Goldsmiths hosted a one-day conference, supported by the Political Economy Research Centre and the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity

The conference aimed to explore from a multidisciplinary perspective the role of risk and uncertainty in the Anthropocene. It explored the specific logics, strategies, forms of knowledge and technologies that different actors are, or should be, using to approach risk and uncertainty.

You can listen to Prof. Geoff Mann’s keynote talk here:


10.00 | Welcome – Nick Taylor (Goldsmiths)

10:10 | Opening Keynote – Geoff Mann (Simon Fraser University) – Tragic Liberalism: The Impossible Story of the Anthropocene

11.30 | Panel I – Knowing and governing risk: past, present and future

Geopolitical Ecologies of Risk in the Everywhere War—Patrick Bigger* & Benjamin Neimark (Lancaster University)

Firm and Super-Firm: An Intellectual History of Cap-and-Trade – Troy Vettese (New York University)

Ontological Uncertainty and Knowing the Future: a Sociology of Knowledge for the Anthropocene?—Jana Bacevic (University of Cambridge)

13:00 | Break

14:00 | Panel II – Technologies and models of anticipation

On Capital’s Watch: Derivative Nature and the Temporal Logic of Biodiversity Credits—Josh Bowsher and Theo Reeves-Evison (Brunel University & Birmingham City University)

Emergent Environments: Technologies of Anticipating Socio-ecological Futures—Sophie Haines (University of Oxford)

Exploring Anthropocene Futures with Reflexive Deliberation and Unsettling Political Scenarios—Duncan McLaren*, Bron Szerszynski, David Tyfield, Rebecca Willis, Andrew Jarvis and Nils Markusson (Lancaster University)

15:30 | Break

15:45 | Closing Keynote – Louise Amoore (Durham University) – Computing Uncertainty: Governing Futures with Machine Learning

17:00 | Closing Remarks – Will Davies (Goldsmiths)


The scale and timing of existing and potential impacts of environmental degradation in the Anthropocene appear to belie our efforts to interpret and manage them. Yet ‘risk management’ remains the dominant mode of representing and governing catastrophic environmental change, with the pretension of ‘taming uncertainty’. Managed as risk, environmental breakdown and catastrophe can be approached in accounting and investment terms: they can be rendered ‘investable’, and conducive to market opportunity and framings such as ‘natural capital’.

This ‘new era’ of environmental breakdown challenges established forms of expertise and authority and tasks us with thinking about new approaches to politics and political economy. Embracing radical uncertainty permits us to consider multiple, alternative futures, opening up for discussion political and economic settlements seemingly out of reach. But given the timescales for responding to threats such as the climate crisis, what kind of politics or political economy does fast approaching existential risk provoke? Suggestions for ‘war mobilisation’ analogies in fighting climate change or ideas about engineering the planet might give some indication.

In facing the need for transformative and systemic change, it is also necessary to question who will bear the risks and uncertainties of the Anthropocene. How will risk and the costs of mitigation be distributed over time and space? Where will it be situated – locally, at the urban level, globally – and what consequences does this have for different disciplinary approaches?