A Tale of Two Systems: Anthropocene Politics, Gaia, and the Cybernetic Image of the Planet

Hannes Bergthaller*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Most discussions of the Anthropocene interpret it as a moment when customary distinctions between nature and culture break down and humans either successfully subsume the Earth under their own purposes or, conversely, abandon the modern project of dominating nature. Both interpretations respond to the cybernetic understanding of the Earth as a self-regulating body proposed by Gaia theory and the Earth system sciences. This essay shows how this idea is parsed differently by representative proponents of these two conflicting views (Hans-Joachim Schellnhuber and Bruno Latour, respectively) and counters them with a third interpretation which builds on Michel Serres’s The Natural Contract. Serres argues that our historical moment should not be construed in terms of a merger of nature and culture; rather, society and the Earth should be understood as two self-regulating systems that are coupled but remain distinct. Whereas writers like Schellnhuber envision a society that acquires the ability to regulate the Earth system, Serres suggests that the challenge for world society in the Anthropocene is to regulate itself vis-à-vis a natural system that also regulates itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-52
Number of pages16
Issue number44
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Dec
Externally publishedYes


  • Bruno Latour
  • Earth system science
  • Hans-Joachim Schellnhuber
  • James E. Lovelock
  • Lynn Margulis
  • Michel Serres
  • cybernetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Literature and Literary Theory


Dive into the research topics of 'A Tale of Two Systems: Anthropocene Politics, Gaia, and the Cybernetic Image of the Planet'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this