From Global to Planetary Positioning

20 Feb 2023

Lecture at SCI-Arc February 20, 2023 at 10:00-12:00 (PST), in the context of MA positionality questions for independent research projects.

The question of positioning is inseparable from historical contextualization. And while it’s laughable today to reflect on Francis Fukuyama’s hubristic statement that the fall of the Iron Curtain marked the end of history, he was accidentally correct, in so far as the discipline of history as one tracking strictly human affairs has come to an end, as soon as discussions of Global warming began to enter the public domain at a comparable moment. In the words of Dipesh Chakrabarty [quote] Anthropogenic Explanations of Climate Change Spell the Collapse of the Age-old Humanist Distinction between Natural History and Human History [endquote], signaling a resituating of the human as an embedded figure, inseparable from the proverbial ground, so to speak.

The stakes of the planetary turn as a transformation of history and an historic transformation can be succinctly summarized by Sylvia Wynter’s observation: that for the first time in human history we are forced to navigate an environment in common, yet one, crucially, that is deeply uncommonly lived and experienced. The emphasis on this existential side to the ‘environment in common’ implies some important considerations for us when imagining positionality commensurate with planetary dimensions. The First is that the planetary doesn’t simply indicate sheer immensity, as if it renders the ‘local’ irrelevant; and Second is a notion of ‘in common’ that does not equate with homogeneity. What the planetary compels, is a learning of how to traverse scales of analysis when constructing positionality – such that as much as we tend to emphasize “site-specificity” in our field, which I’m sure you’ve discussed a great deal, we must also come to emphasize “scale-specificity” when it comes to how we “cut” or “localize” our sites of investigation, and position our work therein.