Published in Azimuth, preprint available here.
Abstract: How biology should figure in Anthropocene studies, hitherto stemming from Earth sciences and a broad constellation of human and social sciences, is still an unsettled issue among scholars. Here, we contribute with a historiographically-informed perspective on the specific role that ‘biological theory’ has played in past rounds of reflection on the main issues that are covered by current Anthropocene-related research. We focus on the British biologist Conrad Hal Waddington and his contributions from the late 1950s onwards to evolutionary theory and so-called ‘Man-made future’ studies. We uncover the organicist roots of Waddington’s ecological thinking and highlight his conception of the ‘exploitative system’, a key element in the formulation of niche construction theory some decades later. Focusing on Waddington’s enriched notion of what ‘biology’ encompasses and the interdisciplinary dialogues he engaged in during the 1970s, we further identify a suite of his concepts (e.g., the World’s Problématique, and humanised ecosystems) which arguably constitute an original articulation of the ‘Anthropocene’ under a different name.