Front and back cover caption, volume 30 issue 2

Front cover


New York City's daily carbon dioxide emissions in 2010 as one-tonne spheres visualized to engage the ‘person on the street’ (still from:

As the gross domestic product (GDP) turns 80 this year, it is time to reflect on the profound impact that this ‘almighty number’ has had on our societies. GDP drives not only our economies, but also our political social systems. Politicians are rewarded when GDP goes up and kicked out of office when it goes down. Democratically elected governments are bound to adhere to GDP-friendly policies.

As GDP has removed traditional issues of distribution and social justice from public debate by reducing the political economy to the ‘correct’ management of the business cycle, it has afforded unprecedented power to all sorts of technocrats, from central bankers to credit rating agencies.

As it turns out, GDP has turned our societies into cages of consumerism, where the political notion of citizen has been largely replaced by that of consumer. But the convergence of contemporary crises, from climate change to the global economic downturn, opens new opportunities to contest the power of GDP.

By looking at the economic, political and anthropological impacts of the GDP at work, this issue of ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY intends to stimulate a cross-disciplinary reflection on the type of society we live in. We begin in this issue with an exchange between Lorenzo Fioramonti and Jane Guyer on their respective takes on these indicators.

Back cover


As the soft sediments of the East Anglian coast are eroded away, the underlying evidence of past human occupation is revealed. In Happisburgh, on the Norfolk coast, archaeologists have discovered tools and other evidence of early human activity as early as 800,000 years ago.

Most recently, after a storm, a set of footprints were revealed in the silt of an extinct estuary. The footprints are thought to belong to a small group of adults and children, and have been dated between 780,000 and 1 million years old; this would make them the earliest known human footprints outside of Africa. Subsequent to being photographed, they were washed away by the sea.

In this issue, Richard Irvine reflects on the significance of these findings for anthropologists engaged with environmental change. Encounters with the past shape how we understand time in coastal environments, allowing us to think beyond present day coastlines and imagine environments in flux. However, in a location such as Happisburgh, the impact of coastline changes are a source of major controversy, as the cliffs retreat by metres each year and the land under people's houses is swept away into the sea.

Observing these processes of destruction and revelation at work, we sit at the intersection of long term variation and present-day dilemmas.