Loss and recovery of diversity in the anthropocene: a perspective from biosemiotics

Globalization speeds up the loss of diverse ecosystems and cultures, but an exciting biosemiotic approach offers hope by studying patterns, promoting resistance, and exploring alternative paths.

Owing to the accelerating forces of globalisation, there is a perceptible reduction in diversity both ecologically and culturally. The simplification of ecosystems through industrial agriculture and infrastructural developments weakens their resilience and drives species to extinction. The dual dominance of the modern state and capitalist market leads to comparable simplifications of cultural worlds, reducing the number of languages used, standardising education and kinship systems, and making us all reliant on a globalised, monetised economy for sustenance.

These developments, almost universally hailed as progress and development, shed options and alternatives, making the living world, including the human world, less flexible and more vulnerable. At exactly the time when humanity has painted itself into a corner and alternative ways of living and relating to other people and species are most called for, flexibility is reduced, options are shedded, peeled away, forgotten, lost, often unwittingly. This situation is not only ecologically catastrophic, but it is dangerous for a species on its way to undermining the very conditions for its own existence to ignore historical and contemporary alternatives to the currently destructive path.

A perspective from biosemiotics is proposed as a tool enabling the study of biological and cultural diversity and loss through a shared analytical lens. Pattern resemblances between otherwise discrete phenomena are emphasised. Rather than painting an unequivocally grim picture of the state of the world, the final part of the lecture explores extant forms of resistance, the emergence of alternatives to homogenisation (and their pitfalls) and suggests a solution.

Image: Razed rainforest from Cameroon with a couple of people. Credit to KU Leuven – Pieter Moonen.


A man wearing glasses and looking at the camera


Professor Thomas Hylland Eriksen

 Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo

Thomas Hylland Eriksen is a Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo. He is a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, an Honorary Member of the Royal Anthropological Institute and an External Scientific Member of the Max Planck Society. His textbooks in anthropology are widely used and have been translated into more than thirty languages. He has received many awards for his research and dissemination. Eriksen’s research mainly concerns social and cultural dimensions of globalisation, ranging from nationalism and identity politics to the information revolution, accelerated change and the crises of climate and nature. He has carried out fieldwork in Mauritius, Seychelles, Trinidad, Australia and Norway. Some of his recent books in English are Fredrik Barth: An Intellectual Biography (2015), Overheating: An Anthropology of Accelerated Change (2016), Boomtown: Runaway Globalisation on the Queensland Coast (2018), the co-edited (with Marek Jakoubek) Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: A Legacy of Fifty Years (2019) and the fifth, revised and expanded edition of Small Places, Large Issues (2023/1995).
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Tuesday April 30th, 2024 17:30-19:00


University of Edinburgh


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