The Anthropocene: The One, the Many, and the Topological

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4 Scopus citations


Given the many discourses about markers for the Anthropocene, those peripheral to one’s academic niche might elicit indifference or even dismissal. Conversely, a shallow pluralism can take root in which any Anthropocene demarcation matters equally as others. I propose a more diplomatic coexistence of ideas regarding the Anthropocene boundary issue. In this perspective, the choice of when to delineate the Anthropocene’s start and how to signify its presence is analogous to a modifiable areal unit problem. Boundaries can be drawn from a range of anthropogenic phenomena. Geographic subdisciplines have acquired distinctive ways of sublimating socioecological patterns and processes into a timestamp. Less attention, however, is given to how their respective temporal modes and ensuing markers of anthropogenic change overlap and relate to one another. I show how topology, as invoked in the biophysical sciences and social theory, integrates these temporalities of the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene can be framed as a cusp catastrophe, a folded surface in which different modes of change emerge from and coexist with each other. These trajectories of change, the gradual, the threshold driven, and those exhibiting hysteresis, encapsulate the interdependencies among past, present, and future invoked across different delineations of the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene might be less a fixed point in time as it is a moving window where human and natural processes are folded into one another. An Anthropocene represented as a folded surface rather than a timeline incorporates the importance of unpredictably productive responses to the present Anthropocene moment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)638-646
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
In addition to my anonymous reviewers, my thanks go to William Reihard ( for providing his skills in the development of the three-dimensional graphics.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by American Association of Geographers.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Anthropocene
  • diplomacy
  • hysteresis
  • pragmatism
  • topology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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