A Relational Sense of Place: Reimagining the “End of Coal” in the Anthropocene

Butler, Robert (2020). A Relational Sense of Place: Reimagining the “End of Coal” in the Anthropocene. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.00011f19


Climate change has been widely discussed in scientific and ethical terms, but it also needs to be thought through as an idea of the imagination (Hulme 2009). This presents a number of significant challenges. There is a deficit in the social imaginary (Braidotti 2013). To counter this deficit involves generating new types of description (Latour 2018). These new types of description require a massive, counterintuitive shift (Morton 2018).

How can the Anthropocene be imagined in a way, for instance, that brings labour and environment together within a wider set of processes? The histories of environment and labour have largely been kept apart (Malm 2016). A major reason for that separation is that the relational aspects of resource extraction have not been taken seriously enough (Moore 2015). This thesis proposes a relational sense of place as a way of generating new descriptions in the Anthropocene. The sense of place is approached through aesthetics—specifically the geographical imagination—rather than ethics or epistemology. What specific aspects of the geographical imagination might be theorised and what methodologies might be useful in putting these theories into practice?

The case studies are exercises in knowledge production that arose from the “end of coal” in Britain in December 2015. These represent a series of modalities that directly related to this moment: a news report, a feature article, below-the-line comments, a TV documentary, a stage play and a dance piece. The analysis of the case studies asks how far the discourse about the “end of coal” connected labour and environment and one place with another. And how far did the conditions of possibility within the modalities shape the narrative outcomes? As societies struggle to transition towards low-carbon economies, it is important to recognise what stories tell stories (Haraway 2016).

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