Tag Archives: climate change

Romanticism, Then and Now, Now and Then

The Romantic world was a time of revolution, protest, politics – and climate change. With the release of his fascinating new book, Romantic Revelations author Chris Washington shares how, two-hundred years later, the focus remains anthropocentric.


The Romantic world I explore in Romantic Revelations was a time of climate change, particularly exemplified by 1816, “the year without a summer,” in which the Shelleys and Byron hunkered down in a chateau reading ghost stories and failing to write them. Well, except Mary of course who completed Frankenstein. It was also a time of revolution and protest although that was not the focus of my book. But a few recent developments with global implications for climate change seem to me to resonate with Romanticism as a mode of thinking in, with, and against the Anthropocene.

On October 31, 2018, a thousand plus members of the Extinction Rebellion collective assembled in London at Parliament Square to protest government inaction on climate change. Over the course of the next several weeks, dozens of arrests were made at multiple Extinction Rebellion stagings of civil disobedience.

And yet, for all the good climate change protests like Extinction Rebellion arguably do in continuing to bring attention to this urgent issue and to pressure governments to take action, stated aims and goals of such protests very often fail to include nonhumans as subjects of attention, care, preservation, and life. The focus remains anthropocentric: how do we save the human species from the result of its own self-death-dealing, from the destruction of the natural world that they have in fact destroyed? A certain species-wide narcissism seems to persist. We must save ourselves at all costs.

Consider then a new study of climate change that might temporally locate the Anthropocene elsewhen. Scientists at the University of Cambridge have shown how the genocidal settler colonialism of the Americas killed around 90% of the Indigenous population – 56 million people – and that Indigenous genocide produced other catastrophic results, including the drastic cooling of the earth’s climate that may be the inauguration of what we think of as contemporary climate change. Their study reminds us that not only may the history of the Anthropocene be different than we think but that we tend to think of climate change as the extinction of “we” humans as a collective, but it is also of course deeply linked to colonization, racism, sexism, ethnocentricism, and speciesism, affecting non-white euro-populations more drastically than “we” often take into account. And as another recent study finds, humans have killed off 60% of different animal populations in the last 50 years.

Romantic Revelations does not directly address either Extinction Rebellion (which occurred after its writing) or the genocide of Indigenous peoples. However, the book does speak to such events.

Romanticism offers a radical hospitality, a kind of ethos perhaps, that we desperately need to adjust to and attempt to survive in the Anthropocene. This hospitality demonstrates a need not for a politics based on democratic equality, but rather for a new type of social living arrangement that affords equality to all humans and nonhumans on the basis of difference. To put it in terms of the ongoing climate change protest movements of today, Romanticism resists calls for a universalized humanity. It asks us instead to recognize differences amongst humans and to accept those differences in an intersectional fashion that invites others in precisely because of difference, precisely because difference should be celebrated. The radical hospitality of Romanticism seeks to multiply difference rather than cling to the dangerous belief in this thing called a “human.”

Mary Shelley’s second novel, The Last Man (1826), opens onto similar problems of extinction and climate change. In the book, straggles of leftover humans sludge through a world devastated by plague and pestilence. While the novel appears to aggressively inhabit and propose a kind of nihilism, I find such texts to be hopeful. Because it is only when all hope is lost, when there is no hope, that hope can emerge – that, after all, is the nature of hope. Post-apocalyptic Romanticism, in other words, is ultimately about happy endings. Or so it is if we heed the call of hospitality, especially towards those nonhumans who we overlook in our narcissism-fueled climate discussions and everyday practices of full-throttle capitalistic consumption. Given that these same practices are what created the crisis in the first place, it appears that our rapacious eating of animals, say, needs to stop. It may well be, even, that the only way to save ourselves is to save those who cannot save themselves.

Hospitality of this Romantic sort is also, then, a kind of love towards the other, a love that can extend to collectives or to interpersonal relationships. Consider, for instance, this nonhuman vignette. Two insects from 54 million years ago found preserved in amber, preserved in an embrace, a final act of loving and love, a preservation, perhaps, of their love? Except we don’t know whether they are in love. Maybe to assume so is to anthropomorphize them. We don’t know anything about them other than that they are suspended in an act of reproduction that does not reproduce. Perhaps this amber tableau offers a metaphor for humans as well. While we may think we are reproducing a human species for the future the truth is there may be no future for humans. It would seem a wise reminder that we should love each other now, while we can, before our fate is sealed in amber.


Chris Washington is Assistant Professor of English at Francis Marion University, and the author of Romantic Revelations: Visions of Post-Apocalyptic Life and Hope in the Anthropocene.

The Right Side of History: The Political Urgency Needed in Addressing Climate Change

Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance, and Justice, Second Edition, written by Peter Stoett with Shane Mulligan, is a comprehensive and accessibly written introduction to the policymakers and the structuring bodies involved in creating global environmental policies. The book provides a panoramic view of the issues, agents, and structures that make up the fabric of global environmental governance.

In this post, author Peter Stoett writes about his time spent at the Planetary Security Conference in the Netherlands at the beginning of the year and why these conferences reflect the political urgency currently attached to climate change.


Back in February, I attended the 4th Hague Planetary Security Conference in the Netherlands, where over 350 international experts, practitioners, military and government representatives gathered to discuss the threats posed to the world by climate change and other threats to planetary ecology. Mixing all these people together would have been unthinkable a mere three decades ago; now it is commonly accepted that the only way we can promote resilience and adaptation to climate change is by inter-sectoral collaboration that includes some unlikely alliances.

Representatives from the Lake Chad region, the Horn of Africa, and the Middle East all say the same thing: climate change is not only real and happening, but is exacerbating the threat of violence in these regions where mass migration and displacement, and civil conflict are already in strong motion. Water, in particular, comes up again and again as the resource scarcity issue of our time.

In Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance, and Justice, Second Edition, I discuss water scarcity as not only a source of conflict, but of collaborative opportunity – most transborder water disputes have been dealt with diplomatically and many in fact have led to institutional developments. But there are clear indications that climate change-induced water scarcity is heightening extant tensions and it is fairly widely accepted that the horrible civil war in Syria was to some extent prompted by a severe drought that led to political instability. One theme that has emerged is that, despite the Security Council having dealt specifically with climate security, the UN needs to step up further and establish an early-warning system for climate-related conflict, so that we can see it coming and strive to take preventive measures.

Effects of Hurricane Irma

I was in the Netherlands to speak at an event focused on the question of moving to a post-carbon based energy infrastructure in the Caribbean region. The threats posed by climate change in the Caribbean are existential: this is life or death stuff. Extreme weather events, rising sea levels, coral reef bleaching, fisheries affected by temperature changes, freshwater scarcity; the list goes on for the Small Island Developing States (SIDS). I cover SIDS at various points in the text, as well as the gradual (some would say painfully slow) transition toward renewable energy production and consumption. Clearly, it is the way forward.

But the transition will not be painless, and as always it may leave some people behind. While we often think of the Caribbean region as a tourist destination or a hurricane zone, the reality is that most of the population and predominant industries are located near its beautiful coasts. In many ways Caribbean citizens are on the front-line of climate change threats, much like the Inuit in northern Canada and other circumpolar communities. These communities can benefit enormously from the adoption of renewable power sources that lessen dependence on the global oil economy, providing the technological capacity and public policy is conducive.

The shift to renewable energy will certainly affect the geopolitical structure of global ecopolitics. China is emerging as a renewable energy superpower, and will have increasing influence in areas such as the Caribbean beyond its usual economic presence. Human security is again rising as a viable concept to deal with the ravages that natural disasters inflict on civilian populations. Responsible tourism has become a genuine national security issue in the region since long-term economic development is so dependent on this sector.

We cannot base a global security strategy on constant disaster relief. Back in water-soaked Holland, there are famous stories about the futility of trying to stop floods with stopgap measures. One of the overarching questions of our time is how relatively impoverished and highly vulnerable regions can be integrated into global strategies. Conferences like this reflect the political urgency currently attached to the climate change-security nexus, despite its denial by a few powerful actors who are, as the saying goes, on the wrong side of history.


If you want to find out more about Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance, and Justice, Second Edition, click here to view the table of contents and read an exclusive excerpt from the book.


Peter J. Stoett is Dean of the Faculty of Social Science and Humanities at the University of Ontario Institute Of Technology.

Beneath the Surface: Finding Common Ground in Canada’s Most Distinctive Province

To the outside world, Quebec is Canada’s most distinctive province. To many Canadians, it has sometimes seemed the most troublesome. But, over the last quarter century, quietly but steadily, it has wrestled successfully with two of the West’s most daunting challenges: protecting national values in the face of mass immigration and striking a proper balance between economic efficiency and a sound social safety net.

In this post, Robert Calderisi, author of Quebec in a Global Light, and former director of The World Bank, discusses some of the issues that face Quebec, and why these challenges should be analysed in a wider, global context. 


Books about politics and society can be timely and revealing, but they can also be complicated, as current affairs do not always stay current. Quebec in a Global Light discusses trends and challenges that transcend the day-to-day, but – like all findings – they need to sifted through the sands of new developments. A good example is the remarkable progress made since the 1970s in protecting the French language. Some would prefer that an extra half percentage point of people be fluent in French, but 94.5 percent of Quebeckers can already conduct a conversation in the language. Diehards can worry more about decimals than decades. How will the next census affect their thinking?

Since the book was first written, some details – including the political party in power – have changed but the most important conclusions remain intact. Even under a conservative government, Quebec is the only social democracy in North America. Employment, growth, and investment are still strong. The province continues to reduce its notorious debt burden; in fact, Quebec now has a better credit rating than Ontario. The gap between rich and poor is the lowest on the planet – except for Scandinavia, which is an admirable set of countries to be lagging behind. And Quebec has set a very positive example in flighting climate change.

But one big thing has changed. Apparently out of the blue, Quebec has once again puzzled outsiders by its decision to ban the wearing of religious symbols by certain government employees. Even under a highly divisive US President, none of the other fifty-nine jurisdictions in North America has talked about doing that. And the hospitality and common sense of Quebeckers is being seriously questioned.

Yet Quebeckers have evolved profoundly over the last thirty years. In 1982, a number of Haitian taxi drivers in Montreal were fired because some white clients refused to ride with them. As a result, the Quebec Human Rights Commission held its first-ever public hearings. Many people today – including many Quebeckers – will find that hard to believe, not because racism has been magically exorcised from their society but rather because Quebec has become so diverse that differences of one kind or another – especially in Montreal – have become almost the norm. A third of Montreal’s taxi drivers are now Haitian and the city has the highest proportion of immigrants in that job (84 percent) in all of Canada.

In a society which some regard as under siege, most people are comfortable with diversity. According to a 2015 Quebec Human Rights Commission survey, Quebeckers had positive attitudes to the handicapped (92 percent), people of colour (88 percent), homosexuals (84 percent), citizens of other ethnic origins (76 percent), and followers of other religions (68 percent). This openness to others is sometimes attributed to the dominant role of women and feminine values in the society. Others see centuries of intermarriage and contact with Quebec’s First Peoples as the source of such community and consensus.

On the surface, other provinces have an even greater challenge making newcomers feel at home. While almost 40 percent of Montreal’s population were born in another country or to parents who immigrated to Canada, that number is much higher in Toronto (76 percent) and Vancouver (68 percent). But absorbing such a large number of people in Quebec, which is so determined to protect its language and culture, is particularly difficult.

Despite the proposed law, the common sense and humanity of Quebeckers remain obvious. In Montreal, teachers and students have surrounded schools in human chains promising to disobey the law. The city council has passed a rare unanimous resolution opposing the legislation. The two authors of the original idea that such symbols should be banned – the philosopher Charles Taylor and the sociologist Gérard Bouchard – have both come out against the bill. Behind closed doors, the governing party itself was highly divided on the subject. And the second largest opposition party (Québec Solidaire) has revised its own policy in the opposite direction. Instead of backing a compromise, they have now decided that any legislation on personal dress is a violation of individual freedom and an invitation to more general discrimination against minorities. It is just possible that the legislation will collapse under its own contradictions. No one has been able to explain how it will be enforced and no penalties are proposed under the law. In the meantime, the history of the issue – set out in Quebec in a Global Light – remains as relevant as ever.


If you want to find out more about Quebec in a Global Light, click here to view the table of contents and read an exclusive excerpt from the book.


Robert Calderisi was a Quebec Rhodes Scholar and is a former director of The World Bank. He is the author of The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid Isn’t Working (2006) and Earthly Mission: The Catholic Church and World Development (2013). He splits the year between Montreal, New York, and Paris.

Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food, Second Edition

Feast on this! We have just published a gorgeous new edition of Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food, with a full-colour interior and a range of new features for students and instructors. In this blog post, the author, Gillian Crowther, provides background on how the book has changed from the first to the second edition and on some of the important issues raised in its pages. We highly recommend this book not only as a textbook but as a fascinating introduction to thinking about food and culture in very different ways!

Over the last few years we have heard a lot about avocados; entertained the consumption of all things charcoal; experimented with chickpea pancakes and aquafaba; worried about palm oil, plastic packaging, weighed-up sugar taxes; warmed to the wonders of fermentation; watched hands-and-pans videos; and have learned (despite IKEA’s claim) that meatballs are actually Turkish! Each day brings a new food story, and the challenge for anyone teaching the anthropology of food is to provide an approach that can accommodate the dynamic nature of our collective food culture. The opportunity, then, to dish up another serving of Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food was enticing. It has allowed me to modify its recipe, mix in some new ingredients, and rearrange the existing core to improve the original textures and tastes, and to keep it relevant.

The book still incorporates an emphasis on listening to public food discourses to understand local food culture—the nutritional, culinary, gastronomic, and sustainable meanings and values surrounding avocados, charcoal, and meatballs, for instance. The basic structure remains the same, moving from our nutrient needs, global patterns of food acquisition, cooking, and commensality, towards contemporary social, economic, and political realities. Ethnographic examples continue to explore the similarities and differences of our relationships with food, to address varied cosmological ideas and the identity-work of gender, age, class, and ethnicity, while considering the dynamics of power and authority manifest in the control of food. The materiality of food, and our embodied experiences of cooking and eating, are also persistent themes extending into the new edition.

Each chapter, however, has been refined, and some substantially re-written, to more clearly address an anthropological framework for making sense of our global food system. More specifically, the discussion of the globalization of food production, distribution, and consumption has been reworked and updated. It now includes the work of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization to explore how top-down global models intersect with grassroots food security, sovereignty, and activism. Consequently, the global gastro-anomie chapter is now organized around specific food challenges—famine, climate change, and non-communicable diseases—and the gastro-politics of varied solutions concerning quantity, quality, and access to food are assessed. These serious realities are balanced by recognition of the satisfaction and pleasure that are gained from food, its creative potential, and its eminently social capacities. Each chapter is accompanied by some suggested further readings drawn from the work of current food scholars, which can be useful as course supplements or student assignments.

The new edition remains structured around the conceptual frame of cuisine as a significant facet of everyday culture, deeply tied to personal and group identity, and memory-making. The book’s case studies, from Britain, Guatemala, France, India, and the United States, among other locales, serve to contextualize cuisines in the wider historical, social, economic, and political processes of everyday life. These model the questions food anthropologists pose and the sources of evidence studied, and serve as comparison points against which the reader’s own cuisine can be brought into focus. To facilitate a process of self-reflection, this edition includes new experiential learning assignments to accentuate the “guide” quality of the text. There are two types of practical exercises, which focus on specific foods and related fieldwork activities. These were designed to make classes interactive and to bring food into the room without the logistics of food safety! Each applies the frame of social anthropology to interrogate the values and meanings that shape everyday food activities, environmental and social relationships, and our sense of identity.

“Pondering a Foodstuff” boxes focus on particular foods, ranging from raw ingredients such as sugar, fat, and meat, to specific cooked dishes like pies and chocolates, for instance. These are served as tastes of the research possibilities that surround any food and illustrate how embedded food is in the social fabric of any cultural context. Toward this end, the book moves Malinowski’s “imponderabilia of actual life” into the twenty-first century, making methodological use of the Instagram-able quality of food and our fondness for smartphone photography. The photographs, now in full colour, model the anthropological lens, framing our everyday food encounters as worthy of study. These practical boxes encourage photographic scavenger hunts, which sharpen observational skills, and prompt anthropological questions based on each chapter’s terms and themes. While images cannot replace the materiality of food, they certainly cut down on classroom messiness and foster productive chat-‘n-chew teachable moments. For instance, the images can facilitate an interrogation of a food’s material substance, allowing its objective, sensorially assessed physical properties to be recalled and considered as cues for handling, processing, cooking, and eating. A picture can easily trigger sensory memories and start the conversation about how meanings and values are assigned to food, transforming its properties into sought after or avoided qualities. Furthermore, the range of food images, from fruit to meat, opens the door to debates about health and ethical choices, the pleasures of gastronomy and commensality, and grave sustainability issues surrounding global food patterns.

“Foodscape Grounded” boxes, on the other hand, provide specific, self-guided, out-and-about activities to bring another practical engagement with the book’s content. Included are an exploration of food labels, supermarket and farmer’s market fieldtrips, an assessment of food security using the four pillars approach, and a guide to restaurant reviews. These cultivate an awareness of the global food system’s reach, bringing home the global ramifications of our eating practices and directly tapping into students’ engagement with public food discourses as part of classroom discussions. Furthermore, the experiential activities are a powerful reminder of the important concept of embodiment, which is particularly relevant to the anthropology of food. For instance, cooking is an embodied skill, calling upon the cook to manipulate foods, to engage with its materiality, and to perform patterned tasks to make something to eat. The “Chaîne Opératoire” exercise asks for a step-by-step account of the bodily and cognitive skills and knowledge required to transform raw ingredients into a cooked dish. It makes apparent how culture is written into physical experiences, including the sensory engagement with food.

As a teaching tool, Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food dishes up an anthropological perspective that invites students to apply its ideas through testing, sampling, and discussion, and to formulate an understanding of their local food culture. It encourages students to regard their recent food experiences as valuable, meaningful, relevant, and worthy—the stuff of anthropological research. It also emphasizes that wherever anthropologists conduct fieldwork, we engage with the everyday lives of ordinary people—just like our students, and their ideas, behaviours, and experiences are what constitute culture, everywhere.

Gillian Crowther is Professor of Anthropology at Capilano University in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Adventures in Blogging: Doing Public Anthropology in the Twenty-First Century

To mark the publication of Adventures in Blogging: Public Anthropology and Popular Media, author Paul Stoller takes to the medium of blogging (again) to provide some background on the purpose of his new collection as well as the importance, at this particular historical moment, of anthropology and the sharing of anthropological knowledge.

Our troubled world is in desperate need of anthropological insight.

We are today witness to widespread political dysfunction, social disintegration, and ecological devastation. In the near future, this set of cumulative processes is likely to produce massive social dislocation, cultural chaos, and political disruption.

Will we be able to survive the ravages of human-induced climate change?

Our times require anthropological intervention. Anthropologists have long been the guardians of core social values. Since Franz Boas, we have been more than scholars who seek to unravel the mysteries of the human condition. Indeed, throughout the history of the discipline we have been advocates for social justice who have critiqued the scourge of racism, ongoing social inequality, and persistent ethnic and religious intolerance.

Adventures in Blogging demonstrates how we can use anthropological insights to find our way through the turbulence of contemporary social life. In my research among the Songhay people of the Republic of Niger I had the great fortune of being the apprentice of a great healer, Adamu Jenitongo. He was a short, slight man who lived in a grass hut at the edge of the town of Tillaberi. What could such a man, whose title was sohanci, teach me—us—about living in the contemporary world?

He taught me a great deal about the vicissitudes of life. He impressed upon me the value of slow learning. When I asked him about the sohanci’s central obligation, he responded without hesitation.

“I am the spiritual guardian of this place,” he said. “If someone abuses their authority or subverts our core values, I use power to set things straight.”

Above and beyond his reservoir of knowledge and practice, the sohanci is first and foremost a keen observer of social and political relations. Anthropologists are also keen observers of social and political relations. Like the Songhay sohanci, we, too, attempt to use our knowledge to make the world a better place. In these troubled times, it is crucial that we engage in one of anthropology’s core obligations—cultural critique—an informed, sustained, scientifically rigorous, and public assessment of our social and political life.

In Adventures in Blogging, I try to show how this media format is a particularly powerful way to practice contemporary cultural critique. Originally published in The Huffington Post, the entries in Adventures in Blogging are short, punchy, and accessible texts. Taken together, these blog posts, which cover a six-year period (2011-2017), show how anthropologists can use this form of social media to produce a sustained cultural critique that underscores again and again the following values:

1. Climate change exists and failure to recognize this fundamental fact condemns our children to climatic hell;
2. Income and social inequality are not socially sustainable and failure to rectify them is a historically proven prescription for social and economic devastation;
3. Corporatization will ruin the university;
4. Ignorance is our enemy and hate has no place in society;
5. Science is our friend and a pathway to the future; and
6. The quest for well being is the source of human resilience.

This list, of course, is far from exhaustive. In Adventures in Blogging, I have much to say about “fixing the truth” in our media, about manipulating false images and narratives for economic and/or political gain. I have much to say about how fewer and fewer people read books and/or articles. I have a great deal to say about the cluelessness of our public officials. Adventures in Blogging demonstrates how a socially mediated and sustained cultural critique is a powerful way to construct a strong alternative to social, cultural, and political dysfunction.

In the end, this book is a clarion call for the next generation of anthropologists to become cultural critics. We need your sustained, rigorous, and accessible insights to mark a path to a better future. We need you to share your knowledge in the public sphere. Indeed, in the classroom Adventures in Blogging can be read as a guide for doing the important work of twenty-first-century public anthropology.

Paul Stoller is Professor of Anthropology at West Chester University.