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The Ends of the World: International Relations and the Anthropocene

Harrington, Cameron

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The concept of the Anthropocene – the geological epoch defined by human action – has so far remained largely absent from International Relations (IR) analyses. This is perplexing given the monumental stakes involved in dealing with planetary change and the discipline’s overriding focus on crisis. This silence may exist, however, because contemporary studies of international relations are troubled by the Anthropocene, which shifts basic assumptions about how humans live in the midst of perpetual danger, harm, and risk. It also presents us with the prospect of failure in existential terms, if indeed we are living in (and causing) ‘the sixth mass extinction’. The focus of this article, therefore, is threefold. First, to consider the challenges to environmental IR that the Anthropocene concept presents; second, to probe what it means for IR to respond to the end of nature; and third, what is required of IR to deal with the prospect of mass extinction. It is argued that Earth system changes wrought by human action require the discipline to demystify its own ontological, epistemological, and ethical approaches that are culpable in ushering in the Anthropocene. Doing so may allow IR to provide necessary insight into the contemporary and historical effects of the state system as an enabler of planetary change, and the future possibilities for global politics within the Anthropocene.


Harrington, C. (2016). The Ends of the World: International Relations and the Anthropocene. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 44(3), 478-498.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 22, 2016
Online Publication Date Apr 7, 2016
Publication Date Jun 1, 2016
Deposit Date Oct 2, 2017
Publicly Available Date Dec 12, 2017
Journal Millennium : journal of international studies
Print ISSN 0305-8298
Electronic ISSN 1477-9021
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 44
Issue 3
Pages 478-498


Accepted Journal Article (385 Kb)

Copyright Statement
Harrington, Cameron (2016) 'The ends of the world : international relations and the Anthropocene.', Millennium., 44 (3). pp. 478-498. © The Author(s) 2016. Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications.

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