Monday, 14 November 2016

"the Anthropocene, a New Ecological Age". Reflections on a Lecture by Dr Rowan Bailey, 9th November 2016

The following notes relate to a lecture given by Dr Rowan Bailey at the University of Huddersfield, on Wednesday9th November 2016.

The Anthropocene.

This new epoch or age in human history has now been properly recognised and fully 'announced' by The Royal Geological Society.
(For further references see the "Nature" journal regarding the human age and the new human epoch. There is an article entitled "Goodbye the Holocene" which is a look at how the science is generalised by the media, and the idea to question them in order to create new narratives).

How is the Anthropocene being communicated?

What is the underlying message / emotion /etc. regarding this?

Consider the differing disciplinary engagements that all commentate on these issues:
for example

  • geologists
  • feminists
  • capitalists
  • Marxists
  • et cetera et cetera

What impact of population growth causes the potential environmental issues?

How is the Anthropocene era described as a "wicked problem?"

For example climate change, poverty, urbanisation, water shortages, demographics, waste, waste management et cetera. These are all inextricably linked.

It is useful going to revisit the Arup website and also to relook at the "issues" cards.
Each of these issues cards help to identify on a microcosm type scale each of the current subjects being investigated by Arup research.

The phrase "wicked problems" was originally coined by Rittel and Webber, (1973) who started to explore "dilemmas in a general theory of planning". It was this research that coined the term wicked problems, particularly within urban planning and design. It was recognised that different stakeholders have different reasoning, often they are ill informed, they have subsequently ill-conceived ideas, confusion - born from indeterminacy!
The need is to move beneath this complexity.

See further the Austin Centre for Design website;
at this site it shows 10 characteristics of a "wicked problem" and defines each of the 10 criteria approximately as follows:
1). Wicked problems have no definitive formulation. People's lived experience is different from one another all over the globe.
2). It's very hard (near impossible) to measure things in isolation with regards to wicked problems.
3). Their solutions can only be good or bad, not true or false. In other words these are always subjective outcomes that may please some people but not others.
4). There is no template to follow. (But there is history as a guide).
5). Wicked problems always require more than just one explanation, especially with the explanation being dependent on a perception of X and Y but just as importantly the designer themselves.
6). Every wicked problem is a symptom of another.
7). No mitigation strategy for any of these, as it is always a human customer.
8). A solution is frequently a "one-shot" or nothing type activity, and is not universal.
9). A wicked problem is always unique! It is specific to the site or area and everything that surrounds it within that particular context.
10). The designer attempting to resolve a wicked problem must be fully responsible for their own actions and the outcomes of any proposed and implemented solution.
Wicked problems usually require a "soft" mindset approach to begin to understand the actual issues at hand.

The potential views to take are…
See the                     "hard systems approach V.s The soft systems approach".
Hard systems are ontologically determined, whereas a soft systems approach is epistemologically driven.

How do we consider the Anthropocene in the context of mindset within art and design?

(Tip; Look at the abstract of a paper whenever reviewing it first!).
 For example see the paper "Ethics, Ecology and the Future; Art and Design Face the Anthropocene" written by Kayla Anderson.

See also the work of Joanna Zylinska's paper entitled "Minimal Ethics for the Anthropocene".

Both the above documents are available for download through the Open Humanities Press.

A further book which is particularly useful for my studies is one written by Jonathan Carew entitled "Ontological Catastrophes".

[** Remember always to follow up a writer's own references whenever reading papers of this type!].


  • When writing our proposals, for us to be "critical makers" we also have to be "critical thinkers". We have to articulate the complexities involved clearly. We, therefore, have to move away from the idea that we are the centre of everything. We, therefore, have to think critically, conceptually and speculatively. In other words, we have to think of ideas that are radical/contrary/new!
  • Criticality conceptualisation and speculation should work against the cultural norms.
  • The idea that fear often stops us from doing this has been written about considerably, and I am drawn to remember a book I read some time ago entitled to feel the fear but do it anyway" by Susan Jeffers.
  • "Complexity" is all about the human condition! See the website, this provides a useful segue to an entirely different point of view regarding the climate change that is going to affect all of us. The old-fashioned "narcissist" notion of trying and conquering everything is a traditional way of dealing with "problems" and has to change simply because we cannot master everything. Therefore what we need to do is make an adaptation of situations to find adapted solutions.
  • A useful book would be "Critical Design" by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, further information can be found at

(This is a bit like Thomas Moore's seminal discussions regarding utopias and dystopias)
The above website is a useful example of how artists are articulating new ideas. For example, the book I quoted a little earlier "Feel The Fear But Do It Anyway" by Susan Jeffers, used to fit into a category of books and articles known as "self-help". This suggested that there was something wrong and that there were problems with the reader. In itself this has now been adapted and "self-help" has now become known as "personal improvement". A much more positive view of trying to help yourself but without any connotation of negativity.

** Further research is necessary for "post humanists, and post-humanism."

How can we reimagine and create the speculative design? Speculation becomes a radical act. To think about future possibilities and changing our mindset of a "solution based" approach into new change we need to adapt an environment rather than try to conquer it.

See "The Infinity Burial Project" by Jae Rhim Lee, a TED global broadcast from July 2011. Within this TED talk, the author did detailed research in the science and reproduction of mushrooms and other fungi and came up with the notion of how they can be re-engineered to re-compose the human waste product of cadavers. While this sounds a fascinating and frightening consideration, it is also extremely practical.

Further research

But the themes of the Anthropocene that can benefit from further research would be thinktivism. Speculative realism. Object-oriented ontology. Et cetera et cetera.

We then discussed further details regarding sound ethical practices of a research practitioner. The necessity for openness, honesty, guidance, criticality et cetera. Don't plagiarise others research or findings or indeed reuse any sort of pirated research.

Our proposal is an explanation of our participation "of" and "in" our research.
Think of how other people will be involved? How will people be utilised and in what way?

Take a look at the "Research Ethics" procedure and governments of the University of Huddersfield, and together with the ethics forms and checklist go through the whole process.

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