UCL Anthropology


CAOS Seminar Series: Climate Change as the 'end of the world'? Imagining Apocalypse

CAOS seminars will be held Tuesdays 4:30-6pm in South Wing G12 Council Room

Autumn 2017

17th October. Remember you are dust: imagining ruin

Dr Richard D.G. Irvine, The Open University

This paper explores the anticipation of ruin leaving its mark in time. Taking as my focus the varied ways that dust is used as a figure of catastrophism facing a coming sixth mass extinction, what I want to explore here are the social effects of such end-time thinking. On the one hand, I explore how prophecies of ruin can prevent humans from taking responsibility for our active role in environmental harm; indeed, how a fascination with ruin can even titillate with the fantasy of a world-without-us. Yet when dust is deployed as an image of this ruin, it is not inert. I consider the moral potency of dust as a polysemic substance through engagement with the work of the philosopher Eugene Thacker; the Papal encyclical Laudato Si'; and through contemporary Mongolian music.

31st October. Fragile Time: The Redemptive Force of the Urarina Apocalypse

Dr Harry Walker, London School of Economics and Political Science

Amazonian Urarina often speak of an imminent catastrophic collapse of the fragile climate that sustains life, albeit one that can be forestalled through appropriate forms of individual and collective action. Cold, rain and darkness are closely linked to the decline of forest animals and the spread of illness, leading eventually to the moment when the sky will fall, lightning will rain down, and the undead will roam the earth. This sense of gradual but accelerating decline is closely linked, I argue, to the phenomenal experience of a fluid, unstable and highly transformational environment in which decay is omnipresent. Yet the health of the land and of people also reflect the present state of the wider social and moral order; indeed for the Urarina, human life and human concerns were never decoupled from atmospheric, geologic and hydrologic processes. All are addressed simultaneously through Urarina shamanic ritual, which thus places a considerable burden of responsibility on human agency in delaying or mitigating an inexorable process of decline and loss. Helplessness in the face of the inevitable is thus tempered by a strong sense of the need for courage, wisdom and perseverance; apocalyptic discourse effectively provides people with the resources for moral engagement with the world. Weather and time are conceptually indistinct in Urarina cosmology, ultimately leading to a conception of weather-time as both an existential horizon of being and a form of the common good, a global commons that is continually and collectively produced through sustained human action.

14th November: Flood Narratives of the Hebrides: Some Spiritual Considerations of Climate Change

Dr Alastair MacIntosh, Glasgow University

The Outer Hebrides of Scotland are home to one of the most ancient indigenous set of traditions in Western Europe. A number of the legends pertain to inundation, relating both to post ice-age inundation and anticipated future inundation. There is a curious spiritual twist to some of these tales that speaks, perhaps, from out of the bardic tradition to our current day situation.

Alastair McIntosh is a visiting professor at Glasgow University and an honorary fellow in the School Divinity at the University of Edinburgh. In Hell and High Water: Climate Change, Hope and the Human Condition (Birlinn 2008), he explores climate change in myth and ancient philosophy, and in his most recent book, Poacher's Pilgrimage: an Island Journey (Birlinn 2016) he does likewise in the context of a pilgrimage through the Hebrides that opens out to what he calls "an ecology of the imagination."

Enquiries to Rosalyn Bold (r.bold@ucl.ac.uk