Poem of Rilke on a wall in Leiden.

Poem of Rilke on a wall in Leiden.

Conference reports The Anthropocene? Knowledge and practice in times and spaces of unravelling

In a panel discussion and workshop organized by doctoral students and Södertörn and Uppsala Universities, we set out to explore how the idea of the Anthropocene encompasses – and disrupts – various temporalities and spatialities, as seen from these various angles.

Published on balticworlds.com on January 25, 2024

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Reflections from the Anthropocene workshop, 30 November 2023, Södertörn University

The Anthropocene was coined as a scientific concept.[1] However, failing so far to garner scientific consensus from the natural sciences, it has already been condemned by the social sciences as universalist, arrogant and flattening out the complex landscapes of inequalities, colonialities, injustices and a plurality of ways of living.[2] At the same time, it has been claimed by popular imagination as a proxy for a modern world spinning out of control. If anything, the Anthropocene is a rich source of dichotomies and contradictions. The allure of its abstract and contentious nature is in its invitation to puzzle together perspectives from the natural and social sciences, humanities, and arts, as well as practical and Indigenous knowledges.

In a panel discussion and workshop organized by doctoral students and Södertörn and Uppsala Universities, we set out to explore how the idea of the Anthropocene encompasses – and disrupts – various temporalities and spatialities, as seen from these various angles. The in-depth experiential workshop explored how we practice (or reject) the concept of the Anthropocene in our work (academic, artistic, or practical) within, between and outside of the disciplines. The aim of the workshop was to experience and learn from each other’s practices and perspectives, to cross-pollinate and inspire our work. We were guided by two questions: How do we understand our connections to time and space as they unravel? How do we practice the futures worth living in?

We opened with a quote from Rilke, who answered these questions in his own way back in the 1920s, before the Anthropocene was a thing (if it now is); before something like the Anthropocene was even thinkable. He wrote: ”We are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; … we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing. […] We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes. […] The future enters us in this way… long before it happens”. In Rilke’s terms, the moment of the future entering ”our bloodstream” without us knowing it      is more critical than the ”loud” moment when it manifests itself outwardly to others. He urged that we must be ”quiet” and attentive to sadness (what we would today refer to as anxiety, anguish, anger, confusion, denial, despair, etc. of the Anthropocene), so that, in Rilke’s words, ”nothing alien happens to us, but only what has long been our own”.[3]

We started with the ”loud” part of Rilke’s message: telling what we know, discussing and questioning it. We had with us Elinor Andrén, Associate Professor of Physical Geography (Södertörn University); Tommy Mäkinen, a.k.a. Vegan Flava (visual activist and environmental street artist); Julia Nordblad, Associate Professor of History of Science and Ideas (Uppsala University) and Bartira Fortes, Doctoral Student in Environmental Studies, anthropologist and artist (Södertörn Univesity). Elinor took us on a brief excursion through the stratigraphy of the Anthropocene, the ongoing debates about it being a ”guest” that has already entered our ”house”, and the contention regarding the potential timing of its beginning. With Tommy, we entered abandoned buildings in European cities being reclaimed by Nature; played hockey on the surface of frozen Mälaren on a large painted snow bunting bird etched in the ice; and explored the memory of paper and the artistic process, which – similarly to the academic process, perhaps – essentially is a rescue mission of the paper on which the artist (or the researcher) drew a few lines. Julia talked about the Anthropocene as a historical phenomenon and a political challenge – a proxy for talking about ”what‘s happening to us”. It is, according to Julia, not a question of knowing, but acting upon what we know – organizing politics and power and keeping the enquiry going into what the Anthropocene means and entails. Bartira brought in the Indigenous perspectives on the Anthropocene, seeing it as a Eurocentric concept, because the apocalypse which the Anthropocene promises has already happened for many Indigenous populations on territories colonized by Europeans. The discussion centered around art and science, and how the two come together, and when the line between them is helpfully (or unhelpfully) drawn.

The workshop consisted of three parts: sculpting Anthropocene memories (working with things); collaborative text-crafting (working with words); and the Anthropo-scene (working with bodies). The first part created the buzz of talking about personal objects in relation to changing times and spaces: telling personal stories and connecting them to the common theme to explore the intricate connections between memories and experiences within the Anthropocene. Starting with conversations about our selected objects, we sought to connect to each other by describing  the object and our relationship with it. Sharing stories about the objects helped us transcend their physical forms and navigate  their past, as well as envision our future selves in relation to the se meaningful for us items. The process fostered a sense of togetherness, allowing us to bond and connect in ways beyond the formalities of academic and professional introductions.

We moved on to a post-modern technique of preparation to improvisation in physical theatre,[4] which enabled  us to tap into the flow of consciousness through free writing – and then write a collective poem. This departure from academic writing’s structure allowed us to reconnect with our personal experiences. In an individual freewriting practice, words flowed freely on paper, unfettered by the usual frames and constraints. We then ”recycled” some of the lines we wrote to weave them into a poem through a process similar to the physical theatre exercise. The collage of these separate pieces was spontaneously enhanced by the inclusion of objects from the previous part – all done in silence. Having grown closer through our shared poetic artefact we proceeded to the final phase of our experimentation in which our bodies took center stage to express the unspoken and the unspeakable. Drawing from Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) technique[5], we explored different spaces from times remembered and envisioned. Using our bodies to express fears, uncertainties, and hopes, we concluded with a collective improvized performance, by making an entrance to the ”stage” and uniting to form a sculpture with our bodies, each posing in a different form but all converging as a whole. In this final experience participants spontaneously utilized their articulated poem-objects in a creative and performative manner, converging these diverse forms of expression to collectively forge alternative ways of telling our stories.

This progression allowed us to go from the familiar and the comfortable, through working with objects to getting to know each other and ourselves, to the silence that Rilke was advocating for when listening to the future which has entered us. Working with bodies, we walked away from language – to connect to what Ernesto Laclau[6] would call ”essentially unsayable”.

The workshop’s significance, from our perspective, lay in creating a space for participants to engage with the intricacies of the Anthropocene through the dynamic interplay between memory, time, language, and physicality, fostering a multifaceted exploration of our interconnectedness and the unfolding narratives shaping our collective future. Below we share the poem written during the workshop and three reflections from our participants, which serve as an eloquent testimony to this and provide personal reflections and insights.

This workshop was designed and run by doctoral students at the Department of Environment, Development and Sustainability Studies (EDSS) and Centre for Baltic and East European Studies (CBEES, Södertörn University) and doctoral students at the Department of Natural Resources and Sustainable Development, Uppsala University, affiliated with Centre for Environment and Development Studies (CEMUS) Research Forum (CEFO): Tatiana Sokolova, Oldouz Nejadibabadei, Bartira Fortes, Helen Barbosa and Laila Mendy, with support from Isak Stoddard     .

The Anthropocene Poem

How much does a tree cost?



We are narrators of a truth that cannot be trusted any longer.

Why you even bother? You, Anthropocene, you don’t want to sacrifice your comfort. Why living!

Rotorn bromsar in (The helicopter rotor blades slow down)

I will pose this need upon your babies in armour.

I am thinking of the bird on the lake with a child in the middle.

Cats and dogs and other familiar things.

So many possibilities, so many colours and shells.

Just keep going.

One more round.

By workshop participants, 30 November 2023



Andrea Nanda, Master student in Environment, Sustainability and Global Development (Södertörn University): The Anthropocene workshop I attended offered a unique opportunity to explore the diverse dimensions of this critical era through presentations and reflective exercises. The workshop began with presentations from various perspectives, ranging from natural sciences to art. This combination of inputs allowed me to remember that uncomfortable feeling when I think about the future of humanity. But remembering took me to the right place within myself for the reflective exercises presented in the workshops working with artefacts, creative writing, and embodied practices. The first exercise involved selecting an object from the Anthropocene and exploring its past, present, and future with a partner. This opened up our senses and encouraged reflective thinking. The free writing exercise initially made me hesitant, but as I let go and allowed my thoughts and emotions to flow, I experienced a sense of liberation and authenticity. This led to one of the most impactful moments in this workshop which was the collaborative creation of a poem. We shared words or sentences from our free writing, weaving them together to craft a collective expression of our experiences. The resulting poem beautifully captured what I believe was our shared meanings and emotions we had explored throughout the whole workshop, at the same time revealing the power of collective creativity and connection. We then ended with embodied practices, with movement which brought the workshops to a perfect conclusion.

The workshop definitely made an impact on me, initially evoking sadness about the world’s state and uncertain future. However, this feeling transformed to a sense of hope, reinforcing my belief that our ability to make a positive change begins with collective awareness. In my experience this workshop serves as a reminder of the importance of collective work in addressing the complexities of the Anthropocene.


Sofie Levin, Master student in Environment, Sustainability and Global Development (Södertörn University): Our investigation into the implications of the Anthropocene for our future has revealed a multitude of interpretations, each as diverse as the individuals considering them. The panel discussion was thoughtfully structured, commencing with a factual foundation before transitioning into a more artistic and philosophical discussion. The final presentation, made by Bartira Fortes, struck a deep chord in me due to her passionate delivery of the importance of involving emotions in science and set the tone for the following workshop.

The workshop  experience was unexpectedly moving, challenging us to engage with the group and together explore meaning through objects, words, and movement. Sending us on a reflective and introspective journey that prompted us to contemplate our values and aspirations for the future. This was a surprisingly touching event that encouraged us to explore our deepest ambitions and meaning in life by going inside ourselves.

The workshop’s emphasis on collective exploration and expression through various mediums allowed us to delve into our innermost thoughts and feelings, fostering a sense of unity and shared purpose among the participants. As we engaged in this introspective exercise, it became evident that our aspirations and concerns were interconnected, underscoring the significance of collective action in shaping our shared future. The emotional depth of this experience left a lasting impression, compelling us to consider the profound impact of our individual choices and collective endeavors on the trajectory of our future.


Magnus Hoppe, Senior lecturer, Mälardalen University: As a guest at the workshop, I enjoyed the idea of not just talking but also acting to make academia something else than what it currently is. What struck me most during this event was how we all were fighting the normality that comes with fitting into the Anthropocene as we have come to know it; a normality that is detrimental to the earth and all living things. This detrimental normality also encompasses academia and, in the effort to break free from how we are disciplined to think, act, and write, we need to try out new ways of expressing ourselves, which we had great fun doing at the workshop. In a parallel project, we explore this path and we call it academic misfitting [7], where misfitting means taking a stance for humanity and acting upon it when we do not agree with the circumstances we find ourselves in. There is more to us all to use in creating something good in this world, if we embrace all our senses, and by doing that we can also fight conformity, dullness, and irrelevance [8]. There is nothing ”normal” in the present order, as it is not sustainable, and there is much to gain for science in changing its ideals and explore ways of how the subjectivity of mankind can be used to change the world for the better.


[1] P. J. Crutzen, “Geology of mankind”, Nature, vol. 415 no. 23 (2002).

[2] M. Armiero, Wasteocene: Stories from the Global Dump (Elements in Environmental Humanities), (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2021); A.G.E. Böschemeier, A. G. E.; R. Quispe-Agnoli, L. Greco, ‘‘Waman Poma de Ayala, um autor indígena do século XVII: Questionando antropocentrismos no colonialoceno’‘, TECCOGS – Revista Digital de Tecnologias  Cognitivas, no. 24 (2021): 157-203; A. Krenak, Ideas to Postpone the End of the World, trans. Anthony Doyle, (Toronto: Anansi Press, 2020).; J. W. Moore, “The Capitalocene, Part I: on the nature and origins of our ecological crisis”, The Journal of Peasant Studies, vol. 44 no. 3 (2017): 594-630. doi: 10.1080/03066150.2016.1235036; D. Haraway, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin”, Environmental Humanities, vol. 6 no. 1 (2015): 159–165. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/22011919-3615934

[3] R. M. Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, (Penguin Little Black Classics: London, England, 2016), 58-59.

[4] A. Bogart, T. Landau, The viewpoints book: a practical guide to viewpoints and composition, (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2005).

[5] E. Groff, “Laban movement analysis: Charting the ineffable domain of human movement”, Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, vol. 66 no. 2, (1995): 27-30.

[6] J. Glynos, Y. Stavrakakis, “Politics and the unconscious – An interview with Ernesto Laclau”, Subjectivity, vol. 3 (2010): 231–244. doi: https://doi.org/10.1057/sub.2010.12

[7] M. Hoppe, S. Siegert, S. Temiz, F. Seifan, A. Hasselgren, ”Academic misfits”, in S. Robinson, A. Bristow, & O. Ratle (Eds.), Doing Academic Careers Differently – Portraits of Academic Life, Routledge, (2023): pp. 196-204. Doi: https://doi.org/https://www.taylorfrancis.com/chapters/edit/10.4324/9781003267553-32

[8] J. Kociatkiewicz, M. Kostera, ”Writing differently: on the constraints and possibilities of presenting research rooted in feminist epistemologies”, Gender, Work & Organization, vol. 31 no. 1, (2023): 284-304.