The planet is changing, and the mild climate and abundant biodiversity of the last 11,700 years (the Holocene) is becoming something else, something strange, something unprecedented in human history. As geologists consider re-naming the current period, and as debates about the so-called Anthropocene reverberate through the sciences and humanities, the urgencies of planetary change have become the stuff of daily news.
The Anthropocene Atlas of Geneva (TAAG) is an interdisciplinary research project that studies responses to socially caused global environmental change. Through interviews and fieldwork, TAAG researches and documents the diverse ways that the humans and nonhumans of one urban ecology, the city and region of Geneva, are responding to planetary change. A research focus on human actors and their networks (including citizens, activists, and artists, as well as scientific institutions, international organizations, and NGOs) establishes a context for encounters with nonhuman actants and agents (migrating climates, trees with ritual functions, rocks bearing names, endangered species, mobile toxins).
With its rich networks of governance, research, finance, arts, and grassroots activism, Geneva is an exemplary terrain for launching such an investigation. What scientific, political, and artistic representations emerge in this context? In what ways do these representations render social impacts on the planet available to reflection and feelings? How are such knowledges performed in situated everyday practices? And how do such knowledges put into question longstanding assumptions about the human and the nonhuman?
TAAG combines field research, critical reflection, and artistic practices. This multimedia website includes an archive of video interviews and local sites and objects, which can be accessed through the homepage map of the Geneva region. The interviews, conducted in 2017 and 2018, document the knowledge, experiences, practices, and views of scientists, artists, activists, and citizens from diverse professions. Exemplary local sites and objects are also investigated and documented. A glossary explicates relevant key terms, local place names, species names, and groups or events of special interest; it also contains critical commentary and new representations of the so-called Anthropocene. The glossary interfaces with the map and archive of interviews, sites, and objects, and is supported by a bibliography. Information about the interdisciplinary research methodology is provided in the notes on methods section, below. All of these elements together form The Anthropocene Atlas of Geneva.
TAAG is a research project of HEAD – Genève / Geneva School of Art and Design that is supported by an award from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). The project is carried out by four researchers in art and philosophy at HEAD – Genève / Geneva School of Art and Design, supported by the TAAG Advisory Research Group, a network of international scholars, researchers, and artists working in diverse disciplines and media. The TAAG research takes place over two years (2017 and 2018), during which time the TAAG website will be added to continuously and developed into the final online Atlas.
notes on methods
“Anthropocene” is a new term now being used by scientists, scholars, artists, journalists, and increasingly by members of the general public. The term refers to a growing public awareness about the many ways in which human societies are altering the planet: these alterations include climate change, global warming, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, the loss of local plant, animal, and insect life, ocean acidification, and forms of toxification.
The interdisciplinary research project TAAG documents and studies how people are responding to these changes, for example in the work that they do, and how they may be carrying their awareness into their everyday lives. TAAG interviews scientists, artists, activists, and citizens from diverse professions who are willing to share their awareness and concerns about planetary change. It also documents and studies interactions between humans and nonhuman beings impacted by the changing environment.
For this research, TAAG has borrowed and combined methods from social sciences, arts, and critical humanities. Video interviews, observation of sites, and photo-documentation are the main forms of local fieldwork archived and mapped on this website. Historical research findings, discussions of relevant literature, and critical reflection are provided in the glossary. The Anthropocene Atlas of Geneva gathers and elaborates local responses and representations of planetary change and includes new representations produced during the research.
The aim of this research is to contribute to ongoing public understanding and evaluation of socially caused global environmental change. TAAG is realized in continuous dialogue with the work of other research communities and networks studying the implications of planetary change. The unique contribution of the TAAG project follows from its local focus; TAAG documents responses of people and nonhumans in one city and region, Geneva, over the two-year duration (2017-2018) of the project.
TAAG studies responses to socially caused global environmental change. These responses can include forms of representation, such as images, stories, or metaphors developed to make sense of planetary change. They can also include actions taken as a result of awareness about planetary change, such as a decision to garden organically, or to join a local group, neighborhood initiative, or political demonstration. In the case of human actors, these responses are gathered in the form of interviews that invite interviewees to share their knowledge and practices, as well as their personal views and feelings. Human-made artefacts, the groups that people organize, and public rituals may also contain relevant and illuminating representations of planetary change.
In order to select appropriate objects of research from among the many traces and representations of planetary change that can be found in Geneva, the following criteria were applied:
- an obvious connection to Geneva and environs
- a capacity to make visible complex or underlying processes of change
- a potential for stimulating reflection or debate beyond initial institutional, disciplinary, or practical contexts
- a potential for stimulating practical change
- quality as local indicator of global socially-caused environmental change
In addition to these criteria, particular attention is given to research objects that have been generative of public discussion or debate, are bearers of notable emotional intensities, or more generally exemplify shifts in awareness or everyday practices.
In the TAAG project, interviews with human actors follow established ethnographic and artistic interview practices and the ethical and professional standards of social sciences research. All interviews are voluntary. Following initial contact, the research project was discussed with each interviewee, who then signed an informed consent form before giving an interview. After the interview was edited, interviewees were given an opportunity to review the results; the inclusion of interviews on this website means that interviewees have signed a publication permission form. All parts of recorded interviews that were not selected for use in the editing process or that were rejected by interviewees during their review will have been permanently deleted by December 1, 2018, the date of the project completion. The TAAG informed consent and publication permission forms used in this research can be viewed online here. In researching local collectives, artefacts, and rituals, TAAG draws on descriptive and analytical methods from actor-network theory, critical theories of representation, and critical theories of society. Explanation of some technical terms used in this paragraph and the one immediately below can be found in the glossary of this website.
The responses and agencies of nonhuman actants are more difficult to identify and study with the means and methods of this research project. Scholarly debates about the Anthropocene across the sciences, arts, and humanities are strongly questioning the human species exceptionalism, or anthropocentrism, implicit in the logics and practices of modernity. While TAAG researchers recognize the need to think beyond human exceptionalism, they have found it challenging to realize this aim in practice. TAAG strives to acknowledge living nonhumans impacted by planetary change, wherever it has seemed possible to do so without presuming to speak for the nonhuman actants in question. The migration of local species and climates, the arrival of new species and climates to the Geneva region, or the decline of local species due to climate change, toxification, or other socially caused environmental disturbances, are considered appropriate TAAG research objects only when these have already been documented by scientific study or observed by local informants. For example, lichenologist Philippe Clerc, of the Geneva Botanical Gardens and Herbarium, has given TAAG an interview on the responsiveness of local and newly arriving lichens to climate change and socially caused air pollution. Generally, TAAG has focused on points of interaction between humans and nonhumans that bring aspects or consequences of planetary change into view. An example is the annual city ritual organized around the spring leafing of the official horse chestnut tree of Geneva. In order to limit and as far as possible avoid disturbances due to the research, documentation of nonhuman objects of study by TAAG researchers is limited to in situ digital photography, video, or audio recording.
In order to encourage good practices of full attribution without discouraging the free sharing of research findings and knowledge, all the contents of the TAAG website have been placed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0). Under this license, the contents of the TAAG website can be freely shared so long as full attribution is given and any modifications are clearly identified as modifications; this license also specifies that none of the contents of the TAAG website may be used for commercial purposes.
TAAG Research Group
Gene Ray, TAAG Project Director, HEAD – Genève, Geneva School of Art and Design
Aurélien Gamboni, artist and researcher
Janis Schroeder, artist, filmmaker and researcher
Kate McHugh Stevenson, artist, PhD candidate, University of the Arts London
TAAG Advisory Research Group
- Iain Boal, social historian of science, technics and the commons
- Gabriella Calchi Novati, critical theorist, performance studies scholar and psychoanalyst-in-training, CG Jung Institute Zurich
- David Cross, artist, University of the Arts London
- Hannah Entwisle, legal specialist on forced human displacement, PhD candidate, University of the Arts London
- Anna Grichting, architect and artist, Qatar University, Doha
- Sacha Kagan, sociologist and sustainability studies scholar, Leuphana University, Lüneburg
- Armin Linke, artist and filmmaker
- Nils Norman, artist
- Catherine Quéloz, HEAD – Genève
- Grégory Quenet, environmental humanities scholar, Université de Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines
- Philippe Rekacewicz, cartographer and journalist
- Oliver Ressler, artist and filmmaker
- Liliane Schneiter, HEAD – Genève
- Paulo Tavares, forensic architect, urbanist, and environmental studies scholar, Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo, Universidade de São Paulo (FAU–USP)
- Chris Wainwright, Chelsea College of Arts, University of the Arts London*
- Eddie Yuen, extinction studies scholar, California College of Arts
* We sadly mark the loss of Chris Wainwright, who passed away in 2017.