Richard Irvine – The Problem with Presentism

In Orkney, the sea is gradually reshaping the islands through erosion. Richard Irvine (Open University, Orkney) considers erosion as revelation and destruction, and explores how the arrival of Uranium on Orkney’s shores around 400 million years ago seeps into everyday life and reshapes identity.

Due to a storm around Orkney, Richard Irvine was not able to come to Oslo and give this lecture last year, but now we have the pleasure of welcoming him back to the University of Oslo.

Calling into question the validity or desirability of an "anthropology of the contemporary", Richard Irvine's lecture reflects on the inflated significance of the present and its relationship to deep time.

Geological Explorations and Time

Starting with an account of the geological explorations of Adam Sedgwick in the early 19th century and their entanglement with Britain's carbon history, Irvine argues that the expansion of deep time and the closure of our time horizons go hand in hand.

The challenge, then, is to relentlessly historicize this reduction to the present. A present is never readable on its own: it exists in relationship with other biographies, ecological and geological, and in an active, constitutive relationship to the resources upon which we depend – resources whose formation occurs over time-spans that dwarf human life but which are nonetheless present, recognized or unrecognized, in our own economic and social activities.

Erosion and Uranium in Orkney

Richard Irvine reflects on these arguments using material drawn from his current fieldsite in Orkney, where the sea is gradually reshaping the islands in a continuous gnawing, but with moments of drama where deep time thrusts into the full glare of consciousness.

In particular, Irvine considers erosion as revelation and destruction, and explores how the arrival of uranium on Orkney’s shores around 400 million years ago has become a live issue, protruding into everyday life and reshaping identity.

About the Lecturer

Richard D.G. Irvine is a research fellow in the Department of Religious Studies at The Open University, having recently completed work on the project “Pathways to understanding the changing climate” at the Division of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge.

He is interested in the moral and temporal dimensions of human relationships with their environment, and carries out fieldwork across three sites: Orkney and East Anglia in the UK, and Tuv aimag, Mongolia.

Tags: Geology, History, Time
Published Dec. 4, 2017 1:56 PM - Last modified Mar. 17, 2020 10:25 PM