Fossilized human footprints

What is humanity's place in the Anthropocene?

How do we frame humanity in the Anthropocene?

Understanding humans as a geological agent does not mean to eliminate the differences within humankind – the differences of gender, race, affluence, health, including the inequalities in the access to technology, lifestyles and forms of consumption. It also does not imply a new Anthropocentrism. On the contrary, it means to take into account the dependency of humanity on many non-human entities, ranging from certain species (e.g. bacteria, crops, insects) to landscapes, water cycles, the ozon layer, or material resources. The Anthropocene also raises the question of responsibility for the human-made change of the Earth system. How can we – differentiated into poor and affluent, powerless and powerful, huge and small ecological footprints – take responsibility for the changing state of the planet? How can we – as individuals – account for the cumulative, non-intentional effects of our lifestyles and economical system?

Thinking about the Anthropos of the Anthropocene means to think of humans as cultural beings, endowed with rationality and universal rights – thus the “human” that the humanities refer to. However, it also must include humankind as a species among other species. How could humans develop from an ecologically un-specialized and unprotected but highly communicative mammal into the dominant species on the planet? One of the specifically human traits that were decisive on this path is the development of complex technology which today forms a sphere of its own, the technosphere. Humans in the Anthropocene are humans using, building and being serviced, but also caught in, dependent on and maintaining the technosphere. Understanding what it means to be human in the Anthropocene means seeing humans not just as beings changing nature and transforming it into a post-natural environment. It also calls for an assessment of humanity’s place within the technosphere. How can we think of human control and responsibility within this sphere?

Eva Horn


Researchers: Ulrike Felt, Eva Horn, Michael Jursa, Stephanie Langer, Franz Mauelshagen, Patrick Sakdapolrak

Further Reading