Beyond technofix: Thinking with Epimetheus in the Anthropocene

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Abstract

The Prometheus myth has long now provided inspiration for those who envision solutions to environmental issues. Prometheus is the figure par excellence of human forethought and progress in the anthropocene. In this article, we introduce the concept of ambient Prometheanism to describe the way of thinking that foregrounds foresight and anticipation and advances technological solutions developed by capital and energy-intensive projects. We question this stance, arguing that ambient Prometheanism, with its emphasis on technofix, leads to the economisation and depoliticisation of planetary environmental issues. Following Bernard Stiegler, we recover from the myth the figure of Epimetheus, Prometheus’ brother, as well as his associated faculty, epimetheia to theorise what we call an ‘Epimethean politics’. Thinking the anthropocene from the perspective of ambient Prometheanism and Epimetheanism means to consider the role of technology in climate politics, and in particular to make the case for the importance of afterthought in face of unintended consequences and accumulated errors. To substantiate our argument, we outline the challenge posed by emerging solutions focussed on technological intensification (geoengineering) and socio-economic acceleration (green growth and accelerationism). An Epimethean politics of the climate requires to use reflexivity as a capacity to anticipate, but also to mobilise epimetheia to account for accidents and past mistakes. Such a politics builds from an alternative conception of technology, one that radically differs from ambient Prometheanism. Finally we read as actualisations of Epimethean politics contemporary eco-political struggles and their imperatives for multispecies living and convivial livelihoods.
Original languageEnglish
JournalContemporary Political Theory
Early online date9 Sept 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Sophia Hatzisavvidou has received funding by the Leverhulme Trust under the Early Career Fellowship Scheme (Grant Number ECF 2016-230). A first version of this paper was presented at the University of Brighton (UK) in January 2019 at the conference ‘Fascism? Populism? Democracy? Critical Theories in a Global Context’ organised by the International Consortium for Critical Theory (ICCT). The authors would like to thank the organisers of the conference, Volkan C¸ ıdam, Mark Devenney, Zeynep Gambetti and Clare Woodford, as well as the participants for their comments. We also thank George Sotiropoulos and Tara Puri for their valuable feedback on earlier versions of the article as well as Andrew Schaap, and the three anonymous reviewers for their critical and detailed suggestions.

Keywords

  • Anthropocene
  • Climate change
  • Epimetheus
  • Prometheanism
  • Technology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations

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