Fisher Center


Gender, Climate, and the Anthropocene

Since atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen popularized the term in 2000, the “anthropocene” has become a political marker, designating the epoch in which human actions began to have geologic impact. Climate change, with its potentially catastrophic consequences for earthly life, is posing the question of the anthropocene with increasing urgency. For many scholars and activists, the idea of the “anthropocene” necessarily explodes disciplinary boundaries, demonstrating the ways these boundaries themselves may be implicated in the production and maintenance of systems with devastating planetary impact. Colonization, urbanization, and industrialization effect changes in the chemical composition of the atmosphere, oceans, and soils. They result in habitat loss, mass extinctions, and species invasions. Geological, political, and economic histories are intertwined and thus require practices of knowledge attuned to complexity.

For 2015-2016, the Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men will investigate the gendered dimensions of the anthropocene. With its direct announcement of “anthro,” is the concept of the “anthropocene” a vehicle for gender analysis? In what ways does patriarchy continue to function in the interior of the anthropocene? Does the concept challenge or reinforce metaphors of a feminine earth penetrated and abuse by masculine technologies, sciences, and ideologies? How do gendered inequalities support the systems driving climate change and how could attending to these and other inequalities be part of a climate politics?

Does the anthropocene provide a productive way for approaching our planetary future? What bodies, capacities, and subjectivities are associated with what visions of the future? In artistic and literary engagements with the anthropocene (such as speculative fiction, afro-futurism, young adult dystopias), how do stabilizations and destabilization of gender inflect visions of embodiment, capacity, futurity, and limits?  What dark ecologies and sacrifice zones shape inequality in the anthropocene? What specific patterns of raced, gendered, and disqualified life are already being inscribed through the geopolitics of the anthropocene to naturalize extinction, demarcate permissible violence, and authorize expropriation? How do waste, depletion, and mass extinction reconfigure conceptions and experiences of gender tied to the reproduction of the species? How do contemporary survivalism, neo-primitivism, and neo-feudalism mirror or repeat the practices of abandonment, enclosure, and fortification characteristic of the elite responses to the climate crisis?

Over the course of the year, we will consider where we are geologically as a species. How are our surroundings, our environments, our living spaces, adapting to us or even fighting back? What is the world that the species is creating? What visions of habitation, mobility, adaptation, and resilience does the anthropocene incite and how are these being imagined in art, architecture, universal design, environmental aesthetics, and urban planning under the conditions of a changing climate?

We also want to raise up the movements and creative responses crucial to politics in the anthropocene. What forms of feminist materialism, political economy, and political ecology are necessary for struggles in the anthropocene? How do culturally and historically specific understandings of gender enable forms of opposition to extractivism, settler colonialism, and land expropriation? How are international connections being forged in the infrastructure battles associated with fracking and fossil fuels? More specifically, how are victories in one location (France has banned fracking) accompanied by intensified exploitation elsewhere (Algeria is a new site of shale gas extraction and anti-fracking activism)? Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ location on Seneca Lake gives us a unique perspective: Fractivists have achieved a fracking ban in New York State, while the lake itself continues to be the site of an intense struggle against LPG and methane storage. Consequently, the Fisher Center is interested in highlighting local activism as well as mapping the global terrain of the current struggle for climate justice.

Fall 2015

September 23

Elizabeth Povinelli

Before Biopower and After: Geontopower

7:00 p.m., Fisher Center, Demarest Hall 212

This talk explores the belated emergence of geontopower—power organized around the division between life and nonlife -- in the wake of the anthropocene and the impact on how we conceptualizer late liberal power.

Elizabeth Povinelli is Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies at Columbia University where she has also been the Director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender. Her writing develops a critical theory of late liberalism in support of an anthropology of the otherwise. Her first two books examine the governance of the otherwise in late liberal settler colonies from the perspective of the politics of recognition. Her last two books examined the same from the perspective of intimacy, embodiment, and narrative form.

November 4

Frederic Neyrat

Cosmophagy. Cinema and the Anthropocene

7:00 p.m., Fisher Center, Demarest Hall 212

The truth of the anthropocene is cosmophagy, that is to say the destruction of non-human dimensions. Eco-apocalyptic cinema renders this situation 1) in prophesizing an anthropophagic horizon (a short circuit of humankind) and, 2) in trying, sometimes, to reveal outsides, an otherness able to block the cosmophagic machine.

Frédéric Neyrat is a French philosopher and former program director at Collège international de philosophie in Paris. He completed his dissertation under the direction of Jean-Luc Nancy. Neyrat is a Lecturer in Comparative Literature at University of Wisconsin Madison, concentrating in contemporary philosophy, environmental humanities, and theory of images. The author of ten books and numerous articles, Neyrat explores biopolitics, ecopolitics, animality, fluidity, and catastrophe. His most recent work develops a new existentialism that regenerates the place of the outside.

Jennifer Cazenave

Cinema in the Aftermath of the Catastrophe

The response to Professor Neyrat will consider how cinema and philosophy (particularly in France) were impacted by the experience of the Holocaust. It will also consider how the term “catastrophe” has been appropriated to designate genocides, particularly in film studies.

Jennifer Cazenave is a Fisher Center Research Fellow and Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in French and Francophone Studies.

November 11

Not An Art Collective Lecture

The Natural History Museum

7:00 p.m., Fisher Center, Demarest Hall 212

The Natural History Museum is both a campaign and a counter-institution. On the critical side, it challenges fossil fuel industry greenwashing in museums that communicate science to the public. On the positive side, it borrows the vocabulary of natural history museums to tell a sort of "people's history of natural history," amplifying key climate justice narratives and campaigns. It has a mission to affirm the truth of science, and to model the museum of the future.

Not An Alternative is a Brooklyn-based arts collective that operates at the intersection of art, activism, and theory. Through engaged critical research and design, the group uses tools culled from the fields of art, architecture, exhibition design, and political organizing to produce interventions that disrupt and remodel material and symbolic space. By creating participatory points of entry for arts audiences and everyday citizens alike, we aim to affect popular understandings of events, symbols, institutions and history, not through a typical head-on (or head-butt) approach to activism, but through the occupation and redeployment of popular vernacular, semiotics, and memes. Not An Alternative's performances, installations, presentations, and actions have been featured within art institutions such as Guggenheim (NY), PS1/MOMA (NY), Tate Modern (London), Victoria & Albert Museum (London), MOCAD (Detroit), and Museo del Arte Moderno (Mexico City), and in the public sphere, where they collaborate with community groups and activist mobilizations.

December 9

Changing climates: political and aquatic

Nicholas Beuret

A Tale of two Climate Conferences (or how many last chances will we get?)

The 2009 international climate change conference in Copenhagen was described as humanity’s last chance to stop climate change. Apparently despite the failure of the 2009 talks we have another last chance this year at the Paris climate talks, although many argue that these talks will inevitably also fail to produce an international agreement to limit climate change.

The failure of these conferences is not a matter of political conflict as is often suggested. Rather, as I outline through insider accounts, the situation of impasse is the result of the limits of political realism vis-à-vis what scientist Dr Kevin Anderson has called the brutal numbers and tenuous hope of climate change. As such climate change politics is crippled by the increasing gap between what is politically possible and what is scientifically necessary, producing an affective atmosphere of despair within environmentalist and scientific circles.

Nicholas Beuret is the Fisher Fellow for Gender, Climate, and the Anthropocene. His research interrogates the politics and philosophy of ecological catastrophe. Beuret has been active in environmental and social justice movements for more than 20 years and was involved in the campaign to secure the world’s first climate change legislation in the UK and at the 2009 international climate change talks in Copenhagen.

Elizabeth Johnson

Our Futures with Jellyfish: Dreams of Ecological Apocalypse and Everlasting Life

Jellyfish have recently taken on a pivotal role in visions of the future of life on Earth. On one hand, in light of climate change, rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification, scientists have warned of a coming "jellyfish apocalypse." On the other, biotech and stem-cell researchers insist their bodies contain the secrets to everlasting life. This talk offers a critical analysis of how these two antipodal visions of the future are held in tension in the science of jellyfish bodies and ecologies. It considers how thinking with jellyfish might figure in alternative visions of a future transformed.

Elizabeth Johnson is a human-environment geographer teaching Environmental Studies at HWS. She writes on the growing role of the biosciences as part of strategies for generating technological production without ecological limits.


The Fisher Center brings together faculty, students, and experts in gender-related fields in the arts, humanities, and social and natural sciences to foster mutual understanding and social justice in contemporary society.

Building upon their long-held commitment to interdisciplinary liberal arts education for men and women, both separately and together, Hobart and William Smith Colleges established (in 1998) the Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men to support curricular, programmatic, and scholarly projects which address the question:

How do we more nearly realize, through our educational program, scholarship, and presence in the larger community, our democratic ideals of equity, mutual respect, and common interest in relations between men and women?