Disciplinarity, epistemic friction, and the ‘Anthropocene’
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This thesis explores the scientific controversy over the ‘Anthropocene’, a putative new epoch of geological time conceived in 2000 by atmospheric chemist and earth system scientist Paul Crutzen. I trace the conception of the Anthropocene and explore its spread through a range of disciplines from the earth sciences to the humanities. Particular attention is paid to the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) of the International Commission on Stratigraphy. This group was tasked with considering whether or not the Anthropocene should be subject to stratigraphic formalisation and be made ‘real’ insofar as the discipline of stratigraphy was concerned. The group’s efforts, and the wide-ranging response to them, reveal the challenge of making sense of knowledge as it moves across different disciplines, settings, and contexts. While the AWG was tasked with producing a specifically stratigraphic response to the rising prominence of the Anthropocene, in performing their investigation the group took on board wide-ranging multidisciplinary expertise. As well as raising questions about the appropriate criteria for the group’s investigation, the response to the group’s efforts from a diverse range of disciplines illustrates the disunity of interdisciplinary work. The movement of the controversy from scholarly journals into an increasingly public sphere reveals further questions about the relationship between scientific authority and society as a whole. While different communities disagreed about the scientific value of the Anthropocene, many shared in their recognition of the role this scientific framing could play in fomenting a political response to anthropogenic global change. This thesis argues that scholarly debates about the Anthropocene illustrate questions about authority, epistemic privilege, and the relationship between disciplines that have ramifications beyond the controversy itself.