Headline: The Body Politic: Human Being and Becoming in the Planetary Era

The Anthropocene presents us with the problem of all problems for a host of reasons:

  • It was a colossal accident, a consequence of everyday life choices of billions of people.
  • These choices are driven by an amalgamation of deeply rooted institutional, psychological and even biological forces.
  • While the everyday actions of a few of us are far greater drivers than those of most us, but our lower-impact members are quickly adopting the habits of the affluent.

Taken alone, each of these presents a conundrum; taken together, they cry out for deep inquiry into the peculiar place of the "anthropos" in the scheme of things. The dawning of the Anthropocene compels us to ask ourselves not only, “What on Earth are we doing?” but even more fundamentally, “What on Earth are we?” The very magnitude of the global problematique and its undeniable biophysical dimensions tend to transfix our gaze outwardly, yet grappling with the "anthropos" also entails looking within.

Rather than viewing such issues as climate change, mass extinction, world hunger, and political polarization as happening “out there,” what happens when we experience them emotionally and somatically as also happening “in here?" Our capacity for self-awareness, integrative thinking, holding multiple perspectives, tolerating uncertainty and ambiguity, and working with difficult emotions will be essential to creatively navigating the Anthropocene. The mind’s ability to adopt a meta-position relative to its own contents, thereby consciously integrating somatic, emotional, and mental experience, has profound implications for civic discourse and collective action.

Karen Litfin has been on the Political Science and Environmental Studies faculty at the University of Washington since 1991. Her books include Ozone Discourses: Science and Politics in Global Environmental Cooperation and The Greening of Sovereignty. In her research and teaching, she endeavors to integrate the cognitive, emotive, and hands-on dimensions of sustainability.  That commitment led her to write a book about her travels to ecovillages around the world: Ecovillages: Lessons for Sustainable Community (Polity Press, 2014).  Karen’s current research is on the pedagogical and practical value of contemplative practices for addressing global issues.


When: 2:00 pm

Where: Ballroom, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), Berliner Straße 130, 14467 Potsdam