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How the Cage Closed: Climate Change and the Emergence of Class Society in Egypt, c. 4000–2700 BC

Climate Series

dateMay 7, 2024 timeTuesday, 4:00pm EDT location Avery Hall, Wood Auditorium (Room 113), Columbia University
notification

This event has been canceled.

Cosponsor
  • Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
Organizer
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
Contact
email address [email protected]
Egyptian relief showing male and female figures facing each other

As climate science has inventoried all available archives, an abundance of fresh data about the impacts of non-anthropogenic climate change on human history has come to light. This includes the original catastrophe: the moment when the curse of class fell upon our species. The rise of the first-class society and centralized nation-state on Earth – pharaonic Egypt – was, we now know, preceded by the desiccation of the Sahara, a lush savanna home to classless bands of hunter-gatherers until 4000 BC. When the Sahara became a desert, its inhabitants were displaced into the Nile Valley, where an emergent class of exploiters could establish the era of domination, for there were no longer any escape routes. This narrative, however, threatens to revive the specter of environmental determinism, long combatted by critical scholars. Can we make sense of the causal power of climate change in the emergence of class society without falling prey to that oldest of errors? This lecture will sketch a critical theory of climate, caging, and class, with a focus on the case of Egypt. It has implications for the broader arch of history. To paraphrase The Communist Manifesto, the history of class struggles now seems to begin with non-anthropogenic climate change and end – whether as the revolutionary constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes – with anthropogenic climate change.

Speaker

Andreas Malm is an Associate Professor of human ecology at Lund University. His most recent book, together with Wim Carton, is Overshoot: How the World Surrendered to Climate Breakdown, out from Verso in October.

Moderator

Reinhold Martin is a Professor of Architecture at Columbia's School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. He is an historian of architecture and media.