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A Genealogy of the Anthropocene: The End of Risk and Limits

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 March 2020

Pierre Charbonnier


This article aims to shed light on the emergence of the Anthropocene as a concept within the social sciences and philosophy. It frames this evolution in the wider context of a crisis of knowledge, confronted with the need to consider global climate change as both an empirical ground and an inescapable political horizon. The central hypothesis is that the organization of knowledge concerning the relationships between modernity and nature has undergone a profound shift over the last decade, necessitating a reconfiguration of the two main concepts on which this knowledge relied: risk and limits. To consider the present situation through the concept of the Anthropocene is to imply that the rationality of risk (i.e., the suspension of modern political autonomy) and the notion of a fundamental limit to material development can no longer be considered separately. In the final part of the article, this hypothesis makes it possible to discuss some aspects of our current epistemological configuration.

The Anthropocene
© Éditions EHESS 2019

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This article was translated from the French by Michael C. Behrent and edited by Robin Emlein and Chloe Morgan.


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62. Whereas the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 seemed to have brought this controversy to a conclusion, Donald Trump’s election to the White House proves that climate denial is far from having spent all its political effects. This event even revealed the catastrophic potential of denial, as an entire governmental structure is now driven by a determination to eliminate restrictions on CO2 emissions. See Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt.

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