Foregrounding Critical Systemic and Indigenous Ways of Collective Knowing towards (Re)Directing the Anthropocene

Norma Ruth Arlene Romm


This paper begins with the understanding that the global commons is under threat. In the light hereof I consider why it is important to appreciate Indigenous styles of collectively-oriented knowing, where selves are understood as “selves-in-relation” to one another and to all living and non-living things, as part of the web of life. I suggest that often accounts of the Anthropocene (as proposed by various authors postulating this concept) do not accentuate how the forcefulness of human impact on the world (by virtue of humans manipulating and extracting resources) can be regarded as rooted in Western-oriented supposedly rational styles of knowing and calculating, which to date have been historically dominant. This approach to knowing and being-in-the-world is ill-equipped to incorporate a conception of our existing as humans in relation to others, including to all that exists. Indigenous thinking as expounded by various Indigenous authors across the globe (which I define as I proceed with the paper) starts with the premise of connectivity of life forces, and therefore with the assumption that we, as humans, are called upon to play a responsible role in our caring for each other and for the earth. Working in terms of the notion of care does not mean that we are less rational, but on the contrary that we recognize that our existence is contingent on our supporting, and being supported by others (including non-living entities). This in turn implies an attitude of respecting how “individual” well-being is a function of the well-being of the whole. Based on these considerations, I propound in the paper that planetary stewardship should not be envisaged as applicable only now that we have entered the epoch named by some as the Anthropocene, where the human power to manipulate the environment has become a global geological force in its own right. Instead, we need to question the way in which this power has hitherto been used, and the (dominant) worldview that enabled the use of such power as a manipulative enterprise. Such questioning allows us to reconsider the values in terms of which the Anthropocene can be approached, by taking on board—and indeed foregrounding—Indigenous views, and bases, of stewardship. The paper concludes with some considerations of how diverse knowledge systems can be brought into communication/integrated towards enhanced ecosystem governance.


Systemic challenges, Indigenous collective knowing, Ecosystem governance, Anthropocene

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