Children in the Anthropocene: How Are They Implicated?

  • Karen MaloneEmail author
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Part of the Springer International Handbooks of Education book series (SIHE)


There has been much debate about where the boundaries lie that would mark the arrival of the new epoch of the Anthropocene. There have been a number of possibilities proposed: the start of the Industrial revolution in the eighteenth century or the beginning in the mid-twentieth century known as the great acceleration of population, carbon emissions, biodiversity loss, plastic production, and the beginning of nuclear age with the first atomic bombs spreading detectable radiation to every stratum of the planet. But for many scholars in the humanities, these arguments are not as relevant as what taking up the premise or challenge of the Anthropocene provides. As an unsettling ontology that disrupts a persistent “humanist” paradigm, the concept of the Anthropocene allows new conversations to happen around human-dominated global change, human exceptionalism, and the nature/culture divide. In this chapter through stories from fieldwork with children in La Paz, I will propose the means for considering the ontological openings of the naming of the Anthropocene for the field of childhoodnature.


Anthropocene Sustainability Mobilities Enmeshed Childdogbodies Human exceptionalism Haraway Nonhuman Entanglements 


Sustainable cities have often been touted as the “solution to the ecological crisis,” the problems of the age of humans fixed through human ingenuity. Yet cities proclaimed as the means for providing shelter and resources for the steadily increasing human populations have placed us in direct conflict with planetary ecologies. Under the auspices the capitalist apparatus of sustainable development and green capitalism, rural and indigenous persons have been persuaded by the dream of a better life to move to the city with their once loved earth now toiled by corporate machinery. Despite the hardships encountered, the draw is great; the anthropocentric urban revolution promised children a healthier, educated life. But the lure of sustainability, the city, and the call of the Anthropocene hasn’t always delivered its promises. Robert Macfarlane, journalist for The Guardian, writes:

The idea of the Anthropocene asks hard questions of us. Temporally, it requires that we imagine ourselves inhabitants not just of a human lifetime or generation, but also of “deep time” – the dizzyingly profound eras of Earth history that extend both behind and ahead of the present. Politically, it lays bare some of the complex cross-weaves of vulnerability and culpability that exist between us and other species, as well as between humans now and humans to come. (April 2016: par. 4)

Philosophically and theoretically, the Anthropocene is a concept that works both for us and on us. Us being the collective kin of human and nonhuman entities implicated in this obscene event. In its unsettlement of the entrenched binaries of modernity (nature and culture; object and subject), and its provocative alienation of familiar anthropocentric scales and times, it opens up a number of possibilities for exploring concepts such as entanglements and differences. The politics of the Anthropocene demands that our entangled history is revealed and our future story is waiting bare to be unraveled. It asks of us, can the Anthropocene be the means for a way forward through a species thinking that acknowledges human and nonhuman relations as intra-active, agentic, and lively. This work of reconfiguring the Anthropocene means getting beyond a view of the political as confined to “humans,” instead geophysical forces, the nonliving, the human, and nonhuman are all actors contributing to a transition between two epochs. In this transition “sustainability” might begin to look like a “time-bound and contingent goal at best, not an absolute one, so environmentalists will need to construct some other normative standard of value” (Davies, 2016, p. 200). According to Geographer Jamie Lorimer, the Anthropocene “…represents a very public challenge to the modern understanding of Nature as a pure, singular and stable domain removed from and defined in relation to urban, industrial society”, and that “This understanding of Nature has been central to western and environmental thought and practice” (2012, p. 593).

Therefore, the Anthropocene rather than scientific facts, verifiable through stratigraphic or climatic analyses, can be a discursive development that problematizes a human narrative of progress that has essentially focused on the mastery of nature, domination of the biosphere, and “placing God-like faith in technocratic solutions” (Lloro-Bidart, 2015, p. 132). In a recent published interview in the journal ethnos, Donna Haraway argued the naming of the Anthropocene constructs a certain model of the globe, a view that “the contemporary world is a human species act” (Haraway, Ishikawa, Gilbert, Olwig, Tsing, and Bubandt, 2015, p. 1). She argues: “…in this moment of beginning to get a glimmer of how truly richly complex the world is and always has been, someone has the unmitigated arrogance to name it the Anthropocene” (Haraway et al. 2015, p. 11). This realization of the possibilities and implications of the events foregrounded in the era of the Anthropocene is compelling, and while the concept may still be contested, it evokes in me a desire to consider the enormous challenges this era will present to the collective global community of human and nonhuman others. Particularly, my focus is on how children are implicated in the Anthropocene.

Drawing on recent research in La Paz with children living in the slum communities, my challenge in this chapter will be to consider how to present the voices of children with and through their everyday experiences of the nonhuman in the debates of the Anthropocene. Acknowledging as Taylor and Pacini-Ketchabaw (2015) do that children’s close encounters with the environment described through my research may seem insignificant, small, and ordinary events on the scale of planetary ethics and posed by the Anthropocene. But like them I propose that children, with the nonhuman others they occupy the planet with, will inherit and respond to the consequences of a world we have inherently altered through our exploitative human-induced changes. The story of children – how they are implicated and endeavoring to exist with nonhumans in the “entirely synthetic human creations” of cities – will be the focus of this chapter and is at the center of my project Children in the Anthropocene. My research seeks to reveal the complexities of children’s lives entangled with the assemblage of human-nonhuman others – the posthumanist ecological communities of a city, where a paradigmatic shift in thinking is desperately needed. For those who will inherit this uncertain future, our children deserve to be recognized and acknowledged in these critical debates of the Anthropocene.

Naming the Anthropocene

What is the Anthropocene? The naming of the Anthropocene, as a new geological epoch, acknowledges the incredible force of human impact on the earth, nowhere is this impact more vivid than the crowded cities of the majority world nations. While the term “Anthropocene” (the epoch of the hu/man) has been accepted in the geological discipline landscape, there has been much debate about where the boundaries lie that would mark the arrival of this new epoch. Was it the Industrial revolution in the eighteenth century or the “great acceleration” of the mid-twentieth century with its increasing population growth, carbon emissions, biodiversity loss, plastic production, and start of the nuclear age with atomic bombs spreading detectable radiation to every stratum of the planet (Davies, 2016).

The Anthropocene as used in my research is more than this, more than a timeline of human degradation, geological posturing, or techno-positivist hubris. The Anthropocene reveals for me that beyond the ecological damage there is no homogenous human race and that this scale of ecological impact is unequal, unethical, and unjust; the poor, the children, and the nonhuman are more in it than the wealthy. As an unsettling ontology that disrupts the persistent “humanist” paradigms of the social sciences, the concept of the Anthropocene allows new conversations to happen around human-dominated global change, human exceptionalism, and the nature/culture divide.

The term Anthropocene has not emerged uncontested. Donna Haraway (2015) and many others in the field of childhoodnature including Taylor and Pacini-Ketchabaw (2015) have argued the naming of the Anthropocene constructs a certain model of the globe, a view that “the contemporary world is a human species act” (Haraway et al. 2015, p. 1). Haraway argues: “…in this moment of beginning to get a glimmer of how truly richly complex the world is and always has been, someone has the unmitigated arrogance to name it the Anthropocene.” Many believe the naming risks validating human exceptionalism by reifying the “reign of Man” leading to the ultimate paradox, in which heroic techno-rescue grandiose geo-engineering fixes simply rehearse the same kinds of interventions that disrupted the earth’s systems in the first place. This recognition of “Man’s” exceptional powers could be an excuse to redouble efforts to become “better” at managing the environment. For me although recognizing these dangers, the naming of the Anthropocene provides opportunities to galvanize emergent forms of thinking and acting, one could claim that it disrupts the global hierarchy of sciences. After all, it comes as an invitation of collaboration from the “hard sciences,” from the apex of the hierarchy of sciences to the human and social sciences. By changing the entrenched habits of modern western humanist thought, which are so adept at dividing humans off from nature, requires persistence, vigilance, and a preparedness to take risks. It is hard work. It requires us to continually interrogate what it means to be human, to resituate humans firmly within nature, and to resituate nature within ethical domains. By recognizing the fragility of limiting a collapse between the categories of human/nonhuman, nature/culture, is to recognize the means through which exceptionalism as a human condition continues to act out in the everyday lives of being with other species and the ethical decisions humans make when positioning themselves as superior to all living things.

I am adopting a posthumanist ethic. A “posthuman ethics” unlike a deep ecological ethic urges us to experience the principle of “no-oness” in our view of subjectivity, by acknowledging the ties that bind us to multiple “others” in a web of complex interspecies interrelations (Braidotti, 2013). Kay Andersen (2014, p. 3) states this focus on “challenging the idea that humans occupy a separate and privileged place among other beings has been the central goal of post-humanist agenda,” with critical posthumanists taking on the task of challenging well-established humanist discourses that “separates and elevates humans from the natural world.” Using a posthumanist approach and engaging with the tools of diffraction, I am disrupting the Cartesian divide between human and nonhuman by challenging the simplistic dichotomies of animal/human, nature/culture, and object/subject. These dichotomies are constructing what has come to be “viewed as nature,” what is “valued about nature,” and what happens when humans are “placed in relation with nature.” These dualisms not only strip humans of all of their own “natural” dimensions – we are no longer animal and part of nature – but also install the idea that other nonhuman animals and things are not comparable to humans, humans are politicized as earthly master, superior being, humans as exempt, and exceptional.

By the enabling this multiplicity of ecologies and subjectivities, community then becomes central – the world is, becomes a community of beings. I am interested in incorporating the work of Michael Smith (2013) here, who defines an ecological posthumanist perspective as a strategy for supporting his concept of an “ecological community.” A posthumanist ecological community emphasizes the myriad of ways that beings of all kinds interact to create, sustain, messy, uneasy worlding communities. Others have also explored these ideas; Jean Luc Nancy stated in 1997 we are always been “beings in common” – and Derrida (2005) who also argued any concept of “sensibility” or touching means “being in the world” – bodies being sensed ecologically is to be and know. The theory of ecological posthumanism I am applying as a means for unhitching old ways of considering childhoodnature contests singular anthropocentric approaches – by supporting a collective common world. I am supporting this through the image of the onto-epistemological entanglement. I take this term from Barad (2007) where she states when you are practicing intra-action it is impossible to separate knowing (epistemology) and being (ontology). That these shared practices, knowing and being, cannot be isolated; they are mutually implicated. And that we know this because we are off the world, not standing outside of it.

Walking in La Paz

Cities that are the “microcosms of the planet fashioned for our [human] species and no other.” (Vince, 2014, p. 338)

During the period from 2012 to 2016, I researched with over 400 children in slum communities in the highest reaches of the valley of La Paz. We engaged in walking methodologies, photography, focus groups, and interviews. The focus was on understanding the everyday materiality of children’s lives as they moved through their spaces with human and nonhuman others. Understanding the materiality of mobilities and how bodies flow through places and spaces with and through materials are as Aldred (2014) notes central and important to research on bodies in the landscape:

How one moves during fieldwork has important consequences for the interpretative process, and presented movement as a conjunction between body and landscape … in order to study movement there is a need to understand it not dialectically, in-between static materials and moving bodies, but rather through the flows in which these two become co-constituent in movement. (Aldred, 2014, p. 40)

These children are descendants of the Quechua and Aymara people, the two largest indigenous groups in Bolivia. Evo Morales, the current president of Bolivia, is of Aymaran descent and, as the first indigenous leader, has supported policies that enhance the opportunity for the indigenous communities to speak of and seek to live in harmony with the earth – recently the country passed the Law on the rights of Earth Mother. Pachamama beliefs view the relations of human-animal companions as dynamic, and humans who are guided in Pachamama are in relation with a “spirit animals” sent as allies during the “human” journey on the planet. Central to this belief is that humans and nonhuman companions depend exclusively on what the earth provides. Pachamama is the source of all life, human, nonhuman, soil, air, and water. Ancestral ceremonies, rituals, and offerings of lama babies to Pachamama are entwined with a profound sense of respect and gratitude for Earth Mother who provides all. The following data shares the stories of children in La Paz focusing on three aspects of their lives (Malone 2017, 2018). The first is how the unsettling of matter, unruly ravines, and slippery slopes produce a precarious landscape; the second explores entangled flows and mobilities as children and other kin move through landscapes; the final focuses on a shared life with dogs, street dogs, who come to be child companions in the precarious times of the Anthropocene.

Lines of Flight: Ravines as Unsettling Matter

Even when shifts of terrestrial surfaces and patterns are taken into account, it is easy to see these as mainly driven by human forces or the effects of human agency, with no comparable forces seen to be operating in the other direction. (Edgeworth, 2014, p. 49)

The landscape is an assemblage with flows of materials running through it, rivers, rocks, earth, sunlight, and wind; it is a moving omnipresent not a static backdrop to human or animal activities (Edgeworth, 2014). The high slopes are the most unstable with lake sediment deposits. The higher, steeper slopes are also the wettest; they are by far the most landslide-prone slopes within the city. The houses are swept away, buckled, and broken slowly with the earth slumping, the movement edges its way down the valley slope. Houses containing children slip down the valley.

The settlements where the children live sit in a valley surrounded by spectacular mountains. The view is extraordinary, but a closer look reveals a serious reality:

Reaching out from the urban center and making their way up the mountain slopes on all sides of the bowl are the slums and shanty towns of La Paz. Here, plumbing and electricity are scarce or non-existent, roads sit unpaved and the escarpments that afford such distant photogenic vistas conspire to create an ideal setting for floods and landslides. (Weatherby et al., 2011, p. ##)

In the self-built areas, water is often taken from underground or is filtered from poor quality river sources. Water from the main city below is piped to certain areas, but landslides continually damage and sever this supply so that water from standpipes often has to be fetched up to dwellings by truck or bucket.

Landslides and their effects impact the families living in the settlements for a number of reasons. The environment of La Paz city is landslide active because the steep slopes are covered with soft earth deposits that are easily dislodged with wind and rain and the activity of building moves and displaces the dirt. The area is also impacted by water movement coming from Lake Titicaca, a high-altitude lake that sits high above the valley floor. Rapid growth and the influx of poor people drawn to the city with a desire to build houses means construction is often based on minimal materials and resources. This demand has also resulted in informal, self-built housing being constructed on the steepest most unstable slopes of the city. Finally, without a clear city planning framework, the city had continued to expand with properties being built on the city’s treacherous slopes, without care or acknowledgment to the materiality of the earth and its limitations and its constitution as a body containing a past and present history as a landslide hazard.

When I was a child there was a landslide. My house was on the edge where all the other houses near me all fall down. Ours was the only one left. We stayed in that house on the edge of cliff for five years after that. When my house was on top of the edge my mum and me still stayed there but my bedroom did not have a door – we had a small place to walk but my porch and the other part of the house fall down. We just put some wood and have to use a ladder up the cliff to get to the house. We had to carry the water it was very difficult. That’s when my mother decides to rent a different house. In that house I was very sacred. When it starts raining I am afraid scare maybe the house will landslide again. I had my packed ready to go some I have to take it with me. I remember I was scared for strange people as I have a ladder to go to the house was always there what happens it someone comes into the house. Sometimes my mother had to work two times at night and I was alone. I only have my cats. I was so alone. I feel insecure. I didn’t go different places because I was too sacred to leave the house alone. My route was school house school house, that was all. I now back in the same house on the edge of the cliff. And now even though the government has given tenure to some people in communities this house cannot because it is on very dangerous land and so we cannot own it. (Elena’s reflections of a childhood in the slum communities of La Paz, recorded interview 2014)

The most vulnerable group exposed to the landslide hazard comprise the inhabitants of the self-built informal housing areas who occupy the more elevated steeper slopes of the northern part of the city. But societal vulnerability to earth movement in the city is widespread and interconnected. Landslides in the city of La Paz, Bolivia, are complex in space and time. Their distribution within the city is differentiated by geographical variations in slope gradient, the nature of overlying surface deposits, and drainage density patterns. When mapped, the distribution of the most landslide-prone locations in the city coincides with the most mobile surface deposits on the higher and steeper slopes of the city. The timing of landslides is triggered when slope materials become saturated with moisture by rainfall, stream water, water seepage from high-surrounding water tables, and from domestic sources. The slums are the first and often last stop for those rural drifters and those who come to the city with expectations of a better life and employment. Living in the steep slopes of the valley in La Paz has unique and significant dangers for children and their families. Constant landslides, fires, limited public transport, strangers, street dogs, and inadequate policing all add to the daily difficulties children experience when on their own or with friend’s moving safely around the community.

Children in the communities speak of many dangers in the physical environment but also other concerns about their health due to the lack of fresh water and the dust and dirt in the air, on the street, and in their houses. The children, when taking photographs of their life experience, took many photographs of dumped rubbish in the streets and ravines, where scavenging streets dogs could be found hanging out, fighting among themselves, and frightening the children. The fear of being taken, abducted, or hurt by strangers is real, and during a guided tour, the children in one neighborhood took us to a wall in the community center where the faces of lost children hung as a reminder to them of the risks. These slum communities in La Paz with their narrow steep steps and winding laneways and children who need to make their way alone or with friends to access school, shops, playgrounds, or their homes are a familiar sight in many Latin American countries. Children speak of many dangers some in the physical environment but also other concerns about their health due to the lack of fresh water and the dust and dirt in the air, on the street, and in their houses.

As children as we had a small house – our bedroom was small we have in the same bedroom two beds, our kitchen, our small kitchen and just that. We didn’t have a bathroom with all the sanitary services. We didn’t have that and we use to go to the ground. Out to the bathroom we play in the same places, where go to the bathroom we play – and that is still here. I see that in the communities now I work I see that I see my reality, I say I use to be that child. But the part where we live, the property used to be a place where there was landslides. It is not secure land. And that is the reason why my grandfather never put the services. They water we didn’t have water no water no sanitary services we didn’t have that. We had to carry the water from the branch? Near the river was a little river with water we carried water. (Elena’s reflections of a childhood in the slum communities of La Paz, recorded interview 2014)

The unstable slopes, the dirt, and rubbish are important issues children discuss with us during the walks. Children spoke of dumped rubbish in the streets and ravines where they would go to collect water or play. Most children had a photograph in their research of rubbish or dangerous ravines close to their homes where they felt unsafe. Children in Taca Gua particularly noted more than others that there was rubbish dumped near their homes. They also have no access to water or sanitary conditions, so they have to collect water from a central location and often go to the toilet in the earth close to their house. For many like Jonathon and Ricardo, they fear that the houses they live in are precariously located on unstable hillsides, and they worry for their safety. The following is a walking story by Juan where he took photographs as he walked home from school (Figs. 1 and 2):
Fig. 1

Photograph series 1: walking up the valley. (Photograph by Juan aged 15, Cotahuma)

Fig. 2

Photograph series 2: walking up the valley. (Photograph by Juan aged 15, Cotahuma)

I live in Cotahuma. I took this series of four photographs as I was walking up the slopes towards my house after school. The one here is the second in my series. I took this photograph because this canal is dirty, it is at the start of the way to my house. I don’t like this place to be like this because it looks bad and it makes the area look bad. It is as we are getting to my house, at the lookout. I chose this photo because it is a ravine and it is dangerous, it is so dangerous they need to close it. It is the same ravine, the one that is very dangerous because many people fallen, I think they need to close it because a lot of rubbish is dumped there and lots of people and wildlife fall in. It is just around from my house. I chose this next photo because it is very dirty and the owner of the house doesn’t clean it. There is lots of rubbish, but the good thing is that the steps are not dangerous. I don’t like to walk through here because it is very dirty but I still have to walk through here anyway. This is a photo of where I bring water down from; it is very dirty and very dangerous. The sports field is above too and if the ball falls I have to go and retrieve if from the pile of rubbish. I am worried walking through here especially when it is raining hard and the flood waters may come over the edge of the ravine and wash away my house with me and my family and my dog. See this final photograph I took this photo in El Alto and I don’t like the rubbish and it makes it look bad where they go and the dogs stop here and they can bite you. I walk a long distance sometimes because the valley is so steep. There is not always roads or stairs so we make our own tracks through the dirt. (Juan’s walking story from school to home)

Gabriel, like Juan, provides images of the ravines: “I don’t like this place because many people have fallen from here, it is very dangerous.”

In response to a similar photograph, Dayana aged 12 also from Alto Taca Gua said: “I am afraid of this place, it is dangerous, I get very scared.”

Ronaldo, aged 8 from Cotahuma, also commented on the dangerous ravines: “I don’t like it here because there are ravines, people fall and it is a dangerous place, this place is ugly.”

Building houses on the hilltops also causes many problems that the children are very aware of. Ricardo, aged 10 from Cotahuma, took a photograph of a pile of rocks that he tells us used to be his home: “It’s my house but it has fallen down, it was ill constructed.” He then shows us a photograph of the house he now lives in which is also showing signs of collapse: “t’s my house, the cracks are there because it was ill constructed and all the houses in my area are also falling down, the tree roots destroy the houses.”

Jonathan, aged 9 from Munaypata, also includes photographs from his neighborhood showing houses precariously hanging on the edge of the hilltop. He describes this: “These houses are hanging dangerously, one of them is collapsing, the one with the nylon hanging out the front is mine.” He includes photographs close to the hanging houses and his house where there are piles of dirt and lots of rubbish: “A pile of dirt and lots of dust nearby my house which is collapsing and there is a lot of rubbish’ and ‘lots of rubbish below my house.”

What Jonathon alludes to in his photographs and description is that beyond the dangers presented by the tree roots and slopes, the ravines and the now mostly empty riverbeds have become dumping grounds for rubbish.

Alan aged 10 from Alto Taca Gua is also concerned about the rubbish in his neighborhood and that the lack of rubbish bins: “There is always rubbish here, there are no rubbish bins. I would like there to be rubbish bins because the rubbish gets into the storm water.”

Sebastian, who was aged 6, lived in Munaypata, which is a community a few kilometers across the valley from Alan in Taca Gua. But Sebastian has similar concerns about the rubbish, and in his drawing of the neighborhood, we see he draws his neighborhood streets and includes an area of open space with rubbish. He described his drawing by stating: “This is the place I like least. It is full of rubbish and they drink too much.”

Sebastian also took photographs of him in his neighborhood. It shows the view across the neighborhood near his house. When describing this photograph, he told us: “This is close to my house I took it to show you that we have poor, dirty neighbourhoods and people that drink.”

Yesonia is from Munaypata and took me on a tour of the neighborhood. She takes photographs as we walk and talk. At one place she stops in front of a large dump of rubbish: “I want to show you the rubbish that people dump and the dogs that go to the toilet; it’s a place that is close to the house. I hate it, it smells’. While many children often talked fondly of the dogs in their neighbourhood many children stated that dog feces was a real concern for them. A number of children were also worried about the dangers of street dogs who might bite them and some recalled friends or relatives that had been bitten before.”

Luz, aged 12 from Alto Taca Gua, was also concerned about the rubbish in her neighborhood and its impact on the environment. She describes a photograph she has taken this way: “The rubbish is what contaminates the environment and it is what I don’t like about the area. They dump rubbish everywhere the rubbish bins are there in vain because they don't use them because they want to contaminate the environment.”

Many children said they wanted more police in their community and more policing of bad behavior by adults. Ricardo, aged 10 from Cotahuma, dreams of place to live where there is: “more police control because a thief broke into my house and because there were no police he escaped.”

Gabriel, age 12 from Taca Gua, supports this when he stated: “My neighbourhood is not that safe, there aren’t enough police.”

Mostly children in Cotahuma said they knew where to go or someone to help them should they need help or when in danger. But for children in Munaypata and in Taca Gua, many children were worried there was no adult around to support them when they went out into the neighborhood walking. Most parents in all neighborhoods believed other adults would help their children. Children were asked if they felt safe travelling alone, and their responses were quite varied but more likely than not to say they never felt safe. What this reveals is a sense of real dangers for children in the public spaces, and being kidnapped or hurt by others is a significant worry for them. In Cotahuma children showed us where in the welfare department a whole wall was dedicated to photographs of lost, possibly kidnapped children. Most children could name one child they knew or had heard of that had been kidnapped. This is very frightening, and while some of these may be related to domestic disputes or other family issues, children are also aware that they could be taken off the streets and kept captive in child labor rings, trafficked to other places, and for girls even the possibility of prostitution. Flow and movement of bodies is not always embodied as an action of freedom. I took a photograph of the wall as we walked away (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3

Wall of kidnapped children. (Source Photograph taken by the author)

Entangled Figurations, Flows in the Anthropocene

Freedom is an act of action; it is not a property; it has no content; it can’t be defined. Therefore, there is no order in how to provide freedom it only exists through ‘the “autonomy” of the living being against a background of routinized or habituated activity’ (Grosz, 2010, p. 148). Grosz (2010), drawing on the work of Bergson, writes about:

… an understanding of freedom that is not fundamentally linked to the question of choice, to the operations of alternatives, to the selection of options outside of the subject and independently available to him or her. It is not a freedom of selection, of consumption, a freedom linked to the acquisition of objects but a freedom of action that is above all connected to an active self, an embodies being, a being who acts in a world of other beings and objects. (2010, p. 147)

This concept of freedom, one that acknowledges the entangled assemblages of children, objects, and others in a world acting together, is valuable in a world where increased uncertainty and manifestations of risk real or imagined will be central to living in the Anthropocene.

Phenomenon could be described as the intra-action between an object and its surroundings. This intra-action leaves discernible marks on those surrounds so as to constitute them as a measuring apparatus of the intra-action. Barad (2007, p. 335) argues:

… apparatuses are not merely human-constructed laboratory instruments that tell us how the world is in accordance with our human-based conceptions. Rather, apparatuses are specific material configurations (dynamic reconfigurings) of the world that play a role in phenomena.

Barad uses the term “intra-action” to describe how two poles of a phenomenon, the object and the apparatus, do not exist as such apart from their intra-action. What is measured by those marks of intra-action, however, is not a property of the object in isolation but of the phenomenon as a whole. The children in the three neighborhoods of La Paz were asked to draw on a map of their movements through the landscape. These marks on the map are as Barad alludes to a “measurement of intra-action” – they record the ongoing dynamics of boundary making (marking) practices of children with the landscape. The marks provide a record of each neighborhood and how children move differently and together through these landscapes. And as they move with and through and intra-act with objects, they leave traces of their past and present.

The maps provide children’s movement not as autonomous individuals but rather as collective phenomena of child-city-movements, as material dynamic entangled objects becoming through the landscape. They provide entry points when observing the entangled nature of practice as it unfolds:

[P]athways or trajectories along which improvisatory practice unfolds are not connections, nor do they describe relations between one thing and another. They are rather lines along which things continually come into being. Thus when I speak of the entanglement of things I mean this literally and precisely: not a network of connections but a meshwork of interwoven lines of growth and movement. (Ingold, 2010, p. 3)

In this way of acknowledging the marking of child-city-bodies in the landscape, there is an accountability to the world as being material, which for Barad (1996, p. 188) “is not about representations of an independent reality, but about the real consequences, interventions, creative possibilities, and responsibilities of intra-acting within the world.” Knowing the world by participating in the configuration of phenomena makes one accountable for all of their consequences (Fig. 4).
Fig. 4

Collation of Munaypata child-city-mobility maps. (Source: Author)

The marks on the landscape portray the messy flowing streets of Munaypata following the valley terrain and the means through which children have individually and collectively devised complex pathways through the congested urban landscape. The steep crammed valley, with houses built on top of each, providing no space or paths or roads creates. The heavy flows of movement are connected to activities within streets, open areas, parks, playgrounds, and sporting fields. The flowing in and out of the central area that is the neighborhood of Munaypata tracks the means through which children enter in and out of the space along the ravine edges to move downtown to where the schools are and where their parents are working. They return back up the ravines to the neighborhood where they find small areas of open space, some earth to play out of eyeshot of adults who may have presented risks (Fig. 5).
Fig. 5

Complex entangled streets of Munaypata. (Source Sebastian aged 6)

In our free time we played just on the earth, we didn’t have a play ground we just played with the air, go to the garbage play on the garbage. In my neighbourhood before was so dirty, the river was open and you can smell the water was dirty. And people other communities use to come to there to throw all the garbage near the river and some factories carry some magazines books to throw out near the river and we as a child use to run to see what they had thrown. Maybe we can get some magazines things like that. That happened when I was 10 years old. I remember always I use to have dirty clothes. (Elena’s reflections on a childhood in the communities of La Paz, recorded interview 2014)

According to Leary (2015, p. 8), “Mobility is also often entangled with feelings desires and emotions, and indeed certain mobilities, such as say pilgrimages, may be undertaken in order to generate a particular feeling or emotion.” Children’s movement and freedom as represented through their intra-acting with and through the dirt, dust, and water of the ravines provides insights into the materiality of being with the earth through an embodied reality of moving through place. It is not the place or destination that is central to these child-city-movements but a mobile materiality that allows the child’s entangled world to be revealed. Or as Ingold (2010, p. 3) entices us to consider, “a focus on life-processes requires us to attend not to materiality as such but to the fluxes and flows of materials” (Fig. 6).
Fig. 6

Collation of Taca Gua child-city-mobility maps. (Source: Author)

Life, according to Deleuze and Guattari (2004), is developed along thread-lines (Ingold, 2010). These thread-lines of life are referred to by them as “lines of flight” or “lines of becoming.” Like the markings of the children through the landscapes of La Paz, these are not lines that connect; they are the unfolding of possibilities for how materiality is flowing through the spaces between the earth and the walking. A freedom of flow is taking up agency through child-earth becoming. “A line of becoming,” Deleuze and Guattari write:

… is not defined by the points it connects, or by the points that compose it; on the contrary, it passes between points, it comes up through the middle … A becoming is neither one nor two, nor the relation of the two; it is the in-between, the … line of flight … running perpendicular to both. (2004, p. 323)

The “thing” the gathering together of lines of flight is according to Ingold (2010) is how Deleuze and Guattari explain the concept of a “haecceity” (2004, p. 290). The haecceity or thisness of things is represented through this mapping of collective lines of flight. At the center of the Taca Gua map, we can see a number of swirling lines centered around a particular object. The object is the play and sports space – it is also the center where we held our workshops. Running vertical to these, the crooked lines illustrate the staircases where children can exit to the top of the valley and ravine into the El Alto or horizontally outward into the forested disused vacant blocks where the valley is so steep constructing houses or stairs is impossible or what was there has now been lost, washed away by a landslide. Walking, walking, carrying, carrying, puffing, puffing – up the steep staircases. The pathways are empty. Bare dirt fills the spaces in between. Hidden from view, the narrow walkways look out across the valley (Figs. 7 and 8).
Fig. 7

Staircases of Taca Gua (Photograph taken by children during walking interview)

Fig. 8

Collation of Cotahuma child-city-mobility maps. (Source: Author)

I walked. I always walked I never took the car or bus. Because the road I use to go was hilly and when it was the season of raining – the road was earth, the road was slippery and I use to fall down and I remember my shoes were always were dirty with all the earth. With the earth that’s what it was like. We get access to the football field, was field near the river too and we use to go and play and run or play football. We didn’t get access to a good real playground it was too far away. (Elena’s reflections on a childhood in the slum communities of La Paz, recorded interview 2014)

Ingold (2010) explains the concepts of lines of light and flow as linked to his notions of network and meshwork. He likens it to a spider’s web. The collective child-city-movement maps unlike the mapping work by Ward (1978), Moore (1986), Chawla (2002), and Driskell (2002) who use spatial maps to identify the boundaries of children’s roaming range focus, these maps record spatial networks as complex intra-actions between human and nonhuman objects. Children of Cotahuma circumnavigate the valley ravines, the steep edges fall away beneath their steps. Reynaldo included a photograph of the obstacles along the pathway for children, he tells me: “I don’t like it here because there are ravines, people fall and it is a dangerous and ugly place. A young person fell and that scares me; I want it to be closed off so no more people can fall” (Fig. 9).
Fig. 9

Photograph of obstacles on children’s paths in Cotahuma. (Photograph by Reynaldo aged 8)

The lines of the spider’s web, for example, unlike those of the communications network, do not connect points or join things up. They are rather spun from materials exuded from the spider’s body and are laid down as it moves about. In that sense they are extensions of the spider’s very being as it trails into the environment. They are the lines along which it lives, and conduct its perception and action in the world. (Ingold 2010, p. 12)

The network of lines, the flow of materiality of child-city-movement, provides the possibilities for real and imagined journeys where the human and nonhuman are connected. The defining attribute of a network of flow lines is their potential for connectivity. The spider weaves their threads starting from the center, building layers by knotting carefully each thread; boundaries are created by supporting the trailing of loose ends that fall away.

I am reminded when I look at these child-city-movement maps of habitat or wildlife corridors. When I was working with schools many years ago, we often engaged in tree planting projects with the purpose of creating habitat corridors. Corridors act as points of connectivity for wildlife and are known to contribute to reestablishing populations who may have been impacted by natural disasters such as fires or disease or whose habitat has been reduced because of events such a deforestation, landslides, and road making. Habitat corridors encourage the movement of animals and plants along specific lines of flight in order to create a safe passage through a space, in order that species can flow. According to research, wildlife corridors should be built with randomness or asymmetry, rather than being symmetrical.

Multi-species Companions in Damaged Landscapes

The city of La Paz has 500,000 dogs and 1 million children. Every year in La Paz, there is a day devoted to caring for dogs, offerings of food, bathes, and immunizations. A bow is tied around their neck. During the project the team collected around 2000 photographs taken by children while they moved around the valley. From these images over 200 of the photographs included dogs (Fig. 10).
Fig. 10

Collation of children’s dog photographs. (Sources: Authors collection)

Dogs are uniquely sensitive to the natureculture attributes of human bodies with whom they live. They have the longest of evolutionary human-nonhuman relation dating back at least 15,000 years. Such is this complex history of human/nonhuman companionship; dog genetic diversity is often used as the means for tracing the history of the peopling of the new world. Tracing the history dogs in La Paz through DNA reveals 90% of dogs travelled to this land during the Spanish conquest, the gentry arrived with their hunting dogs – spaniels and poodles. My companion Poppy is also a cocker spaniel, dogs brought to Australia by the English gentry during the waves of postcolonial invasion. Although they have never encountered one another, dogs of La Paz and dogs of Australia, they are a species in common, both affected by a shared colonial history, the consequences of being worldly with humans. Deborah Rose Bird (2013), writing of her learnings with Australian Aboriginal people, who recall stories of their kinship relations with others, the Law, states, “their stories are always grounded in specific places and creatures.” Rather than offerings Aboriginal people “sing up country” to acknowledge the relational human-nonhuman entanglement. “Singing up expresses powerful connectivities founded in knowledge recognition, care and love” (2013, p. 4). In my research in La Paz, children sing up earthly kin as child-dog bodies, dogs in La Paz who took us on walks, foraged for food, barked at intruders, and played games in the playgrounds. As our “spirit animals,” they were our protectors, our guide dogs, sensing danger, we responded to their sensory cues. They alerted us to the precarity of the damaged landscape. Dogs in La Paz found solace in a shared life with children and children in a shared life with dogs. The following are short extracts from the stories children shared with us. The stories have been taken from a recent publication Malone (2018).


Coco coinhabits the environment with Juan. Juan starts his story of life shared with Coco by handing me a photograph of him and Coco. “Coco was my friend” he states, “On our way up the valley I photographed this large dump for rubbish; Coco is in the rubbish looking to find food. We share this life, looking for food. In my next photograph you can see the place where he plays freely with Coco at the top of the steep valley” (Fig. 11).
Fig. 11

Coco-Juan. (Source: Juan age 13 Cotahuma, La Paz)

Kin relationships emerged in this study of La Paz as a deep sensitivity by the children when describing child-dog experiences. I use the concept of child-dog-bodies to recognize that as kin their shared relational encounters are outside of human-nature dualisms experienced by the adults of the community. Haraway (2015) argues the stretch and recomposition of kin represents the understanding that earthlings are all kin in the deepest sense – it is the purest of entities in assemblages of the human/nonhuman.


“My dog’s name is Black,” says Ricardo, “He is beautiful and every time I bath him he gets dirty again. He comes with me when I play with my friends’. I worry for Black because he looks at me sometimes with a sad look and I wonder is he feeling pain or is he unhappy. Does he know how I feel? I wonder these things when I am with him. Does he like being a dog? I imagine sometimes that I am Black, that his body is mine. How great it would be to have four legs and run up the hills so fast. He is faster than me. When we go to the forest he always gets their first and he sits and watches me, slowly walking up the slope. It is steep and sometimes dangerous. I feel safer when he is there, you know I know if I got hurt he would help me. Just like I would help him.”

Ricardo dreams of changes to his Cotahuma neighborhood to make it safer for him and his dog Black.

“The place is poor, the whole area is poor. My new house has cracks, my old house was ill constructed and fell down. I would like more police control because a thief broke into my house and because there were no police he escaped. I would like there to be more sports fields, no dust, and that things were greener so I could play safely with Black [his dog who lives on the street]’. Do you have a dog?”

As we finish this conversation, Norah walks up to show me her photographs. Norah is aged 9, from Taca Gua; she has taken the photograph from the roof of a house with her dog. “This photo is of my neighborhood” she says, “and that is where my house is, it is big and I live with my dad my mum and my sister. My house has many rooms, my dog lives on the street and takes care of me a lot.” Ricardo asks her “what is your dogs name?” “I don’t know,” she replies, “He has never told me.” Ricardo who looks down at his photograph of Black now turns to Norah again: “does he know your name then? Black knows mine” (Fig. 12).
Fig. 12

Black-Ricardo. (Source: Ricardo, age 10, Cotahuma)


Rosario provides me with two photographs when we meet. The dogs are present and central to both photographs. In images she calls dogs in the streets, there are a group of dogs in the middle of the road. The neighborhood is empty, which can sometimes create an air of danger, but the dogs are playful, and the child is taking photographs. Rosario explains.

“As I walk to school the dogs come with me. They are the same dogs, everyday walking with me. My special one her name is Chino. She likes to just be with me the most. I like to be with them. They protect me and I protect them. You know if I get close I can smell their bodies, touch them. I can talk to them they listen. They are my friends, especially Chino.” There is a pause. “They cannot come in the school though. The teachers get angry when dogs are in the school yard. I think what do they do when I am at school especially Chino? When I go home sometimes she is waiting, I think how does she know, you know that I am leaving?” (Fig. 13).
Fig. 13

Chino-Rosario. (Source Rosario, aged 12 Munaypata)

Conclusion: Attending and Attuning to the Anthropocene

To take back our personhood in relation to other species changes everything. Snaza and Weaver suggest, we need to attune to it; Tim Ingold speaks of attending to it. Both attuning and attending allow us to understand how something not-self is similar to your self and the not-self is part of your self. “What if we defined kin as those we share food from our fridge?” Those we sleep with? Those we play games with? Learn to drink from? “Being with the world” is how Rautio (2017a, b) describes forming a different view of ourselves as human in relation to nonhumans: “ is about realizing that the relation is always already there, and as much influenced by behavior and existence of other co-existing species as it is by our actions.” This form of egomorphism as opposed to anthropomorphism (Milton 2005) attributes the qualities of having a shared life with others – whether they be human or nonhuman. When my dog and my grandchild encounter the environment together, my dog is not being human, and Birdy my granddaughter who is pre-language is not being a dog – they are being worldly with kin, “being animal” sensing it through their bodies, an intelligence beyond “human intelligence” that is often only inscribed through cultural norms of discursive practices.

Child-animal relations co-shape shared worlds even when they are not together. Children in the Anthropocene carry the material entanglement of their lives with others throughout their journey’s in cities. Taking from Marisol de la Cadena ideas on the Anthropo-unseen childdogbodies are “more than one – less than many.” That is in my queering of binaries, I am creating ontological openings where child, dog, or earth is not either animal or nature. I am not offering up a flat ontology – rather childdogearthbodies is the opening up of a new spaces in the Anthropocene, not human, not dog, not earth. Child is human but not only; dog is dog but not only; earth is earth but not only. We are implicated in our existence on the planet through our connection with earthling companions, and despite the human predilection to reiterate human exceptionalism, including within many epic and heroic narrations of the Anthropocene, the fact is that our human lives are tied together in this “but not only” spaces with our kin as worldly others.

Aldred (2014) writes: “there are several ways to inhabit movement. To move through a landscape is to dwell in movement, occurring when relates to and reflects on the material world as it is experienced and moved through” (p. 31). In this chapter I have sought to compress time and space through the study of earthly relations with and through movement patterns connected to stories and images taken by children over time in La Paz. It is a collective and individual story. I have, through children’s stories of dog kin and child-city-movement maps, stories, and photographs, acknowledged that “human actions and mobilities are enmeshed with the actions and mobilities of flowing materials” (Edgeworth, 2014, p. 58). By applying Barad’s (2007) tools of intra-action in order to trace the flow of materials through landscapes, as means for recording the ongoing fluidity and dynamics of objects, I have supported Ingold’s (2010) notions of enmeshment and creative entanglement. Movement and freedom can be embodied, performative, and inscribed with pleasure, fear, conformity, and transgression. It is through walking, moving through the city, with children that I have come to know the complicated negotiation children perform as kin and how learning from these we can consider alternative ways of being on the planet with others.

In a posthumanist ecological community, we are always been “beings in common” bodies, materials being sensed ecologically. Sheller and Urry (2006, p. 217) argue while much of the research on movement is conducted at a distance it should also be equally concerned with “the patterning, timing and causation of face-to-face copresence.” The texture of the ground, steep slopes, and loose earth; the weather, wind, rain, and darkness; vegetation forests and woodlands; and the others that we share the ground with, all influence and force certain types of movements, freedoms, constraints, and mobilities (Leary 2015). And as Ingold and Vergunst (2008) remind us, we are in relation with a world teeming with a vast array of nonhuman animal life, all of which influence how we move, with whom we move through the landscape, and the trails we leave behind (Leary). A child in the city is influenced by all these things, but beyond the immediate landscape, they may come to know through their meanderings in the leftover marginal spaces close to their homes the entangled and complex world beyond them, a world that is increasingly posing a whole host of heightened risks. Children in these precarious times will navigate the risks and dangers of natural disasters, fearful parents who restrict their freedoms, strangers, and wild beasts real or imagined lurking in the shadow ready to pounce. Mobility therefore is not simply movement, just as freedom is not just about being “free.” The act of mobility is imbued with meaning, described in Leary’s archaeological world of movement as “an ensemble of freedom, opportunity, adventure and progress, and yet it was also a form of restriction” (Leary, p. 11). The stories of child-dog-bodies moving freely in the landscapes of La Paz provide insights into how we (human-other as kin) come to be in places, with whom and without.

A quarter of a billion years ago, the earth went through a period called “the great dying.” An extinction event where 96% of the species of plants and animals on the planet were lost, it nearly ended all life on the planet. Humans and all nonhuman species currently living on the planet are descendants from the surviving 4% of life. We are tied together by a genealogy, a history of our bodies entangled on this landscape with others. Noticing attunes us to worlds otherwise unrecognized; reconfiguring our sensing of bodies forces us into a new kind of history, the tracings of lively ghosts. In a postdevelopment/post-Anthropocene world, the Anthropocene is not just scientific facts, verifiable through stratigraphic or climatic analyses, but it becomes a “discursive development” that problematizes a humanist narrative of progress that has essentially focused on the mastery of nature, domination of the biosphere, and “placing God-like faith in technocratic solutions.” It is a heuristic device for gaining a deeper understanding of how we “humans” have come to locate ourselves as master of a 4.5 billion year old planet when we have existed for the mere blink of an eyelid.

I am encouraged through the storying of the Anthropocene to track histories and trace flows and pathways that considers making multi-species livability possible. By wandering through landscapes, where assemblages of the dead gather together with the living, the Anthropocene becomes central to making meaning of the nature of childhood and childhoodnatures. Traces of the past live on through those kin who are among us; disasters and devastation formed our present; and hope lies, in considering these many pasts, as part of our future. Knowing the past is inscribed in our shared bodies and we carry them around with us (Hayles, 2003, p. 137).

Are we on the final steps to sealing the fate of a myriad of species, including our own? Will the damaged landscapes left behind hold only thin traces of the human/nonhuman histories through which ecologies have been made and unmade? (Gan, Tsing, Swanson & Bubandt, 2017). The naming of the Anthropocene acknowledges this incredible force and nowhere is this impact more dramatic than in cities, and no species has more to lose than children.



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EducationFaculty of Health, Arts and Design, Swinburne University of TechnologyMelbourneAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Amy Cutter-Mackenzie
    • 1
  • Karen Malone
    • 2
  • Marianne Krasny
    • 3
  • Hilary Whitehouse
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Education, Gold Coast CampusSouthern Cross UniversityGold CoastAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Educational ResearchWestern Sydney UniversitySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Cornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  4. 4.James Cook UniversityCairnsAustralia

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