Annual lecture by Erik Swyngedouw


We are happy to announce that we have confirmed Erik Swyngedouw to give our annual lecture on Thursday 7 June from 16:00 – 17:30 at Leeuwenborch C64. Erik Swyngedouw is Professor of Geography at Manchester University. His research interests include urban political-ecology, hydro-social conflict, urban governance, democracy and political power, and the politics of globalisation. His was previously professor of geography at Oxford University and held the Vincent Wright Visiting Professorship at Science Po, Paris, 2014. He recently co-edited (with Nik Heynen and Maria Kaika) In the Nature of the City (Rotledge, and (with Japhy Willson) The Post-Political and its Discontents: Spectres of Radical Politics Today (Edinburg University Press, 2014) and is author of Social Power and the Urbanization of Nature (OP 2004) and Liquid Power (MIT 2015), a book that focuses on water and social power in 20th century Spain. His forthcoming books are Promises of the Political (MIT 2018) and, co-edited with H. Ernstson, Urban Political Ecology in the Anthropo-obscene (Routledge 2017)

Interrupting the Anthropo-Obscene: The De-politicized Politics of the Anthropocene as Immuno-biopolitical Fantasy

Erik Swyngedouw

In the presentation, we shall use ‘the Anthropocene’ to denote the proposed new geological era during which humans have arguably acquired planetary geo-physical agency, a term increasingly mobilized by both geologists and Earth Systems scholars. While recognizing a wide-ranging and often contentious debate (see e.g. Castree 2014a, 2014b, 2014c; Hamilton, Bonneuil and Gemenne 2015), we hold that the Anthropocene is a deeply depoliticizing notion that off-stages political possibilities. This off-staging unfolds, we contend, through the creation of what we refer to as ‘AnthropoScenes’, the mise-en-scene of a particular set of narratives that are by no means homogeneous, but which broadly share the effect of off-staging certain voices and forms of acting. Our notion of the Anthropo-obScene then, is our tactic to both attest to and undermine the performativity of the depoliticizing stories of ‘the Anthropocene’.

First, we examine how the AnthropoScenes can be viewed as a set of stages that have constructed and engaged the signifier ‘Anthropocene’. While internally fractured and heterogeneous — ranging from those promoting geo-engineering and Earth System science as an immunological prophylactic to our situation to interlocutors developing more-than-human and object oriented ontologies in search of a new politics — there is an uncanny effect of placing things and beings, human and non-human, within a particular relational straightjacket that does not allow for a remainder or constitutive outside. Second, building on post-foundational political thought, we shall articulate in theoretical terms what is being censored and rendered obscene, and how foregrounding this may hold possible paths toward re-politicization. We mobilize theoretical perspectives that have attempted to cut through the last decades of pervasive de-politicization. These views understand the political in terms of performance and, in an Arendtian manner, as constituted through a space of appearance, a performative public acting-in-common that politicizes subjects and spaces (Arendt 1958: 199). From this perspective, the political is understood as forms of acting subtracted from what is gestured to hold socio-ecological constellations together. In other words, the political is manifested in forms of excessive or supernumerary acting that exceeds the internal relational assemblage from which it emerges.



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