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The Strathern Lecture with Professor Kath Weston (University of Edinburgh and University of Virginia)

When May 27, 2020
from 05:00 PM to 06:30 PM
Where Online
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Bequeathing a World: Ecological Inheritance, Generational Conflict, and Planetary Dispossession

Professor Kath Weston (University of Edinburgh and University of Virginia)


"What sort of world are we leaving to our children?" “Why have you not taken better care of the environment? You are passing a ruined planet on to us!” These are rhetorical claims, though hardly idle ones, that have become commonplace in discussions of climate change and ecological damage. On both sides of a putative generational divide, a notion of ecological inheritance frames speculative futures about extinction and the end of generational succession, as well as diagnoses of what currently ails an Earth now conceived on a planetary scale. This lecture examines the revival of a transmission model of inheritance in environmental politics in North America, offering as illustrative evidence a series of ethnographic vignettes centered on three objects: a plastic bag, a bumper sticker, and a totem pole. What financialized assumptions about possession, ownership, authority, and succession inform the trope of bequeathing an ecologically compromised world to a receiving generation that worries it might be the last? What sorts of exclusions are embedded in the notion of ecological inheritance for those who already apprehend themselves as dispossessed? The lecture concludes with an attempt to decolonize the rhetoric of ecological inheritance by drawing on Indigenous scholarship that reworks notions of responsibility and place so as to allow humans to inhabit the everyday under signs other than extinction, regardless of how things turn out.

About Professor Weston

Kath Weston is a British Academy Global Professor at the University of Edinburgh and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Virginia. Her first book, Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship (1991), is widely regarded as having made a key contribution to what became known within anthropology as the New Kinship Studies. Her current research carries that legacy forward with a focus on embodiment and visceral engagement, drawing on kinship studies, political ecology, the anthropology of finance, historical anthropology, and science and technology studies. Professor Weston's other books include Animate Planet: Making Visceral Sense of Living in a High-Tech Ecologically Damaged World (2017), Traveling Light: On the Road with America's Poor (2008), Gender in Real Time (2002), Long Slow Burn: Sexuality and Social Science (1998), and Render Me, Gender Me (1996). She has received many honours and awards over the years, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Ruth Benedict Book Prize (twice), a Visiting Professorship at Tokyo University, the Thomas Jefferson Visiting Fellowship at Downing College, and a Wyse Visiting Professorship in the Department of Social Anthropology at Cambridge underwritten by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust.

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