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AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Making a living in the Anthropocene: Towards a new anthropology of livelihoods

keywords:

anthropocene

labor and work

environment

Vast projects of resource extraction, infrastructure development, climate change, violent conflict and agricultural industrialization have produced rapid environmental transformations throughout the world’s land and sea-scapes. Living in the Anthropocene means many poor urban and rural households must grapple with these intersecting processes that entail chronic, and sometimes catastrophic, challenges to securing subsistence and realizing economic aspirations. For anthropologists concerned with the uneven consequences of the Anthropocene, this requires understanding how lives are lived and governed in the context of growing precarity and intense ecological fluidity. Since the 1990s, the notion of a ‘livelihood’ has enjoyed wide currency amongst development practitioners and governments as a way to catalogue how households are impacted by and respond to such circumstances. At the same time, livelihoods have also been the subject of a fitful anthropological reclamation, often rooted in the local salience of various translations or reinterpretations of the term. The need to provision a livelihood for oneself, and perhaps provide one for others, are often overriding everyday concerns. Grounding an exploration of livelihood in emic terms offers a means to hold its disciplinary characteristics in productive tension with its emancipatory potential. This conversation aims to expand these trajectories by speaking to recent ethnographic work deploying and critically exploring the notion of ‘livelihood’ as methodology, object of analysis and form of governmental practice in spaces of economic and environmental rupture.

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