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Ratifying the Anthropocene: a study of the Anthropocene working group’s ongoing effort to formalize the Anthropocene as a unit of the geologic time scale

Damianos, Alexander (2021) Ratifying the Anthropocene: a study of the Anthropocene working group’s ongoing effort to formalize the Anthropocene as a unit of the geologic time scale. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004351


This thesis provides an account of the ongoing effort to define the Anthropocene as a formal geological unit. Coined in 2000 by the atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, the term ‘Anthropocene’ has become symptomatic of a critical-theoretical zeitgeist: from a warning concerning the “deep time” effects of anthropogenic climate change, to an epistemological critique of the “human subject”. It is a theme that has taken on significance in critical legal theory as well. I respond to these debates, focusing on a component of the Anthropocene thematic that is often overlooked: the political, legislative, and historical dynamics of geology as a scientific discipline. Beginning in the seventeenth century, techniques such as fossil correlation and the relative ordering of earth’s material deposits have redefined understandings of scriptural authority, bringing geoscience to bear on the predominant existential reckonings of the day. Since 2008, the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG), a team of geologists, Earth System scientists, historians, and also including a lawyer, have been compiling a proposal to include an Anthropocene unit within the Geological Time Scale, the formal guide for the designation of time and space over 4.5 billion years of earth history. Folding contemporary concerns and events into transhistorical deep time, the AWG’s formalization effort can be seen as an attempt to advance novel strategies of geoscientific classification in a manner continuous with contemporary social anxieties. Engaging the formalisation effort as a legislative exercise, I provide a genealogical account of the evaluative procedures in which the formalization of an Anthropocene unit is situated, and engage participant observation of the AWG, tracking the controversies, negotiations, and procedures involved in their effort to ratify a new geological unit. Ultimately, I argue that the effort to define an Anthropocene unit unfolds as a process of refiguring the significance of geoscience in society.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2021 Alexander Damianos
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
K Law > K Law (General)
Q Science > QE Geology
Sets: Departments > Law
Supervisor: Pottage, Alain and Humphreys, Stephen

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