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27-31 August 2019
Poznań, Poland
Europe/Warsaw timezone
programme last update: 23 August 2019
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Contribution Paper

Poznań, Poland - Morasko Kampus, room: 3.20

Ernest Gellner in the Anthropocene. Modernity, nationalism and the era of climate change


  • Dr. Daniele CONVERSI

Primary authors


When Ernest Gellner began writing on nationalism, anthropogenic climate change had not yet been fully identified as a major cause of global destruction. But by 1983, when his most cited work had appeared, the prospect of climate change was already being considered across scientific disciplines. This paper begins with an observation: while Gellner emphasised industrialisation and industrialism as the matrix of nationalism, he also fully identified the former with the beginning of the modern age – the industrial society which slowly replaced agricultural society was the inaugurator and hallmark of modernity. In Gellner's theory industrialisation had led to the expansion of nationalism, but it also brought about something more drastically life-changing than industry: an increasing reliance on fossil fuel consumption for economic growth, inaugurating the stage of 'fossil capitalism'. If for Gellner industry propelled the entrance into modernity, it simultaneously paved the way for a precipitous exit from modernity itself. The notion of the Anthropocene signals this radical historical shift, a highly traumatic transition which may be incomprehensible within the modernist Weltanschauung. This paper seeks to answer an existential question: If the effects of the passage from agricultural to industrial society were so all-pervasive, which consequences can be envisaged in a forced exit from modernity due to its own short-circuit? This presentation considers how Gellner would have responded to such an existential question, as we are at the utmost fringes of modernity and prepare to enter into a new timeframe, which might well be the shortest historical age ever.