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Defining the Anthropocene tropical forest: Moving beyond ‘disturbance’ and ‘landscape domestication’ with concepts from African worldviews

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posted on 2024-06-10, 09:25 authored by James Angus Fraser, Ariane Cosiaux, Gretchen Walters, Adeniyi Asiyanbi, Prince Osei-Wusu Adjei, Patrick Addo-Fordjour, James FairheadJames Fairhead, Paulin Kialo, Nestor Laurier Engone Obiang, Richard Oslisly

How natural and cultural forces shaping tropical forested landscapes are conceptualised is of vital importance to Anthropocene debates. We examine two concepts: disturbance and landscape domestication. From the perspective of disturbance, humans – whether ancient or modern – are a priori negative for tropical forests, outside of and alien to nature. From this view, the Anthropocene is a planetary scale aggregation of disturbance. A more just vision of tropical forests, accepting anthropogenic influence on biodiversity, would combine ‘disturbance’ with other concepts that capture human agency and intentionality. Landscape domestication proposes that humans can shape ecology and plant and animal population demographics, making the landscape more productive and congenial for humans, upgrading or degrading the biodiversity of tropical forests. Herein, forest peoples shape the Anthropocene itself through their ‘domestication’ of the forest. Yet this approach can overdetermine culture, ignoring non-human agency, whilst human impacts can be seen as the outcome of intentional modifications to increase landscape productivity, at worst a disavowed projection of ‘economic man’. Using the convivial scholarship framework of Nyamnjoh, we argue that these ideas give incomplete views of tropical forests in the Anthropocene and can be enriched by concepts derived from African worldviews with ‘relationality’ and ‘wholeness’ at their core. These are expressed in ohanife, deriving from Igbo language, ubuntu, from the Nguni language and ukama, a notion from Shona culture. Together these concepts evince an ‘eco-bio-communitarianism’ embracing humans, God, spirits, ancestors, animals and inanimate beings in a ‘community of beings’ irreducible to the culture-nature divide (moving beyond disturbance) and allowing for the agency and personhood of non-humans (moving beyond historical ecology). This is consonant with Indigenous Amazonian worldviews, such as that of Kopenawa. Approaching human-nature relations from Nyamnjoh’s idea of conviviality, we elaborate a less incomplete and more just perspective on the cultural and natural shaping of Anthropocene tropical forests.

History

Publication status

  • Published

File Version

  • Published version

Journal

Anthropocene Review

ISSN

2053-0196

Publisher

SAGE Publications

Department affiliated with

  • Anthropology Publications

Institution

University of Sussex

Full text available

  • Yes

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes