Inaugural Lecture: Tackling the Anthropocene Challenge (Prof Oonsie Biggs)


We live in the Anthropocene, a new geological era where the increasing scale, speed and connectivity of human activities are profoundly changing the functioning of the Earth.

The economic, political and cultural processes underlying these changes are also leading to growing social inequalities and the breakdown of traditional relations that can provide support and meaning in people’s lives. At the same time, they are also creating a variety of social innovations and technological developments, which are opening up exciting opportunities for addressing these challenges.

Resilience is a key concept that has emerged for navigating the novel and turbulent conditions of the Anthropocene and fostering transformations toward more sustainable and just development pathways. Resilience refers to the capacity to navigate change and uncertainty through investing in systemic features such as diversity, connectivity and learning.

One innovative example of the application of a resilience approach is the Seeds of Good Anthropocenes project ( Through a series of transdisciplinary workshops and an online campaign, a wide variety of ‘seeds’ are being catalogued – real initiatives that demonstrate elements of a positive future. Using these seeds, a suite of provocative alternative visions for ‘good Anthropocenes’ have been developed through a novel participatory visioning approach.

This presentation briefly introduces the concept of the Anthropocene and resilience as a strategy for building systemic capacity to navigate change and uncertainty. It then illustrates how the resilience approach is being applied in the Seeds of Good Anthropocenes project to identify actions that have the potential to leverage deep systemic change towards more positive futures.

Encounters with Complexity: An African search for a relational theory of radical change

Mark Swilling is Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Development in the School of Public Leadership, Stellenbosch University where he is also Academic Director of the Sustainability Institute and Co-Director of CST. He is co-author with Eve Annecke of “Just Transitions: Explorations of Sustainability in an Unfair World” (2012). His new book entitled “Age of Sustainability: Just Transitions in a Complex World” will be published by Routledge in late 2019. His research interests connect global sustainability transitions, theories of change, relational complexity in the African context (Ukama), sustainability-oriented governance, complexity-based development economics, the renewable energy revolution, and urban transitions. His last book was “Shadow State: the Politics of State Capture” (2018).

Encounters with Complexity: Impredicative Relationality – The Heart of Complexity

Jannie Hofmeyr is co-founder of the CST and Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry and Biocomplexity,Stellenbosch University. Over the past 35 years, he has conducted his research in the field of Computational System Biology with the regulation and regulatory design of metabolism as his main focus. More recently, his work focuses on describing the functional organisation of the living cell for which he developed a theory of molecular fabrication to inform a theoretical basis for both system biology and nanotechnology. During 2017—18 he was the president of the Royal Society of South Africa (RSSAf).

Encounters with Complexity: Complexity Science as Relationship, Patterning and Process

Jean Boulton is author of the best-selling book “Embracing Complexity: strategic perspectives for an age of turbulence” (2015). Jean is Associate Research Fellow at Bath and Cranfield Universities (UK) and Director of Claremont Management Consultants Ltd. Her background in theoretical physics coupled with her practical engagement in the fields of management and social research—both through academia, consulting, hands-on management and working as a director, strategy consultant and trustee—give her a multi-faceted, informed and practical perspective on the implications of embracing complexity. Jean is currently a fellow at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study.