Feeling the Atmosphere: Climate, Affect, and the Anthropocene
Have you felt the weather lately? While not synonymous with weather, climate and our experience of it can’t be wholly captured by concepts, facts, and measures. Climate also has to do with affect, something that’s “in the air” alongside carbon emissions and other particulate matter. Although ordinarily, and vitally, addressed through frameworks of natural and social scientific inquiry—measures of ecological transformations, probabilities of scenario outcomes, identifications of the complex metabolism between “nature” and “society”—climate change is also a “structure of feeling,” a pervasive, disparate mood at a particular “conjuncture” in time: atmospheric carbon concentrations and an affective atmosphere; rates of ocean acidification and acid churning in the gut; terrestrial biosphere degradation and psychosocial burnout and depression. Such feelings are structured by material conditions—zoonotic pandemics, “dangerous heat,” failed crops, forced migrations, and the socioeconomic acceleration characteristic of contemporary capitalism—though they are not fully defined or determined by them. For some, the affective sense of the present is the exhilaration of new technologies and new markets; for others, it is the grinding exhaustion of everyday life. The affective life of climate change is radically fraught, uneven, and divided along lines that don’t necessarily conform with familiar political oppositions. How do we begin to examine this intersection of climate and affect? Can a lens focused on the affective present provide a ground for broad ecological understanding and effective climate action? How might affect and emotion, so often neglected in climate discourse, contribute to a robust social and political theory of climate change?
In this course, we will read broadly and interdisciplinarily, with texts drawn from affect theory, the climate sciences, political theory, popular fiction and non-fiction, the relatively new field of “ecopyschology,” mainstream surveys and studies, media, and more. Some key theoretical authors will include Raymond Williiams, E.P. Thompson, Lauren Berlant, Teresa Brennan, Sianne Ngai, Baruch Spinoza, Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, Vladimir Lenin, Frantz Fanon, Antonio Gramsci, Franz Neumann, Kathi Weeks, Andreas Malm, Nicole Seymour, Kari Marie Norgaard, and more. Students will examine mainstream research on phenomena like “climate anxiety,” psychological studies concerning the trauma of extreme weather events, and the ubiquitous, if often disrupted, existing ecological and psychological syntheses around the concept of “resilience.” At the same time, we will review contemporary essays on climate and affect like Meehan Crist on the ecological ethics of having children and Ash Sanders on climate emotions and overwork, among others, asking throughout: What, if any, connections can be drawn among these disparate literatures? Can an affective lens lend greater clarity—and political charge—to the increasingly common analysis that places capitalism (and its constitutive colonizing, gendering, and racializing regimes) at the causal center of anthropogenic climate change? How does climate affect paint a different political divide and connect different constituencies than normative approaches? And what potential might a sense of climate as a “structure of feeling” have for our understanding of climate change and the politics that might emerge with it?
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
October 18 — November 08, 2022