Hope and Grief launched by PhD scholar Elissa Waters

Aug 14, 2016 - 9:49am

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I was honoured to have University of Melbourne geography PhD student Elissa Waters launch Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene this week. As the book is focused on the future, I hope it will resonate with the next generation of scholars. Over the next few weeks I will be blogging on individual chapters. To get you in the mood, here are Elissa's words: 

Welcome everyone and thank you very much for the opportunity to introduce Professor Lesley Head’s new book – Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene: Re-conceptualising human-nature relations. It’s been a real pleasure reading this book, although I have to say it has at the same time been a somewhat confronting experience. This work is fundamentally about the emotional aspects of the problem of how we live, work and look to the future in the Anthropocene – the confronting part of reading this was the realisation that where I sit on the hope-grief spectrum is something I’ve been studiously avoiding for quite a long time now. This avoidance of the base emotional response was also reflected in many of the interviews of climate scientists in this research.

As geographers, both human and physical, much of our work revolves around the key issues of the Anthropocene - the complexities of human-nature relations and the looming realities of the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change. If we really consider these realities, if we take them seriously in our lives and our work, how do we actually carry on? My (fairly unproductive) response to that question so far has involved a lot of red wine! Thankfully though, Lesley’s book encourages us to take a far more sophisticated approach to living ‘with and through the Anthropocene’. A key argument of this book is that grief is fundamentally entwined with climate change, and for us living in this time means that “grief will be our companion” – grief is not something we can get beyond but has become part of our lives and politics. Conceptually the book unpacks the idea of grief in this context, arguing that we are grieving for both the loss of our ‘Modern Selves’ and for the nostalgia of a ‘pristine past’.

It follows then that hope is the flip side of this emotion, and as the book points out, there is real pressure in the Western world, particularly in climate science to present a hopeful outlook to avoid being a dooms-dayer. One of the most refreshing things about this book is the fact that it argues precisely against this conception of hope - it maintains that we need to decouple hope from an optimistic view that everything will be ok. From my perspective as a postgrad heading into this field of geography in the context of climate change, this point is crucial – that we can be hopeful in the practice of our work without ignoring, disingenuously, the more painful possibilities of climate change.

In that context this book is an exploration of how a focus on local, vernacular practices may serve to reframe human-nature relations and provide space for more hopeful ways to generate new political possibilities. This idea is drawn out through a range of cases that span the broad scope of Lesley’s empirical research in: agriculture; climate science; invasive species research and urban geography. From a methodological point of view, like much of Lesley’s work, the book makes a strong case for qualitative social sciences and for the value of a cultural geography lens on the emerging narratives of the Anthropocene.

That said, I think the key arguments of this book and its explicit attention to the emotional work that we do in this field are really relevant for both physical and human geographers and I’d encourage everyone to read this – particularly those of us that are prone to resorting to wine to cope! I’ll leave the introduction there and ask Lesley to come up to say a few words - So thank you everyone for coming and please join me in congratulating Lesley on the official launch of this important and timely book.

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