Department of Anthropology Colloquium Series



In his remarkable survey of one of the most powerful words in the English language, Raymond Williams observed that “the idea of nature contains, though often unnoticed, an extra-ordinary amount of human history” (Williams 1980). Indeed, our ideas of/ and natures are always in motion, and always human. They are produced through assemblages of non-human ecologies, capital, and discourses of race, class and gender. If nature is difficult to define, its conceptual fuzziness is also potentially a source of its power. As a boundary object, nature generates unlikely collaborations between farmers, conservationists, tribal leaders and technocrats seeking to order land and waterscapes. Despite their impressive attention to non-human ecologies, political ecological theorizations of nature have been critiqued as overly humanist in their framing and dependent on stable ontological performances of nature/culture, the non/living and the non/human. Recent developments, both in the climate and in the social sciences, have made such performances increasingly untenable. As humans irrevocably alter the atmospheres, hydrologies, and geologies of the planet, anthropological engagements with ‘natures’ take on ever higher stakes. In this series, we examine the work that natures perform -- past, present, and future. New research in cultural anthropology and studies of material culture provincialize understandings of nature and the non-human as inert political forms. Biological anthropologists highlight the vitality of non-human life forms in the health ecologies of human bodies and rethink older frameworks of change. Archaeologists and historical scholars document diverse human natures and ways of being on the earth, highlighting long histories of entangled socionatural worlds. This colloquium asks after the enduring transformation of natures, human and nonhuman. What is the work that nature does in fields as diverse as biology, linguistics, history, and the material sciences? How do new and emergent natures challenge the very definition of academic disciplines, including the work of anthropology and anthropologists? And how are we, as discipline, able to make a difference in this changing world?

Fall Calendar

September 18Kathleen D. Morrison, Penn. The Anthropocene and other stories 

October 2Kristina Douglass, Penn State. Humanizing Madagascar’s Anthropocene

October 9.  Amita Baviskar, Delhi University. Urban jungles: wilderness, parks, and their publics in Delhi

October 16Benjamin Orlove, Columbia. The end in sight: life below shrinking glaciers on three continents

October 23Rick W. Smith, Dartmouth. Vital Debris: Ancient DNA, Ruined Matter, and the Reproduction of Biocolonial Natures

November 6Colin Hoag, Smith College. Dwarf Shrubs of Empire: History, Ecology, and Form in the Lesotho Highlands

November 13Mona Bhan and Andrew Bauer (DePauw/ Stanford), Climate without nature: on grass and glaciers and weather and welfare in South Asia

November 20.  Eduardo Brondizio, Indiana. Many natures, one planet:  the IPBES global assessment of biodiversity and ecosystems

December 4Ajantha Subramanian, Harvard. The Nature of Caste: Ascription and Achievement in the making of Indian Engineering

December 11. Clark Erickson, Penn. Domesticated Landscapes 

All talks are given on Mondays at 12PM in Museum Room 345. Lunch will be provided.