An Anthropology of the Amphibious Anthropocene

Towards a Decolonial Perspective on Global Water Crises

Around the world, people experience the conditions that have been glossed the Anthropocene through shifts in hydrosocial configurations. Lands are becoming too dry for farming and herding; liquefying ice and permafrost landscapes are jeopardizing livelihoods and infrastructures; low-lying coastal areas and floodplains are being eroded and inundated; and pollution from sources near and far are turning waters into toxic liquids. In this presentation, I call this condition the amphibious Anthropocene. Based on recent scholarship in anthropology and related disciplines, I argue that the Western mainstream image of these water crises as harbingers of ecological apocalypse must be put into perspective by the experiences and struggles of the often Indigenous people who already bear most of their effects.

For them, the amphibious Anthropocene does not register as a collapse of a previously stable world, but manifests as a continuation of much longer histories of dispossession, collapse and resistance. Acknowledging that the worlds of Indigenous communities have been destroyed, sometimes repeatedly, by colonial violence long before the colonizers began worrying about the Anthropocene, this presentation sketches a decolonial perspective on global water crises and the efforts of confronting them. Outlining four examples, and concentrating on my research with Gwich'in and Inuvialuit people in the Canadian Mackenzie Delta, I suggest that the amphibious Anthropocene cannot be understood without attention to colonial continuities and decolonial struggles.