Fire in an elemental Anthropocene

How an Anthropocene is conceptualized (or not) matters insofar as it can help to understand the root causes and distributed effects of wide-scale, uneven, environmental disruptions. That is, the concept of the Anthropocene can help think about why and how factors like climate change and pollution act in uneven, often non-consensual ways, and how these issues might be addressed. What’s causing environmental disruption? Is it capitalism? Settler colonialism? Heterosexism? Anti-blackness? Combinations of each?

One way (among others) to understand the anthropocene is to start by thinking about it topically. In the new special issue ‘An elemental Anthropocene’ in Cultural Studies Review (edited by Timothy Neale, Will Smith, and Alison Kenner), anthropocenes are interrogated via different ‘elemental’ starting points, from water to air to fire and land. The different papers in the collection show how issues that characterize an anthropocene (think floods, wildfires, toxic pollution in cities) are differentially produced and felt based on the larger structures, noted above.

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Wildfire smoke in Saskatoon, Sasktachewan. Photo: A. Zahara 2018,

In our new paper,‘An Eternal Flame: The Elemental Governance of Wildfires pasts, presents, and futures’, Timothy Neale, Will Smith and I look at the ways in which fire– and wildfire in particular– has come to shape lives and ecologies in three continents: Canada, Australia and the Philippines. We show that wildfires in particular have been shaped through settler colonial relations to land as well as capitalist forestry endeavors. Popular solutions for dealing wildfires (risk and emergency management practices, the protection of particular ‘values at risk’, the harvesting of carbon credits), not surprisingly, continue to tap into these logics. While these politics may be understood locally, they often go uninterrogated by environmental managers. To read more, check out the paper here.

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Burned trees in the Boreal Forest. Photo: A. Zahara

All the papers in the collection are open access and stem from the Anthropocene Campus Melbourne, held at the Alfred Deakin Institute. The paper is part of ongoing collaborations stemming from my time as a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute, working with Dr. Tim Neale and Dr. Emma Kowal in 2018.

Full paper citation: Neale, Timothy., Zahara, Alex., and Will Smith. (2019) An eternal flame: the elemental governance of wildfire’s pasts, presents and futures. Cultural Studies Review, 25(2): 115-134.

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