Workshop: Law and Politics in the Anthropocene, Birkbeck, 10 Dec 2018

Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities Workshop


10th DECEMBER 2018


Book Online Here

Many now claim that we have entered a new climatic regime (the Anthropocene) that marks a transition from the previous geological epoch (the Holocene), a period of 12,000 in which human civilisations emerged. The Anthropocene thesis contends that collective human action has become so potent that it is shaping the earth’s systemic functioning. In this way, the Anthropocene reveals a new ontology or mode of being-in-the-world in which human agency is intimately bound up with the functioning of the earth’s biogeochemical systems and cycles, situating human agency and our political formations within rather than set against the so-called ‘natural environment’. However, within most legal and political thought this ontology remains remarkably difficult to grasp. Throughout modernity legal and political forms have largely been understood to transcend any connection to the inorganic, the non-human or the environmental. The aspirations of human civilisation are commonly thought to depend on the postulation of an anthropogenic superiority in which a ‘natural condition’ (or ‘state of nature’) is overcome in the pursuit of a truly ‘political’ life. The prospect of human survival in this new epoch is bound up with a range of nonhuman forces that our political and legal thought has largely approached as an uninteresting backdrop against which human dramas are played out. In the relatively stable conditions of the Holocene this ‘backdrop ontology’ was perhaps understandable. But the Anthropocene tells us that the backdrop is beginning to move, the scenery and props have come to life. With a focus on questions of method, orientation and encounter, speakers will address the flowing concerns:

  • To what extent do the methodologies which have largely defined modernity – dialectics, historical materialism, genealogy and so on – continue to assists us in the context of the Anthropocene?
  • Towards what ought our thinking on this topic be both temporally and spatially orientated: an unjust past or an apocalyptic future; towards Europe or China; the global North or South?
  • What are the fields of law (environmental law, international law, corporate law) and politics (international relations, security studies, biopolitics) that need to be brought into conversation?
  • How can we nurture interdisciplinary literacy across the natural and social sciences, arts and humanities in order to address the challenges that the Anthropocene brings into view? 


  • Prof Alain Pottage (Department of Law, LSE)
  • Prof Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (School of Law, University of Westminster)
  • Dr Daniel Matthews (Faculty of Law, University of Kong Kong)
  • Dr Lilian Moncrieff (School of Law, University of Glasgow)
  • Prof Mark Maslin (Department of Geography, UCL)
  • Dr Nayanika Mathur (School of Anthropology, University of Oxford)
  • Dr Rory Rowan (Department of Geography, University of Zurich)
  • Dr Vito de Lucia (K.G. Jebsen Centre for the Law of the Sea, UiT Arctic University of Norway)


  1 comment for “Workshop: Law and Politics in the Anthropocene, Birkbeck, 10 Dec 2018

  1. Juan Auz
    21 November 2018 at 12:10 pm

    Hello, is it possible to live stream the event as there are many people from the Global South interested in these topics but unable to personally attend?

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