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Abundance in the Anthropocene


Numerous attempts have been made to understand the Anthropocene in relation to overwhelming species and habitat loss. However, amidst these losses ecological niches have emerged and been taken as signs of resilience and hope: from mushrooms that flourish in damaged forests (Tsing, 2015) to urban wildlife in brownfield sites (Lorimer, 2015). This paper offers an alternative conception of abundance, which addresses the sociological and conceptual challenges posed when abundance is a characteristic of so-called pests, parasites, and pathogens. The paper draws together research from three case studies: bed-bugs, hookworms, and antibiotic resistant microbes, all of which have become intimately entangled with particular human communities as other lifeforms have declined. Through contrasting these cases we elucidate how the affordances of abundant lifeforms, including the dangers they pose to other forms of life, are entwined with failed ‘technofixes’, colonial legacies and contemporary inequalities. In doing so we situate abundance as a constitutive element of the Anthropocene that requires as sustained ethical engagement as questions of species loss. We conclude by arguing that further ethical attention needs to be paid to finding ways of ‘being alongside’ (Latimer, 2013) life that is difficult to live with, but is becoming intimately re-entangled with human worlds. In doing so, we complicate existing theoretical work that has drawn hope from multispecies abundance and entanglement.

Acceptance Date Jan 7, 2019
Publication Date Mar 1, 2019
Journal Sociological Review
Print ISSN 0038-0261
Publisher SAGE Publications
Pages 357-373
Keywords abundance, animal, Anthropocene, ethics, inequality, more-than-human
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