The meteoric rise of the Anthropocene as a device for thinking through the slow, ongoing ecological disasters that mark the current period speaks to a pervasive catastrophism within political and ecological praxis. The Anthropocene operates as a call to action: it describes a series of complex emergencies that require urgent response on unimaginable scales (Zalasiewicz et al. 2010). From the truncated timelines of climate change to the vastness of the Sixth Great Extinction (Kolbert 2014), the Anthropocene is an epoch of heroic activity.
The calls to ecological heroism—the injunction to recreate humanity as a global steward (Steffen et al. 2011) or the calls to engineer the earth (Lynas 2011)—have not gone uncontested. But whereas much of the current debate on the concept of the Anthropocene takes issue with the locus of human capacity for geological agency (Crist 2013; Haraway 2015), we question the call to action itself. If action here designates a project to “save the world,” or at the very least sustainably manage it, we contend that radical politics in the Anthropocene needs to turn to silence—what Adrienne Rich reminds us can be “a plan”—as an overlooked component of ethical-political thought. Indeed, we would suggest that the Anthropocene forces us to think silence, to work through the tensions it introduces into political life in the contemporary moment.
Cognizant of the indistinct nature of silence as a concept, we want to explore its constituent role as an element of political praxis. Specifically, if the political challenge of the Anthropocene is how to constitute the world among the ruins of the Holocene, silence suggests a means of breaking with the concept of the global environment as a unitary space of human species action and engendering a series of “other worlds” through the practice of commoning. Taking up a particular articulation of commoning that draws on the autonomist perspective associated with the US collective Midnight Notes and the UK based journal the Commoner (De Angelis 2010; Linebaugh 2008; Midnight Notes Collective 1992), as well as through feminist (Mies 2014; Federici 2004) and postcolonial critiques (Spivak 1988; Tuck and Yang 2012), we contend that various forms of silence, when put to the task of commoning, can offer a useful approach to making other worlds within the Anthropocene.
Kanngieser A and Beuret N 2017 Refusing the world: Silence, commoning, and the Anthropocene. South Atlantic Quarterly (Special Issue Autonomism and the Anthropocene) 116(2): 363-380.