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1 July 2019
Alterglobal Politics: Postcolonial Theory in the Era of the Anthropocene and the Nonhuman
Although they are often spoken of in the same breath, theories of the Anthropocene and the nonhuman turn vary in their emphases. The Anthropocene introduces a new ‘universal’ subject – the human species as a global geophysical agent. Theories of the nonhuman, however, seek to displace anthropocentric foci – the ‘human’ is viewed as a part of a complex assemblage co-constituted by many others. Postcolonial theory has, in general, been sceptical of both trajectories. On the one hand, postcolonial theory and theorists remain generally suspicious of the putative universal subject (the ‘human species’) that purportedly impacts this era of anthropogenic climate-change catastrophically. On the other hand, with its focus on what Kwame Anthony Appiah called ‘human suffering’ under oppressive systems like colonialism and slavery, postcolonial theory has been by and large wary of diluting this investment with a turn towards the nonhuman (however conceived).
Recent works by Dipesh Chakrabarty, Ian Baucom, Rob Nixon, Graham Huggan, Helen Tiffin, Sangeeta Ray and Deepika Bahri have tried to open new interfaces and triangulated conjunctures between these three bodies of thought. Thus, Chakrabarty calls for a ‘new global approach to politics without the myth of a global identity’ in this era of anthropogenic climate change. Baucom calls for an alterglobal politics – one that renders ‘the work of the humanities at large, and postcolonial studies in particular, a force of nature: one indeed capable of attending, simultaneously, to the shorelines, littorals, and border-zones of recorded history and, in so doing, to the crises and dangers affecting the planet’s continents and coastlines’. Nixon’s work on ‘slow violence’ asks us to consider the complex entanglements and slow unfoldings of multiple scales of violence that impact human and nonhuman alike. Taking the lead from such critical endeavours, this special issue of Postcolonial Studies will explore hybrid assemblages of notions and imaginaries of the ‘human’, the ‘nonhuman’, of species-life and of the entanglement of different temporal and planetary scales in this moment of accelerating climate change. Can postcolonial theory’s focus on the ‘particular’, the ‘fragmentary’ and the ‘local enable new ways of imagining/thinking planetarity, cosmopolitics and a global politics of climate change? Are considerations of the entanglements between the human and the nonhuman complementary or antithetical to postcolonial theory’s drive to pluralise the human? Are there ways in which we can contend with and theorise what Sylvia Wynter calls ‘genres of the human’ in this era of climate change and species extinction?