology of this embodiment, becoming part of who we are even as we present the surface of ourselves through them.

The so-called ‘material turn’ in the humanities and social sciences has led us beyond conceding agency to materials such as iron ore, alloys such as aluminium and glass, and complex objects like phones and houses, to an understanding ‘nonhumans’ (noting that the concept of ‘nonhuman’ needs to be used judiciously) as having a vibrancy and integrity of their own. This amounts to a retreat from the generalized modern idea in the West that humans have a monopoly on these qualities,[8] but it also opens the way to new kinds of problems of understanding and attribution. Just as the prior materialism of Marxism was criticised for sometimes entertaining the sin of technological determinism, the new materialism is in danger of both over-generalizing the agency of things, technologies and objects, while excusing us humans as dominant actors on planet earth. If everything is an actor in the same way as human beings, then coal and concrete must be as culpable for climate change as the humans whose life-worlds were built upon these materials, … and, more pointedly, the humans who continue to advocate for these materials when their massive use has been shown to compromise the sustainability of the planet.

Why is it, as political paeans to the beauty of coal are sung by political advocates across the world, avant garde social theory has turned in the same direction? The flat ontology of Actor Network theory, for example, provides a non-hierarchical view of human-nonhuman relations, but ANT’s conception of objects as mediating relations between humans has opened it to the critique of being underwritten by an anthropocentricism in which things are primarily of interest to us when seen to be involved in human projects. Here an assiduous critique of anthropocentrism can be distinguished from the recognition of our mixed poetic tendency towards anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is sometimes good poetics, and sometimes, in attributing human-like capacities to others, turns into a bad re-centring of those human capacities as describing the way of all things. Does coal act? Yes, but not with intention, feeling or subjective agency. Through continuing anthropocentrism, things are too often enrolled or domesticated as quasi-humans, so disguising their ‘thingly otherness’.[9] Things, objects and unknown beings clearly exceed their relations with humans. As Graham Harman points out, ‘the vast majority of relations in the universe do not involve human beings, those obscure inhabitants of an average-sized planet near a middling sun, one of 100 billion stars near the fringe of an undistinguished galaxy among at least 100 billion others.’[10] This means that we while we need to recognize that non-human being is constitutively enmeshed in human being (Backward Step 1), it is equally important that in the process of that recognition we do not to flatten the ontological meaning of either the human or the natural.

The tendency we have to ‘socialize’ nonhumans and give them dubious anthropomorphized agency is understandable given the enormous number of objects that have been tailored for human use, the number of species whose bodies and lives have been changed by us, and the number of rivers, coastlines, forests, swamps, soils and airs that show unmistakable signs of our impact. It is this that the Anthropocene has been named for but, equally, our susceptibility to being deafened by our own noise and hence to be unable to imagine a world without us is a real obstacle to of our mobilizing against the reproduction of Anthropocenic relations.

In all of this we are pointing to the extent to which it has become increasing difficult to practice humanities and social science research within the space formerly understood as social space or (more narrowly) human space, without rethinking what it means to talk of ‘the social’ and what it means to be ‘human’.

Backward Step 2. Excavate carefully and then learn from the negative debris of the Anthropocene.

There was only a relatively small interval in time between the idea of geological strata being introduced through the work of scientists like Georges Cuvier and James Lyell — a bit over 200 years — and the 1950s when we began laying down to lay down the elements of what would qualify as our own geological strata.[11] Archaeologists are classically thought of as excavating remains of the human past buried in the earth, but as the Anthropocene strata takes shape as a layer accumulating on the earth’s surface, some are turning to interrogate this layer as an archaeological object in its own right.[12] A mass of textual, audio, visual and other records testify to Earth’s history in the period since the early 1950s, but there is an argument to be made that — in addition to these sources — we should allow the objects of the Anthropocene to signify themselves. Objects do play active roles in history. Objects do ‘speak’ (if we understand the term ‘speak’ to be only a poetic expression of a thingly acting we do not have the words for). The plastic water bottle, for example, has material potentialities that have proven to be highly significant in the commodification of drinking water.[13] It speaks to the profound effects of the simple everyday activity of sipping as degrading nature as we have known it.

The word ‘interrogate’ used above is actually not a well-chosen word for archaeology’s full relationship with things. As a practice, it engages in  a peculiar form of ‘care, obligation, and loyalty to things’.[14] A certain intimacy with objects builds up over the many hours spent uncovering, handling, gazing at, and wondering about them. This practice of care gestures to a kind of ‘engaged research’[15] where the engagement extends to things as well as humans. It extends also to caring for nonhuman species and their habitats, to the soil, the sea and the air.

On a drift beach in northern Norway, the archaeologist Þóra Pétursdóttir has recently excavated parts of a deposit of wrack, which she describes as ‘matter in motion’.[16] She understands the fragments of driftwood, plastic bottles, synthetic rope and netting, net floats, and a variety of other plastic objects (now tangled up with kelp and seaweed and with beach pebbles and sand) as having ‘escaped human relations’ to drift across the sea until coming to dwell in the circulating surface waters of the North Atlantic Current, and to eventually be deposited by storms and tides in Eidsbukta Cove. The plastic things in the wrack are ‘unruly’ objects: we made them but they are by no means domesticated, subjugated, or predictable.[17] The refusal of plastics to biodegrade — they break up into small and smaller pieces but their molecules remain intact — ensures that they are on their way to becoming part of the geology of the Anthropocene. It is the very persistence of such objects, and the hyper-objects they coalesce into, that underpins this era.

It is because so much human waste does persist after being discarded, and that it persists in a dynamic state of accumulation, that it poses such a threat to us and other living beings. In Pétursdóttir’s archaeology these waste objects are regarded neither negatively nor positively. How can they be negative? After all, it is not they that have precipitated the Anthropocene; we have. This care-full troweling away at the material record of the recent past provides for an archaeology of both us and dark matter that has left the ambit of our direct agency. It is not an archaeology of our prehistoric, classical, or early modern predecessors, but of the ‘we’ who are the enactors and inheritors of the Great Acceleration.[18] In these terms, it is possible to recognize these rubbish gyres as positive in their negativity — they are material signs (positive in the sense that they communicate a new reality) of our own excess (negative in the sense that we are now dangerously exceeding the of limits of the planet). In other words, the social relations concerning these objects are negative, and we still need to do something about those relations.

Backward Step 3. Afford processes that we once saw as positive their full complex Anthropocenic negativity, and remember that such processes can change the prior condition of nature.

As the world comes to accept that we do live in the period of the Anthropocene, old concepts and new are being reworked or revived to mask the continuation of destructive human practices that are not sustainable. Even perfectly good concepts such as sustainability and resilience are being co-opted. The concept of ‘reclamation’, for example, has in the past been seen as a positive act, and it continues to be so for those living in the ‘progressive’ present: from developers talking of reclaiming swamp lands to oil-sand miners treating land reclamation as a form of custodial responsibility.[19] Coastal reclamations are a telling example. Notwithstanding the new (and shocking) move to describe coastal reclamation as a means of responding to climate change,[20] coastal reclamation is an exemplar of the ‘artificial earth’ of the Anthropocene which arises when coastal waters are in-filled in order to extend humanity’s terrestrial habitat seawards. There is an over-reaching conceit in the word ‘reclamation’ and its presumption that the seascape we claim back is already incipiently landscape for human habitation.[21]

In the current era of anthropogenic sea-level rise, you’d think we would be too busy defending what land we have to contemplate extending further into the sea. But globally the rate of coastal reclamation is increasing rather than abating. In China, for example, where almost half the country’s coastal wetlands were lost to reclamation between 1950 and 2000 and where 11,000 kilometres of coastline is now under some form of reclamation, major new reclamations are either under way or on the drawing board, providing space for container ports, urban expansion, theme parks and fish farms.[22]

Once reclamations have been in place for a certain amount of time, they often assume the attribute of being hard to see, something which is especially true of those created for agriculture, parkland, and housing estates. Through the work of bacteria and earthworms, the infill of the reclamation may soon become a living soil, supporting trees and other plants. The reclamation’s surface assumes a beguiling naturalness — and indeed in some ways it is natural (this is the complexity of emeshment that we pointed to earlier). However, the exact location of the boundary line where the reclamation was sutured to the natural landscape quickly becomes blurred in our memories, and the human once again makes over the natural. Familiarity in this case breeds not contempt but a kind of topographic forgetfulness, which we can arguably no longer afford. In order to ensure the Anthropocene is as short/thin as possible,[23] one of the things we need is topographic remembrance. Engaged research can contribute to keeping this past-present relation to the fore.

More than that, coastal reclamations are not so much about creating new land as creating a certain kind of land: abstracted flat land.[24] Our first large-scale efforts at levelling were to do with agriculture: hill slopes terraced to create flat fields for crops. (This is why the Anthropocene is sometimes called the Plantationocene). The flatlands of river deltas became premium habitats for agriculture. In areas where rivers carried large volumes of sediment downstream, much of it to be deposited to form delta mudflats, people constructed bunds to encourage tidal waters to drop their sediment load, sediment which gradually accumulated to form cultivable fields. This way of mimicking natural processes in order to ‘grow’ land began in China’s Pearl River Delta began around 1,400 years ago, became more common in the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279 AD) and greatly intensified from the 1740s.[25] Over time, new agricultural reclamations were added to the outer edge of older ones to create lateral bands of flat land, extending in a ripple effect out from the original coastline. These patterns show up clearly on the satellite imagery available on Google Earth and Baidu Map. What changed in the Pearl River Delta with the economic reform era, beginning in the late 1970s after the death of Mao, was that — with the aid of earth-moving machinery — a new kind of ‘reclamation’ appeared. It was one created by transporting, often over considerable distances, sand, urban waste, concrete from demolished buildings, and rock from highway cuttings. One of the hallmarks of the Anthropocene is a greatly enhanced human ability to move materials through space, and a great deal of this movement occurs in the context of creating new flatlands as platforms for human living.

The spread of coastal reclamations is not currently one of the series of global indicators being used to demonstrate that human activity has become the prime driver of change in the Earth system  (the sum of the planet’s interacting physical, chemical, biological and human processes).[26] But it has in common with such indicators as water-use, large dam construction, and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the fact that what has changed dramatically from around the 1950s is the accelerating scale of human impact.[27]

Backward Step 4. Recognize that the Anthropocene involves not just an empirical acceleration of impact, but also a qualitative change — in this case, the emergent possibility of reconstituting the nature of nature.

The concept of ‘the Great Acceleration’, for all of its strengths, remains a set of empirical measures concerning human impact. This signals the current dominance of scientific object-oriented thinking. However, as is perhaps more obvious to humanities and social science researchers — perhaps less so in the sciences — this impact can be understood both quantitatively and qualitatively. From the time in the early 2000s when the term first took off, the definition of the Anthropocene became the period in which humans have had a defined scientifically measureable quantitative impact upon the planet. To understand the full measure of this impact, however, we need to take a step back to an older form of qualitative studies — cultural and political studies before the flattening of theory — which could talk of thresholds of change and dialectics of continuity.

The Anthropocene is said to have begun in the eighteenth century, tout court. What this epochal and flat historicising misses completely is the way in which humans across the past half-century or so have gone beyond just having an impact upon geo-nature. Certainly, we continue with our determined empirical impact, exploring the farthest reaches of nature, pushing it around with bulldozers, ripping it into trucks, dropping it into the ocean to ‘reclaim’ more coastlines, ploughing long lines through it, burning it for energy, and gently contouring it for parks and gardens. But now, and conterminously, something more than that is happening.

We talked earlier of the human technique of mimicking nature or reconstructing the contours of nature. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the speed of human colonization of the Earth certainly increased very rapidly, and continues today, through the ‘settlement’ of nature as territory and the colonization of indigenous populations. However, beyond that, we are now seeing a reconstitution of the foundations of prior nature. Since the middle of the twentieth century, techno-science has been busy reconstituting the very building blocks of nature: atoms, cells, genes, and so. Other building blocks which were missing or only incipiently part of the scientific lexicon in the mid-twentieth century — quarks, the higgs boson, genes, ripples in space/time, nucleotides and chromosomes — are now being interrogated for what they can offer human desires. (Here, interrogated is the right word.) What came to public consciousness with the splitting of the atom in 1945, intervention in the nature of nature, has now extended to everything, from nano-technology production, bio-engineering, stem cell therapy, and DNA manipulation to geo-engineering and terra-forming. Over the past few decades, humans have begun meta-colonizing the planet — sometimes just to understand it better, sometimes in order to save it, but most often in order to exploit it a higher level of intensity.

A certain kind of science is central to this process — technoscience. Without cultural studies, sociology and social theory — the humanities and social sciences — we cannot understand how this kind of science is different from earlier pure and applied science that worked with nature. A proponent of a flat ontology will ask: Is not gene manipulation just an empirical extension of brushing pollen from one variety of wheat onto another variety to produce more ‘robust’ hybrids? Have humans not talked of atoms since the time of the Classical Greeks and the writings of ‘Leucippus’ and Democritus?

What then has changed in a qualitative sense? In short, some lineages of science now seek to control the nature of nature, to manipulate what once were called its ‘building blocks’ and to intervene in its systemic processes. Through this seeking, humans now have the capacity with the touch of a single button to destroy life on this planet as we know it (since 1952, with the phenomenon of nuclear winter) and the technical possibility of creating synthetic life-forms — since 2010, with the chemical construction of a Mycoplasma mycoides bacteria. As it was reported, at the time the emphasis was on scientific breakthrough and human control as good thing:

Craig Venter, the pioneering US geneticist behind the experiment, said the achievement heralds the dawn of a new era in which new life is made to benefit humanity, starting with bacteria that churn out biofuels, soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and even manufacture vaccines.[28]

There it is again — the idea that in going further, deeper, into the business of changing nature we will save us from ourselves. To the contrary, it is only by recognizing the full force of the point that we have the capacity to reconstitute the very basis of nature that adequate understanding of the social life in the Anthropocene starts to hit home. Our home, planet earth, is in deep trouble, and it only by researching the tensions of this Anthropocentic entanglement and contributing to thinking about living otherwise, that we will have the capacity to respond systematically. Making new life-forms with four bottles of chemicals is not going to save us. Overall our argument is that by taking these ‘backward’ steps in thinking we can move to a positive ethics of care. Such an ethics is one that neither confuses empathy for objects with decentring the massive human impact upon the Earth, nor confuses increased ‘control’ over nature with the act of living within the limits of the planet.

Forward Step 1. Develop an Anthropocenic Perspective

There are many ways of researching how humans have colonized planet Earth. The concept of the archaeosphere is one useful way of drawing attention to the fact that vast areas of the Earth are now covered by the modified soils and terraced hillslopes of agriculture, the concrete and asphalt paving of roads, airports and container ports, the underground infrastructure of tunnels, pipes and wiring below our cities, the burgeoning landfill sites, and reclamations which extend coastlines out into the sea.[29] This archaeosphere is a layer of varying thickness expanding at an accelerating rate, to the point that we have now become a geological agent, something which becomes starkly apparent in areas such as Japan’s main island of Honshu where sixty per cent of the coastline is now classified as ‘artificial’, which is to say that for the most part it is concrete. Honshu has swapped much of its pre-existing coastline of beaches, dune fields and wetlands and for an ocean of concrete that forms a platform for the enactment of contemporary life — forklifts drive over it, kids bounce balls on it — but it is also a fossil-in-waiting, destined to be preserved in the geological record.

Most of Honshu’s concrete dates from the time of Japan’s post-war ‘economic miracle’, beginning in the mid-1950s, and it is representative of a surge in the creation of concrete surfaces (platforms) that began at that time in many parts of the world and has gathered pace ever since. As an Anthropocene marker, this is much easier for most people to grasp than the plutonium traces which fell to earth following nuclear testing in the 1950s and which are now widely agreed to constitute the best marker for dating the beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch – in other words, for dating its lower bounding surface.[30] However, as humanities and social science scholars we need to study a much fuller complexity — material layers, natural and human continuities, and constitutive changes

The ability of people to grasp the Anthropocene as a material reality seems a crucial prerequisite for any widespread popular mobilisation against the dark future which the Anthropocene portends. The Anthropocene has, of course, a tangible presence in the effects of global warming: the increasing frequency of heatwaves and superstorms, global ice-melt, and sea-level rise. Some of these are as graspable as signs of a long-term problem for the Earth as is the spread of the archaeosphere. But the archaeosphere has qualities of its own which lend it advantage in the quest to make the Anthropocene visible. To begin with, it is right under our feet: the park lawns where we walk our dogs, the metro tunnels through which we ride to work. By the same token, however, the everydayness of this artificial-natural ground can make it hard to see for what it is — a vast and spreading weed-mat that makes life impossible for most of our fellow species. Moreover, we need to research the non-palpable processes and structures that both continue to legitimize and take further the colonization of nature.

A challenge for those working in the social sciences and humanities is thus to find new ways of lending visibility to the Anthropocene, in all its dimensions. What is needed is an Anthropocenic perspective tailored for everyday life. Academics in the social sciences and humanities are central to such a venture, using the sensitive methods that they have developed for simultaneously engaging with and stepping back from everyday life. This may prove essential for the perspective advocated here, providing a view of the world that is at once familiar and strange. In order to be able to see the Anthropocene what may be needed is that of jolt to the senses and intellect whereby the other side of the ordinary snaps into focus.

The archaeosphere, other than being under the feet of most of the time, also has an historical depth and spread that offers us one window on where the Anthropocene came from. Present-day carbon emissions have their feet in the Industrial Revolution; the current proliferation of plastic begins with early twentieth-century celluloid products designed to imitate natural materials such as ivory, tortoise shell and horn[31]; freeways have a history in the nineteenth-century macadam road construction process, traces of which are easy to find in present-day cities. Seeing the history of the Anthropocene in today’s materiality is an exercise in futuring as much as in historicising. It is one of the practices (whether academic or everyday) that equip us be agents of interpretative change. The idea of an Anthropocene perspective, a way of seeing the Anthropocene as distinct from (but not instead of) naming it, goes back to the earlier point about caring. We shouldn’t turn our backs on the material world we have made, however dystopic it might at times seem. By the same token, the new material turn should not distract us from simultaneously seeking to understand the kinds of sociality that frame the current crisis.

Original article in ICS report here:

Denis Byrne:

Paul James:

[1] J. Moore, 2015, Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital, Verso, London.

[2] D. Haraway, 2016, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Duke University Press, Durham.

[3] Here we use the concepts of ‘system’ and ‘sub-system’ advisedly as simplifying scientific metaphors for manifold processes too complex to name other than as a series of abstractions. This does not make the use of the terms illegimate. It makes them a heuristically useful so long as as they are not reified as things in themselves.

[4] C. Bonneuil and J-B Fressoz, 2016, The Shock of the Anthropocene, Verso, London.

[5] This of course was not how it was intended by the person who coined the term: D. Abram, 1996, The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World, Pantheon Books, New York.

[6] T. Morton, Humankind: Solidarity with Nonhuman People, Verso, London, p. 139.

[7] K. Yusoff, 2018. ‘Epochal Aesthetics: Affectual Infrastructures of the Anthropocene’, e-flux 29 March, p. 204.

[8] And in our modern hubris it should not be forgotten that customary and traditional peoples long lived with animate matter, understood along different ontological valences from the analogical to the cosmological.

[9] G. Harman, 2016, Immaterialism: Objects and Social Theory, Cambridge, Polity Press; B. Olsen, 2013, ‘The Return to What?’, in A. González-Ruibal (ed.), Reclaiming Archaeology: Beyond the Tropes of Modernity, London, Routledge, p. 293.

[10] Harman, Immaterialism, p. 6.

[11] The base horizon of this strata is marked by deposits of plutonium from nuclear testing in the 1950s and the presence of an altered carbon chemistry, these being identified in core samples at a steadily increasing number of globally distributed sites (Davis and Todd 2017; Waters et al. 2017). Other markers include traces on/in the ground of mass extinction, waste from petrochemical products including plastic, and the spread of artificial earth.

[12] M. Edgeworth, 2014, ‘Archaeology in the Anthropocene: Introduction’, Journal of Contemporary Archaeology vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 73–7; J.M. Erlandson and T.J. Braje, 2013, ‘Archaeology and the Anthropocene’, Anthropocene no. 4, pp. 1–7. P. Pétursdóttir, 2017. ‘Climate Change? Archaeology and the Anthropocene’, Archaeological Dialogues, vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 175–205.

[13] G. Hawkins, E. Potter and K. Race, 2015, Plastic Water: The Social and Material Life of Bottled Water. Cambridge, MIT Press, pp. 4–5.

[14] B. Olsen, 2012, Archaeology: The Discipline of Things, Berkeley, University of California Press, p. 1.

[15] P. James, 2015, ‘Engaged research’, in H. Barcham (ed.), Institute for Culture and Society: 2014 Annual Review, University of Western Sydney, Penrith.

[16] Pétursdóttir, ‘Climate Change?’, p. 190.

[17] On the unruliness of things see B. Olsen, ‘The return of what?’ in A. Gonzalez Ruibal (ed), Reclaiming Archaeology: Beyond the Tropes of Modernity, pp. 289-296. London: Routledge, here p. 295..

[18] W. Steffen, W. Broadgate, L. Deutsch, O. Gaffney and C. Ludwig, 2015. ‘The Trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration’, The Anthropocene Review vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 81–98.

[19] See (last accessed 4 April 2018) for Suncorp’s description of reclamation.


(last accessed 4 April 2018).

[21] D. Byrne, 2017. ‘Remembering the Elizabeth Bay Reclamation and the Holocene Sunset in Sydney Harbour’, Environmental Humanities, vol. 9, no. 1., pp. 40–59.

[22] Zhijun Ma, D.S. Melville, Jianguo Liu, Hongyan Yang, Wenwei Ren, Zhengwang Zhang, T. Piersma and Bo Li, 2014, ‘Rethinking China’s New Great Wall’, Science, vo.346, no. 6212, pp. 912–14.

[23] Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, p. 100.

[24] On the abstraction of land see J.C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition have Failed, Newhaven, Yale University Press

[25] Wei Zhang, Yang Xu, A.J.F. Hoitink, M.G. Sassi, Jinhai Zheng, Xiaowen Chen and Chi Zhang, 2015, ‘Morphological Change in the Pearl River Delta, China’, Marine Geology no. 363, pp. 202–19.

[26] Steffen, et al., ‘The Trajectory of the Anthropocene:

[27] International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, The Great Acceleration. 2015.

[28] The Guardian,

[29] M. Edgeworth, 2016, ‘Grounded Objects: Archaeology and Speculative Realism’, Archaeological Dialogues, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 93–113.

[30] C.N. Waters, J. Zalasiewicz, C. Summerhays, I.J. Fairchild, N.L. Rose, N.J. Loader… Matt Edgeworth. 2017. ‘Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) of the Anthropocene Series: Where and How to Look for Potential Candidates’, Earth-Science Reviews no. 178, pp. 379–429.

[31] J. Meikle, 1995, American Plastic: A Cultural History, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick.

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