Anthropolands - Engineering the Anthropocene: The role of colonial Science, Technology and Medicine on changing of the African landscape
Maria Paula Diogo (PI), Ana Simões, Ana Carneiro, Ana Paula Silva, Ana Rita Lobo, André Pereira, Bruno J. Navarro, Catarina Madruga, Cláudia Castelo, Davide Scarso, Hugo Silveira Pereira, Isabel Amaral, Ivo Louro, Jaume Valentines-Alvarez, José Câmara Leme, Luís Costa, Maria do Mar Gago, M. Luísa Sousa, Marta Macedo, Paula Urze
Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (PTDC/IVC-HFC/6789/2014)
The Anthropolands project aims to contribute to the international debate on the theme of the Anthropocene by resorting to data kept in Portuguese archives and analysing it from a Science, Technology and Medicine (STM) perspective.
The African Portuguese empire will be used (i) as a case-study of the construction of a Neo Portugal (following the Crosby’s 1993 terminology Neo-Europes) through the technoscientific intervention as a ‘domestication’ instrument of colonial territories, and (ii) an opportunity to use the changes in African landscapes as a laboratory of reflection about the concept of Anthropocene.
The debate on the concept of the Anthropocene, from a social sciences and humanities perspective, was launched by the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) and the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte (MPIWG), in Berlin, in 2013. It aimed at debating, from an interdisciplinary perspective and in the longue-durée, a topic which, for quite some time, was becoming critical in contemporary philosophy and ethics—that of technological singularity.
The collapse of the distinction between the human, the technological and the geological, along with the evidence that the current paradigm of progress (as it has been understood since Kant) calls for a reappraisal, compelled historians, sociologists, anthropologists and philosophers to debate a set of concepts that had been mainly associated with science fiction and popular culture until then.
History of STM immediately seized the opportunity to lock in on this topic, as some of its research paths had focused on the relationship between human action through techno-scientific expertise and the physical universe upon which this action is imposed.
The Baconian idea of understanding nature in order to dominate it has in itself the germ of a possible conflict between the natural and the technological which is at the core of current Anthropocene epistemology.
Up until now, research on the History of STM has focused mainly on classics of environmental history such as Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson [Carson, 1962] and Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900, by Alfred Crosby [Crosby, 1993], especially in the Anglo-Saxon world, in particular the British empire and the USA.
This project is innovative in two ways: on the one hand, it will use Portuguese sources and the African Portuguese empire as an object within the Anthropocene debate; on the other, in methodological terms, it addresses the formation of Neo-Europes by taking into consideration:
- the construction of colonial infra-structures;
- tropical diseases and medicine;
- the reordering of the colonial agricultural territory.
The team will resort to data developed, collected and processed in previous national and international projects; it will then move to a different level of analysis byreinterpreting said data under new light, re-framing it and complementing it with further information to densify the new approach.
By focusing on a country considered peripheral and taking up the concept of Europeanizing the World/Provincializing Europe (Chakarbarty, 2000), this rationale reinforces the integration of the researchers involved in the project in the research networks (STEP - Science and Technology in the European Periphery and ToE – Tensions of Europe), which have guided them methodologically and conceptually, and promotes their participation in new international fora, notably The Anthropocene Project and the environmental history networks. It will equally contribute to the aims of the research group Experts, Institutions and Globalization of CIUHCT, a research unit recently evaluated as Exceptional, by addressing the role of technoscience in the configuration of today’s world.
In terms of the methodological framework, and since the project assumes that human intervention in the natural world became itself a natural power, the actor-network theory will be used to enquire on how, who and in what geometries the human and the non-human intervene in the process of domestication of nature in contemporary world.