Grounding in Theory

This week in ENVS 350 we mainly focused on refining our theory and framework paper outlines. A preliminary exercise for writing this was creating a map of the theories that are informing our research. I recently decided to change my research project, so at this point I am redoing aspects of my annotated bibliography, and reconstructing my framing questions, while still considering the theories I have researched so far that relate to my new topic. 

As environmental art is experiencing time in the spotlight of the art world, many artists have taken up the idea of the Anthropocene in their work. Some artists engage with the Anthropocene in rich, critical ways, predominantly positioning all that the Anthropocene does to erase racism, mass incarceration, the responsibility of capitalism and industrialization in environmental issues, and other violent power structures as well as scientists and geologist’s arguments about the importance of officially establishing it. Others work with a simpler, reductionist view of the Anthropocene. Artists and scholars who are engaging in this discussion of the Anthropocene have proposed a proliferation of alternative names for current epoch, from the better known Capitolocene, Cthulhuene, and Plantationocene, to the polycene, roughly understood as the epoch of many names. Each claim to include the central force of this new epoch. 

I know I want to write about this topic but I am not sure exactly how. I previously proposed using art as a visual resource for assessing various proposed “-cenes” and the worlds they suggest. Another valuable way I could take this work is to consider how I might assess the rich vs. reductionist ways that artists and scholars consider the Anthropocene and is various argued modes of erasure.

*Update: A few days after writing this update post my insightful friend Poppy (who is writing her grad thesis on very similar themes) sat down and helped me work through my ideas so far. She proposed that to bring a discussion of reductionism vs. richness back to theory, I reference queer theory as discipline with which to look at how artists and scholars are “queering” the anthropocene. As Nicole Seymore mentions in her excerpt on queer ecology in Companion to Environmental Studies, queer theory and ecology is begining to be used as a mode of “grappling with our messy reality, in which environmetnal destruction is already here.” I plant to consider how in queering the anthropocene, artists and scholars are attempting to remedy various ways that the Anthropocene erases historical narratives of power and destruction. I will go into details of my new proposed theoretical framework in future posts. 

1 Comment

  1. Sophie, this sounds so cool! I absolutely love the direction you’re going, and queer theory is one good way to help understand ‘richness’ in theoretical terms.

    One thing I’m thinking of, that would help me think through artistic responses to various versions of the anthropocene, is including analysis of artists/work not just that is radically queering but that is sort of maintaining fetishized nature, or working with materials in a way that seeks more ‘naturalness’…..I am thinking of a friend, Scott Sutton, online as

    But then I’m actually thinking of another friend whose work “church of earth” blatantly brings a spirituality to earth that fits with old Nature, but her aesthetic deals mostly with reclaimed/trashed materials.

    Neither of these folks seem to be responding explicitly to one of the -cene era discussions, so maybe you will limit your analysis to artists explicitly stating their engagement with those terms.

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