Becoming human in anthropogenic hothouses: Sloterdijk’s foam anthropology of breathability in times of atmospheric crisis

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Well on our way into the 21st century, the rapidly unfolding ecological crisis keeps on problematising our human condition of being-in-air. From Covid-19 to rising levels of CO2 and suffocating political climates, we are faced with less-than-breathable atmospheres whereas we – human beings just like other earth inhabitants – are conditioned by that which we breathe in. As our lifeworld turns out to be also our life support, we are in need of a philosophical anthropology to help us make sense of our role and responsibilities.
In this article, such anthropological approach is developed based on Peter Sloterdijk’s Foams (2016). Starting from Sloterdijk’s description of being as ‘being-in’ and ‘being-with’ in ‘atmospheres’, the question in this article is to what extent atmospherical thinking can help us make sense of our human role in ecological crises, and of our relatedness to other beings in them. In elaborating Sloterdijk’s (mostly implicit) anthropology with an eye especially for the openings he offers towards addressing ecology-related questions, three topics demand further attention: being-in and being-with are by Sloterdijk conceptually related to human becoming, yet Foams is easily read as an (essentialising) explanation of man’s confinement to/in places. In order not to get stuck in increasingly suffocating structures (Morin, 2009) nor with a ‘killer story’ as origin of human becoming (Le Guin, 1996), becoming-in and becoming-with need to be better embedded in the theory. Next, even though Sloterdijk makes note of bubbles as places of multispecies becoming and relations, Foams is rather anthropocentric: It takes on a human perspective, but also seems to confine moral/ethical consideration to human experiences. Such anthropocentrism needs to be addressed in light of the inherently multispecies climate crisis. Last, Sloterdijk posits human’s openness to a larger world. This openness (including its apparent status as a sole human attribute), however, comes somewhat as an afterthought in Foams, and it needs further inquiry if it is to help make sense of the crises we are facing and our human role in them.
Original languageEnglish
Article number
Pages (from-to)181-194
Number of pages14
JournalInternationales Jahrbuch für Anthropologie
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2021


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