How might Indigenous decolonization agendas inform Anthropocene historiography?




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Peer reviewed



Many Indigenous and post-development commentators view the hegemony of western conceptions of “development” as profoundly implicated in the Anthropocene’s global ecological crises, and underpinned by modernity’s extractivist and anthropocentric worldview and sensibilities. Meanwhile, as Kothari et al note, secular modernity’s defenders persist in the presumption that modern science affords the definitive account of nature and reality, while the worldviews of Indigenous peoples are frequently delegitimised as unsophisticated or mere superstition.

Accordingly, many Indigenous critics call for today’s Indigenous movements globally to challenge the dominance of western “heteropatriarchal” styles of thinking. They suggest modernity needs to learn from Indigenous movements and traditions, not least for insights into ethical relationality with the animate Earth. Likewise, Arturo Escobar insists contemporary academic “theory” needs re-enlivening: bringing it closer to life and the Earth, and to the work of those who struggle to defend them.

This paper asks how Indigenous decolonization agendas, which struggle in defense of life and the Earth, might inform historiography in the Anthropocene. For example, Beverley Southgate has suggested history has a utopian and therapeutic purpose – helping us escape the thrall of the pasts and orientate ourselves towards emancipatory futures. This paper suggests – in an era of ecological emergency – history’s utopian imaginaries will need to be commensurate with that vivid experience of sensed ethical reciprocity with nature to which Indigenous traditional ecological knowledges (ITEK) bears witness.

Some western historians question whether a coherent story for humanity is possible, given how systems thinking suggests global feedback and radical uncertainty condition our future. However, systems thinking also highlights the hierarchical nature of human-ecological systems, and suggests the deepest level for intervening in any human-ecological system is at the level of a society’s “mental models” and “worldview”. This is the level at which interventions have greatest leverage for radical system transformation and is the level this essay focuses upon.


The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.


anthropocene, history, relationality, pluriverse, terracide, ITEK, animism, one world world


Coope, J. (2021). How might Indigenous decolonization agendas inform Anthropocene historiography? Rethinking History, 25 (4), pp. 508-533


Research Institute

Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development (IESD)