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Peer-Review Record

How Anthropocene Might Save the World: Metamorphosis

Soc. Sci. 2022, 11(2), 68;
Reviewer 1: Anonymous
Reviewer 2: Anonymous
Soc. Sci. 2022, 11(2), 68;
Received: 22 September 2021 / Revised: 4 February 2022 / Accepted: 5 February 2022 / Published: 11 February 2022

Round 1

Reviewer 1 Report

The topic presented in the submitted paper is of great interest: how can the social sciences deals with naturalistic concepts like climate change or the Anthropocene?

The paper claims an original reading of the Anthropocene from a social sciences perspective. It is presented as an "analysis of the reconfiguration of relations between the earth and all its inhabitants" and with the ambition to provide "a new epistemic tool". As such, it is a contribution that can be considered fundamental. However, the proposal has a lot of weaknesses.

Not being the first to look at the Anthropocene from a social sciences perspective, it is important that this contribution relates to previous works. However, it ignores many works on the same subject in this disciplinary field, such as Bruno Latour or Christophe Bonneuil in France or Andrew S. Mathews in the USA. Clive Hamilton is only marginally mentioned. The essential paper by Palsson et al. (2013), Reconceptualizing the ‘Anthropos’ in the Anthropocene, is not even cited only for its general observations, never for its conceptual contributions. On the other hand, the authors make the deliberate choice to put themselves in the lineage of other authors such as Manuel Arias-Maldonado or James Lovelock and his Gaia hypothesis. This positioning guides the paper in a specific vision, which highlights strong political, cultural and even spiritual issues. This can be legitimate but should be better linked to other disciplinary issues.

The paper claims “the need to unite anthropology and geology and overcome the division of disciplines”. But the scientific concepts and knowledge are badly assimilated by the authors with a condescending position: “Geology is descriptive "," with enormous political and sociological naivety ". There are assertions as false as" We have had agriculture for more than 40,000 years, plant life for hundreds of thousands of years”, or a simplistic analysis of the evolution of the agricultural production system during the 20th century. Similarly, the paper challenges some generally accepted theories (Darwinism) without any robust argument. In the first part (§2), there is a sort of inventory of various citations put one after the other without any hierarchy or critical distance. Authors like J. von Liebig, J.W. Goethe, K. Marx, R. Steiner, V.I. Vernadsky etc. are mentioned on the same level without knowing exactly how they are taken into account by the authors. The same approach in §4.

Overall, this paper poses an interesting problem, but its argumentative approach lacks scientific rigor. There is a lot of confusion in the references and in the end it is not clear how the conclusions are supported. The main conclusion is quite simple: the social sciences are more relevant to understanding the Anthropocene, the natural sciences only "describe" it.

In this form the paper does not seem to offer the scientific qualities of a good publication. It will have to be thoroughly revised to be publishable.

Author Response

First of all, thank the reviewer for the thoughtful, insightful, and inspiring comments. Second, apologize for waiting for the revised version, the quiet time. Third, entering content, apologies for not expressing the purpose of the article in a concrete way. I have reviewed the introduction.

I hope that the review work carried out succeeds in incorporating your suggestions. It has opened me to authors that I did not master and that has allowed me to reformulate the motivations of the article. I find the last two works by Bruno Latour suggestive. The reception of his work had been somewhat indirect from Ulrich Beck. It allows me to delimit and deepen following his work, together with that of Chr. Bonneuil, A.S. Matthews, Clive Hamilton or Clive Hamilton in his proposal for a discursive break. Not just accumulate knowledge. Each of these authors would require specific treatment, not just general observations; but that in future articles he can carry out that approach.

Regarding the Gaia and Lovelock theory, in this review I establish a critical distance with their postulates that the first version is not reflected. This criticism in several lines: (i) I do not consider it to be a continuation of authors who are precursors of the Anthropocene (Vernadsky and others who have a more human-friendly vision, not that avenging Gaia that Bruno Latour criticizes); (ii) the criticism of the theory criticizes the theory of systems (an accumulation of disciplines or subsystems in which the human being is left out, which is that he has the capacity of the epistemological ruptures that Clive Hamilton points out, (iii) the criticism of a theory Universalist without historical consciousness Goethe's writings must be contextualized in that evolutionary spiral pointed out by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (in a critique of pessimism).

These are tweaks that affect the core of the article. Here I hope I have corrected an error that points me correctly. Ulrich Beck's distinction between the "descriptive question" and the "normative question" does not refer to the distinction between natural (descriptive) science and social (normative) science; seeks to distinguish between primary (real) and secondary (reflective) effects. These ideas are reinforced with contributions from Michel Foucault, Harald Walzer, etc. (in the field of social theory). I hope I have corrected expressions that could suggest a criticism of Darwin, when it came to putting his work in value.

I respect the mentioned authors, I hope I have reinforced the narrative that allows them to be related: Humboldt brings guano from Peru to Liebig, who analyzes it to produce fertilizers. I could only point out the background of the time: the ideas of Malthus, Marx, etc., which gives rise to these discursive breaks. I hope I have turned the conclusion around: the need to suppress the distinction of disciplines (natural sciences and social sciences). Understand the Anthropocene as a civilizational crisis and transvaluation of values ​​(the image of the world is the image that man projects).

I have searched for a simple conclusion. José Ortega y Gasset, in a conference in Darmstadt (1951), said that his philosophy proclaimed "platitudes"; versus the profound philosophy of Martin Heidegger (who gave the previous lecture).

I hope that what the new version will not be disappointing after the in-depth review that it suggests. As Goethe said to Schiller: "docendo dicitur". I eagerly await insightful and instructive comments from him after critical reading.

Reviewer 2 Report

This article was very interesting to read and thought provoking, but I read through it several times to try and understand what the research was and what the hypothesis was suggesting.  This paper seems to be written more as a summary paper of different theories of though throughout history, and with different points of view from different scientific disciplines, and it was well written... but without a clear argument for what we should be doing about all of this, or how we should exactly be adjusting the school of thought.

I think the paper is worth publishing, but much needs to be clarified so that it doesn't just read as a summary essay, but rather a research discussion paper with clearer questions and conclusions.  I think some slight changing in the structure as well as clarifying the 'goal' or 'way forward' would drastically improve the manuscript. 

Author Response

First of all, thank the reviewer for the observations made. Before commenting on the changes made, I apologize for the wait and the long silence.

His objection to the article is, on the one hand, to find a summary of theories without establishing a clear argument and, on the other hand, not to establish a school of thought. I hope that in the review I have managed to meet your expectations. I will try to answer both questions at the same time.

The Anthropocene rehabilitates forgotten authors who anticipate, in various terms, the concept of the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene arises from questioning the division of disciplines, a dual thought, etc. It goes back to the romantic science pioneered by J.W. Goethe.

With this explanation I define a line of thought. The quarrels opened by romanticism, Manfred Frank points out, the Frankfurt school dusts off the centuries. The dispute between the social theory of system and critical theory can be extended to the difference of the Anthropocene and system of earth sciences.

The linking of critical theory, risk theory or theories of M. Foucault relate the difference between the text and the context. The Anthropocene is not a change of text, but of context.

I do not offer a perspective of the Anthropocene from social science versus natural science (the distinction between the descriptive and the normative). Ulrich Beck points to the difference between discursive and meta-discursive (real and reflective).

Here there is a certain harmony between Foucault, Heidegger who distinguishes world and image of the world, etc. That is why the Anthropocene can save the world. What is in crisis are the frames of reference. A conceptualization of the theory of everything, or earth science system, adds disciplines. He does not see that the earth science system itself is a reference horizon shift.

The secondary effect of evils is that they are transformed into goods. That is why the Anthropocene can save the world.

The use of the concept of metamorphosis by Ulrich Beck and the metamorphosis of evils into goods are reminiscent of the Manichaean Faust. And this takes us back to theological disputes about the meaning of evil. Behind it is an anthropological question that was asked in different directions at the beginning of the 20th century. The text superimposes various theories of thought that sometimes feedback and sometimes confront each other.

The theory of Gaia and the theory of systems, despite the differences, continue under the discursive paradigm of a living nature and with the capacity for self-organization. In some aspects there are coincidences, in others divergences. Some develop Goethe's ideas, others oppose. What we see is the image of the world. There is a dynamic between the inner and outer world.

Reviewing and rereading the text has allowed me to deepen concepts and clarify interdependencies. And to make more evident an alignment with the Frankfurt school and Ulrich Beck's idea of ​​Metamorphosis (which is confronted with Luhmann's theories: self-referential, self-regulating ... present in the Earth science system).

I hope the new version is not disappointing. As Goethe said to Schiller: "docendo dicitur". Reviewing you learn. I look forward to his comments.

Round 2

Reviewer 1 Report

In the new version submitted, the authors seem to have made a good effort to take into account a number of the comments of the reviewers, in particular by broadening their spectrum of references and therefore a larger body of citations. This results in a paper of considerable size.

The overall argument therefore seems a little better supported and the authors' own approach better put into perspective compared to previous work. However, the demonstrative approach is still not convincing, at least not for someone outside the epistemological field of the authors. This obviously raises the question of the paper's target audience that the reviewer cannot answer. He leaves this task to the scientific editor of the journal. I do not always understand the sequence of the demonstration... The succession of references remains poorly articulated and the multitude of citations does not help to see the link that forms the common thread. Moreover, I understand it a little better by reading the authors' response to the reviewers but not really by reading the paper which still remains quite confusing.

So even if efforts have been made to improve this contribution to a SI on the Anthropocene, it remains necessary to better structure this text and certainly ensure greater fluidity in the course of the writing so that we can better understand what is involved. But perhaps the reviewer must also consider the hypothesis that it is he who fails to put himself in the necessary point of view for this. And this is not a joke.

Author Response

I am pleased that the answer (with all its limitations) has contributed to a better understanding of the hypothesis, line of argument, and conclusion. The author warns the editor and the reviewer not to have excessive illusions. The author does not intend to prove a hypothesis. The author is more modest. The article opens possible avenues of research (some more explored than others).

The author, based on the reviewer's observations, expands the horizon of ways to explore.

  • The disruptive nature of the Anthropocene concept with respect to terrestrial science systems.
  • In Anthropocene allows to review and renew the roots of Western thought. Key concepts of that fueros tradition took divergent paths due to different trends of thought. They adopt particular views of the Anthropocene concept.
  • There is no archaeology of these various traditions. They are divergent with respect to the development of the tradition of thought. And they are convergent with respect to having a common root. That dialogue or disputes are used in the plot line to develop the concept of the Anthropocene.

Conclusions have been drawn up. That polarity that contains the Anthropocene is described: between the descriptive discourse and the reflective discourse; primary and secondary effects; objective spirit and subjective spirit; etc. The metamorphosis of the world, Ulrich Beck points out, is not a straight line. And, although the world (Welt) and the image of the world (Weltbild) are distinguished, there is no metamorphosis without communication of the metamorphosis.

The title “the Anthropocene can save the world” avoids an ambiguity. A title that contrasts apocalypse (unilateral objective vision) and metamorphosis (overcoming dualism, completing the descriptive with the reflective). The dualism between "good and evil" is overcome with the metamorphosis of evil into good. A radical vision against the dualism present in authors who analyse the Anthropocene.

I hope that in the conclusions (with new wording) the reviewer finds that common thread that he does not find in the text.

An article on the Anthropocene focused on discrepancies between authors blurs the substantial content of the Anthropocene. Give an approach that allows to find, in the conclusions, that guiding thread of references.

"Discourse" has a divergent meaning in France and in Germany (as Manfred Frank has pointed out). Various dialogues overlap. The author pointed out the dialogue between critical theory and system theory (between Habermas and Luhmann). The risk society theory and general system theory, with points in common and divergent approaches. Critical theory (Habermas) expresses discrepancy with a functionalist suppression of the subject. Anthropocene is not an aggregate of disciplines, but a rupture of their division (Hamilton). The controversial vision of the earth as an organism; in Lovelock she is a vengeful goddess, which is opposed by Latour. These are questions that revolve around the meaning of evil. Acceptance or metamorphosis. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin provides a theory of the evolution of civilizations.

Thank you for the comments. This new version of disappointed him without meeting all his expectations.

Reviewer 2 Report

The manuscript clarity still remains quite confusing and overly complex.  I found that I had to read and re-read sentences and paragraphs multiple times to understand what the point of that paragraph was, and even then I had to question myself if I truly understood the point of that paragraph.   This does not bode well for clear and concise communication to the audience.

In some cases sections (such as the abstract) read as a series of unrelated sentences that the reader is left to arrange together in terms of their relationship and how they combine to make the argument/point.

This work still needs a great deal of editing in terms of writing style to clearly communicate its hypothesis.  

Author Response

The previous review focused on tidying up the introduction. Clarify the hypothesis, plot development and the provisional and tentative conclusion. In the introduction I seek to guide the reader, the editor and the reviewer in the assumptions and hypotheses. And avoid: erroneous readings, what is not the task that the author proposes, what analytical frameworks do and do not share.

In this review I have focused on the conclusions.

The reviewer warns of the need to clarify the “abstract”. The initial "summary" has been outdated with respect to the evolution of the contents. He condemned the initial proposal.

Expression enhancement is also performed. and content articulation.

The paper does not start from a hypothesis to carry out a demonstration. Explore various ways to refute dualistic thinking. And the Anthropocene articulates all the views that refute a separation of the disciplines of life and disciplines of matter. This polarity runs through the entire history of Western thought. Although it always has an opposing monism. The Anthropocene rehabilitates that silenced and forgotten monism. Uniting Anthropocene and Metamorphosis, in the face of pessimism and prophecies of collapse, allows us to offer a cautiously optimistic vision; it is not the world that is ending, but a way of living (thinking, feeling and acting) in the world.

I hope the corrections do not disappoint the reviewer.

Round 3

Reviewer 1 Report

The reviewer has taken note of the authors' responses and fully understands the differences in conception of the Anthropocene, depending on the disciplinary fields. The conclusion is now more explicit. This paper is focused on discrepancies between different authors and it also resolutely assumes a radical vision against the dualism between "good and evil" present in authors who analyze the Anthropocene. In terms of form, the manuscript is OK.

From this point of view, the reviewer considers that this paper legitimately corresponds to a well-argued scientific position even if he does not share it. This paper therefore fully deserves to be published in the special issue “Social Theory for the Anthropocene”.

Author Response

Sents to the revised Paper to the editor

Author Response File: Author Response.pdf

Reviewer 2 Report

The manuscript still remains overly complex in terms of organization and sentence structure.  While quite packed with information, the communication is overly complex, which creates a concern that readers of this article will not extract with confidence the precise hypothesis.

The work that the author put into revising the conclusions improves the manuscript.   The introduction the conclusion (before section 6.1) could be used to better link together and summarize the full thesis of ideas, to combine the many joined ideas put forth later in the conclusions.

I would also like to point out to the author of their logical fallacy that all manuscript reviewers are male.

Author Response

I sed the revised Paper to the editor.

Author Response File: Author Response.pdf

This manuscript is a resubmission of an earlier submission. The following is a list of the peer review reports and author responses from that submission.

Round 1

Reviewer 1 Report

Clearly there is some fantastic knowledge behind this essay, and a lively intelligence weaving together multiple threads in terms of literature, disciplines, and traditions Unfortunately in terms of adding something significant or even incremental to debates about the Anthropocene as a geological and/or epistemic term, I found this difficult to follow and unconvincing. It felt haphazard in the sequence of points being made, sentence structure was often unclear, and overall purpose and argument missing throughout. In the end, from the Abstract onwards there were just too many issues for me to document individually in terms of structure, narrative, sense and tone.

Reviewer 2 Report

It could reflect also on the topic related to the "new epistemology". 

Comments for author File: Comments.pdf

Reviewer 3 Report

The (anonymous) draft "Anthropocene: new geological epoch or new epistemic "(socie  #1342753) is clearly written and conveys the messages of the author understandably. The essay draws on a vast and diverse corpus of scholarly works. The abstract of the paper sketches an essay about the scientific notion: Anthropocene. This notion is understood by the author as an option to reconsider anthropological concepts of a (human) world, embedding life; the author being disposed to re-engage with intellectual quarrels of past centuries. Such an endeavour could have its merits. However, the final phrasing of the abstract, "the dignity of man is at stake," seems to fit more to an ontological epistle than to a piece of scholarly work.

Partly contrary to the expectation triggered by the abstract, the bulk of the paper presents only an additive and eclectic collection of many subjects from humanities (anthropology in a broader sense), science, and pseudo-science. Many of the listed concepts were refuted by modern science and scholarly work.  The author touches these concepts briefly, takes them by the original notions without developing (1) why/how the natural science concept Anthropocene provides a renewed understanding/interpretation of them, and (2) why the rejection by modern science and scholarly work should be revisited. This feature is the fundamental methodological flaw of the paper. New insights, like the idea that contemporary geological times should be named Anthropocene, may justify revisiting concepts refute previously. However, such a step requires justification for each of revisited concepts. Such an analysis is missing.

Furthermore, the author's argumentation is often inclined to anthroposophical and esoteric concepts (e.g. difference of 'agrochemical' or 'natural' nitrogen), which do not belong to scientific or scholarly argumentation. Therefore, their use requires justification, what is missing. Likewise, the presentation of scientific matters (e.g. section 2.2.2 "The mystery of the atmosphere") takes peculiar turns untainted by modern science (see, for example, [*]).

The author's argumentation summarises (line 685/686) in saying "led us to set human reason against the wisdom of nature". Hence, the author places her-/himself squarely outside scientific debates, addresses other audiences than academic scholars, and is missing the requirements of a scholarly/scientific journal. The paper is an ontological epistle. Therefore, it should be rejected for publication in a scientific journal. 

[*] Langmuir, C., & Broecker, W. (2012). How to Build a Habitable Planet: The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind. Princeton University Press, 718 p., ISBN 978-0691140063

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