Reflection on the Past(s), Present(s) and Future(s).
The nature of time and space for beginners
Magda Obmalko, University of Arts, London
Time and Space - the x and y to human existence. The azimuths of cognition. Two peculiarities putting the world into order and foregrounding the way we interact with the environment as well as with each other. The categorisation of time and space into the trinity of the Past, the Now and the Future, designates the linear understanding of time dominant in the Western school of thought. However, as we have just entered a new decade, the aggravated urgency of events against the geological and social nature, such as the climate change emergency, the current pandemic or the global Black Lives Matter protests, have very much challenged this conventional dimension. The new way of thinking about the space of time has been observed and documented within research on environmental politics for the last half of the century.
The ecology of Anthropocene
Let’s start with some theory and the term Anthropocene alone, which accords with the current academic discourse on climate change and is referred to as a proposed geological epoch marking the human impact on the transformation of Earth. As an object of studies, it refers to the relationship between the geology and the social, where the geology is a context in which social relations occur. As stated by Kathryn Yusoff, a Reader in Human Geography in the School of Geography at Queen Mary University, there are no social formations without geological formations. Anthropocene, in conjunction with its derivative - Capitalocene - designate then a historical trajectory of anthropocentric vision of the world, worshipping Nature/culture divide. We capitalise the word ‘Nature’ here to emphasise its uniqueness and differentiate it from its secondary meaning as a quality of something.
While Jason Moore, an environmental historian and sociologist who coined the term Capitalocene, emphasises the fact that Capitalocene is a critique of the idea that capitalism is just about economics - it is also a system of power and of culture. Thus capitalism, as a socio-economic construct, is in itself the culmination of anthropocentric sins, defined by extraction of natural resources through technology, regulated by a capital market that is designed under the economic value of continuous growth.
Such systems thinking is also present in Bernard Stiegler’s theory, a French philosopher specialising in the philosophy of technology in individuation, who perceives capitalism as an episteme (from the Ancient Greek: knowledge). Stiegler states that a techno-capitalist regime of automation and computation is at the core of this knowledge and remains entropic to human life. In the Anthropocene, knowledge is replaced by information, which, in turn, becomes an exchange value. Therefore, a critique of capitalism is a critique of reason. Stiegler calls for developing a systemic study of the logic of the technique as well as its interrelationships with Nature, political economy and culture to understand the physical and non-physical dimension on the current epoch.
This constant reflection on the links between entities mentioned above is required to move from the Anthropocene into, what he calls, Neganthropocene. The novel economic reason - Negantropocene - will emerge then through rethinking the geological, social, political and cultural dimension of the current realm. Jason Moore refers to it as world-ecology - a way of thinking about these regimes as an ecology of interrelationships between power, capital and nature.
The extractive and post-colonial logics addressed above, not only emphasise a multidimensional character of the realm where the past, present and future all happen at the same time but essentially, reveal that human social worlds are always more-than-human social worlds. They comprise a web of micro- and macro-relationships between humans, other living organisms and nonliving matter, for example, objects, spirits or even technology. This hybrid character of reality brings attention to the diversity of interactions and forces that inform the landscape reaching far beyond human epistemic limitations.
The reflection on the Anthropocene as an epistemological and ontological framework makes it rather evident that the contemporary state of geological and social formations we find ourselves in, marks some novel political and cultural thinking on the map of human cognition. The interconnectedness of social, cultural, economic and political dimensions, distinguished in the discussed frameworks, prove that those should never be analysed in isolation - they all constitute elements of a bigger system.
The recent disruptive events exposed the burning issues of flawed integral structures and simultaneously, drew attention to the demand for significant systemic changes. As much as we attempt to predict what the future in its conventional understanding will bring, it is still uncertain. What is apparent at present is the broken system(s) in which we’ve been functioning and which pathologies have been exposed in an unexpected turn of events marked by the global crisis - the crisis of economy, governance, healthcare as well as the socio-cultural one. The multiplicity of such states of emergency has been an overwhelming near-catastrophic experience for some; however, it simultaneously facilitated the identification of new opportunities for improvement, if observed and reflected upon carefully.
The collective trauma caused by continuous uncertainty and fear once passed the stage of shock, is likely to have a transformative effect on the epistemological understanding of our existence. The sense of the unknown extensively experienced these days contributed to the realisation that the future is now and if the world could have changed dramatically overnight, what stops us from shaping it ourselves today? Instead of searching for new commodification values, as a society, we could attempt to re-design those aspects of the social worlds that turned out to be broken. The question arises; however, of how could we lead the current transformative state on an organisational level to adapt to the changes? How can we ensure we do not miss an opportunity to address the systemic aspect of acknowledged issues and re-design the contested flawed systems?
Co-designing the unknown
The term ‘re-design’ used in this context is not accidental. Design in its commercial understanding is seductive - it looks and speaks the sexy jargon of capitalist aesthetics. But this is just one side, and quite frankly, a pretty unfair view into what it has to offer. Design at large, as a materialisation of cultural patterns and behaviours, evinces a strategic value of a critical apparatus generating new narratives. Utilised as a system, service, product or aesthetics - design could be recognised as a methodology in itself for creating new realities or redefining the existing ones. Therefore, design, as an intrinsic human capability and as a professional field of practice, has to look beyond the anthropocentric perspective and instead, serve as a systemic lens for problem-solving that takes into consideration both, human and non-human forces.
The aspect of time and space is a fundamental component of change-making to understand the genesis of the issue in question and to envision how the decisions made in the present, shape the ‘tomorrow.’ To conclude with the quote by Françoise Vergès, a French political scientist, historian and a feminist - ‘The politics of the possible also rest on the imagination — on the freedom to dream other pasts and imagine other futures.’