TP5: Evidence Practices at the Interstice of Sciences, Humanities, and the Public

The Anthropocene Debate

Prof. Dr. Helmuth Trischler, Fabienne Will

When in the year 2000, atmospheric chemist Paul J. Crutzen and limnologist Eugene F. Stoermer introduced the term Anthropocene in a newsletter of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program, they launched a scientific debate which quickly gained momentum. Today, the Anthropocene has become a controversial talking point among numerous academic communities. The geological sciences commissioned an expert committee, the Anthropocene Working Group, with the task of investigating the scientific evidence for the theory of a new geological epoch named after humanity. The debate has long since transcended the realm of the natural and life sciences and is widely discussed in the humanities. In addition, the Anthropocene has become an issue of public debate led by the mass media, as well as other stakeholders, such as science museums, and art galleries.

The project examines the evidence practices on three interrelated levels: in the geo-, bio-, and earth systems sciences, which discuss the Anthropocene as a geological concept; in the humanities and social sciences, which debate the Anthropocene as a cultural concept; and in the (medialized) public, which understands the Anthropocene as a societal phenomenon. The intricate entanglement of these levels has given rise to new challenges and forced societal actors to leave their particular arena in order to negotiate evidence practices with other actor groups.

Boundaries between nature and culture, humans and the Earth, and environment and society become blurred, as do long established disciplinary cultures of knowledge production, forcing actors to rethink traditional core assumptions of evidence practices. The Anthropocene debate is developing into a trading zone not only for negotiating basic questions about the present and future of humans on Earth, but also concepts of evidencing practice and practicing evidence. The project aims to investigate the forms and routines of evidence practices at the interstices of the scientific and public debates about the Anthropocene.