Hope, Hopium, and Human Extinction: exploring moral life amidst ecological grief in the Anthropocene

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Presented by Dr Susan Wardell

Lectures, talks and seminars

SACS Research Seminar Series

14 Aug 2019 12:00 pm to 14 Aug 2019 1:00 pm

MY305 (Murphy Building Level 3)

Where is hope found, when the possibility of a human future is believed to be foreclosed?

Dr. Susan Wardell presents a case study of the negotiation of moral life in the Anthropocene, based on preliminary findings from participant-observation in several online support groups related to the Near-Term Human Extinction (NTHE) movement, and a discourse analysis of the word ‘hopium’. Emerging results include struggles over truth, data, and predictions of the future, and paradoxes of human agency and blame.

In light of shifting secular eschatologies, the talk will examine some of the complicated everyday (social, practical, and emotional) questions that arise around both how to live, and how to live well, when living in anticipation of a large-scale climate catastrophe. It discusses the successful appropriation of concepts from palliative care and bereavement literature, by NTHE groups, in order to address ecological grief in a ‘terminal’ world. It also highlights the role of the word ‘hopium’ in policing affective modes, and in promoting acceptance as a situated moral good. This provides an interesting and alternative perspective to other studies of environmental activism. 

By connecting this case study with literature from the anthropology of hope, the talk aims to open up questions about how political and moral subjectivities are remade when 'hope' is actively rejected, or reframed as inaccurate, unhelpful, and even immoral.

For more information contact: Gill Blomgren

Speaker Bios

Dr Susan Wardell is a lecturer in the social anthropology programme at the University of Otago. She teaches on religion, death and grief, cultural politics, and the anthropology of evil. Her research interests include emotion, care, wellbeing, mental health, disability, moral reasoning, and digital worlds.