- (Inter)facing the AnthropoceneRepresenting an Interdisciplinary Interaction
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This article presents a project that explored the question: How shall we talk about the Anthropocene? We left a trace of our exploration in a website: Habitation in the Anthropocene.1 While we encourage you to explore the site directly, this article will discuss the site’s design. In particular, we will try to explain the decisions we made about the site’s interface—the way readers interact with its content—for those decisions were based on our thinking about how to convey what we had to [End Page 18] say about the Anthropocene. We will describe the development of our interface after first providing some background on our project.
The question of how to talk about the Anthropocene has two broad dimensions: the substantive dimension of what sorts of things should be said and the formal dimension of how those things should be presented. These dimensions are intimately related, yet we can focus on each in turn.
Our fundamental assumption was that the content of what is to be said about the Anthropocene is interdisciplinary. Understanding the Anthropocene proposal demands contributions from the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. This is a well-established idea. As one of us has argued, “Theorizing the origin and character of the Anthropocene requires a collaborative effort across a wide range of scholarly disciplines.”2 Thus, our project was an outgrowth of already existing efforts by a team of scholars from departments across the University of Oklahoma who were members of the Anthropocene Learning Community, which was devoted to studying the Anthropocene idea from as many perspectives as possible. Our project, in other words, was anchored in our commitment to an interdisciplinary approach.
Our group pursued its goal by implementing a version of social learning. That term is used quite broadly in a variety of contexts; hence, its meaning is somewhat diffuse.3 We will stipulate a specific sense built on its precise use in studies of animal behavior.4 This sense contrasts social learning with the case of an individual learning directly from its interaction with its environment—an animal learns socially when it acquires a behavior by observing another member of its species.
In an analogous sense, our group used social learning to facilitate interdisciplinarity. We recognized that we needed to engage with work from a variety of disciplines—thus, each of us would be confronted with unfamiliar materials. However, we did not ask ourselves to learn directly from the highly diverse intellectual environment. Instead, at our meetings one of our members would present a relevant work from his or her discipline, in order to orient members from other disciplines to the concepts and methods of that field. Any seminar, of course, is an exercise in learning from others—but our format demonstrated the [End Page 19] value of social learning in the more specific sense of the term, by facilitating an interdisciplinary group’s efforts to develop shared understandings of an interdisciplinary subject.
That format lent itself quite easily to Inhabiting the Anthropocene, the blog we launched in 2014, as a forum in which we could continue our conversations and open them to a wider circle of participants.5 We created the blog precisely on the view that the blogging form is an especially appropriate medium for presenting the kind of broad discussions among scholars of diverse backgrounds and interests that the Anthropocene idea invites.6 In addition, the complexity of the Anthropocene idea makes the convenience that blogs offer of linking to multiple sources especially valuable.7 A central goal of the blog was to make available the kind of social learning just described, by having specialists in a range of disciplines post short discussions of articles in their fields in order to offer nonspecialists access to the disciplinary outlooks represented.8 We also post statements of our own views directly, likewise giving readers of the blog a sense of how scholars...