Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene by Donna J. Haraway
Though waving a new banner with a fresh slogan, the aim of Donna Haraway's scholarship has always been to "Stay with the Trouble!" Here, in her most recent book, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Haraway, accompanied with string figures, sheep, science fiction, storytelling, scientists, [End Page 236] racing pigeons, horse urine, artists, and countless other multispecies entanglements, persists and stays with the trouble of climate change, capitalism, mass extinctions, overpopulation, and all the other disastrous, human-made troubles of which many have come to call the Anthropocene.
Named for the destructive impact of human-driven development, industrialization, resource extraction, and animal extinctions of the current geological era, the Anthropocene has generated much debate, not least of which has been concerned with its recentering of the human. In particular, these debates have spawned two seemingly opposed but equally problematic future-oriented perspectives: techno-optimism and abject defeatism. Haraway takes aim at these alternately utopian and dystopian outlooks, and the Anthropocene that spawned them, in order to propose an alternate, more generative, "thick" time scale of dangerous but necessary "response-ability." Instead of the Anthropocene and its centering of the human, Haraway centers the multispecies entanglements of which humans are a part and offers a new name for our current era: the Chthulucene. To stay with the trouble in the Chthulucene means to resist the dangers of defeatism and optimism by situating ourselves squarely in the messy material present and to seek better ways to live and die well for humans and more-than-human beings and worlds. Haraway calls this project of mutual, multispecies world-making, of more than survival but less than utopia, "ongoingness" (132).
Staying with the Trouble is comprised of a collection of eight essays, largely republished, which make independent yet overlapping feminist interventions concerning the Anthropocene and other posthuman discourses. The first three lengthy chapters of the book provide historical context and debates concerning the Anthropocene and Capitalocene (i.e., a geologic era shaped by capitalism rather than humans), descriptions of Haraway's key terms (e.g., Chthulucene, SF, and sympoiesis), and applications and the methodological relevance of these concepts.
In chapter 1, Haraway advances in detail her concept of "SF," which variously stands for "science fiction, speculative fabulation, string figures, speculative feminism, science fact, so far" (2), a "risky game of worlding and storying; [SF] is staying with the trouble" (13). The core argument of this chapter claims that "[n]atures, cultures, subjects, and objects do not pre-exist their intertwined worldings" (13) and that we must be conscious of how our stories (e.g., "technology will save us" or, worse, "it's already too late") influence our relationships with nonhuman worlds and limit or expand our options in the face of global struggle. Chapter 2 unpacks the history and uptake of the Anthropocene and Capitalocene and details Haraway's formulation of the Chthulucene: "a name for an elsewhere and elsewhen that was, still is, and might yet be" (31), which "unlike either the Anthropocene or the Capitalocene . . . is made of ongoing multispecies stories and practises of becoming-with in times that remain at stake" (55). The Chthulucene demands that we understand that "human beings [End Page 237] are with and of the earth, and the biotic and abiotic powers of the earth are the main story" (55). Haraway emphasizes here the importance of "sympoiesis" to her approach, that is, that the worlding humans undertake is never done alone (i.e., "autopoiesis" or self-making) but is instead a "making with" or "becoming-with" multispecies actors. Chapter 3, taking up the many threads and tentacles of the first chapters, engages in four contemporary examples of such "becoming-with," actively engaging multispecies entanglements and histories across four distinct geographies and peoples. Remaining chapters offer further illustrations of Haraway's "tentacular thinking" and pursuit of string figurations, emphasizing the need to sustain open curiosity and imagination toward more-than-human worlds in order to create and sustain multispecies thriving.
In particular, I want to focus more deeply on two chapters that outline Haraway's incitement to make kin. Though short in length, chapter 4 is large in scope and might also be called Haraway's "Making Kin Manifesto." At the heart of chapter 4 is the slogan "Make Kin Not Babies!" Such a slogan, Haraway acknowledges, may be difficult for many to chew. Feminists of countless stripes have been, with good reason, fearful of and fought diligently against the racist, imperialist, and nationalist projects of population control and its attendant reproductive technologies, policies, and violence. However, Haraway argues that in the face of an overwhelming population explosion of human beings and the impact of such an explosion on nonhuman ongoingness and survival, "that fear is not good enough" (6). While I will leave it to readers to take sides concerning the "Not Babies" half of the slogan, Haraway's exhortation to "Make Kin" could not be more timely.
Chapter 5 provides an excellent example and application of making kin and the queer and contagious nature of such kin-making. Tracing the many-layered webs of relationality and response-ability surrounding DES (diethylstilbestrol, an infamous and virulent nonsteroidal estrogen, endocrine disruptor, and proven carcinogen) and Premarin (an estrogen medication derived from PREgnant MARes urINe prescribed for the treatment of menopausal symptoms), Haraway uncovers the multispecies relations between herself, her ageing canine companion Cayenne Pepper, cows, sheep, horses, and a variety of other human actors (e.g., "DES daughters" and "sons" born and living with the deleterious effects of the drug) caught up in pharmaceutical projects to regulate human and nonhuman reproduction and menopause. I highlight this chapter in particular as it does two important things. First, this chapter demonstrates a dazzling application of how we might go about making kin—Haraway refers to the expanding webs of multispecies entanglements she discovers in her research as the "whelping" of "litters"—and the decidedly queer connections of kinship that appear when we stay with the trouble of such knotted, pharmaceutical-oriented, biopolitical tangles. Secondly, this chapter advocates for an interesting sense of contagion that thematically relates with the spirit of this special collection of Feminist Formations. That [End Page 238] is, Haraway understands contagion as a kind of growing, trenchant awareness of our responsibilities, relations, and becoming-with multispecies beings as a potent form of worlding. Haraway writes that "responsibility . . . requires the cultivation of viral response-abilities, carrying meanings and materials across kinds in order to infect processes and practices that might yet ignite epidemics of multispecies recuperation and maybe even flourishing on terra in ordinary times and places" (114). Put this way, making kin can be thought of as a method of necessary and always dangerous contagion; we are infected and inseparable from nonhuman worlds.
Though clearly aiming to provoke our thinking, readers may take issue with some of Haraway's fabulations. For instance, her slogan to "Make Kin, Not Babies!" requires far more situating than the handful of pages given to it in the book, especially considering that these conversations and the resulting burden of responsibility are constantly placed upon women in the Global South and indigenous and racialized communities in the Global North. Furthermore, the final chapter itself, "The Camille Stories: Children of Compost," is clearly a departure from Haraway's usual writing genre. While the chapter claims to be an imaginative SF intervention and not a "conference report for the archives" (136), it struggles to fully escape the latter or to capture the potent worlding potential of the former. This last point is most disappointing, as Haraway's appeal to be critical of our storytelling practices—"it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with" (12)—after all, is one of the most necessary takeaways from Staying with the Trouble.
Staying with the Trouble can be used as a highly provocative text in graduate and senior undergraduate courses, most especially in environmental studies, women's and gender studies, science and technology studies, and cultural anthropology, as well as in courses that address the importance of intersections of the arts, the sciences, and/or activism in addressing environmental concerns. This book will also be of great interest to those specifically engaging ecofeminism, political ecologies, posthumanisms, queer theory (especially queer ecologies), biopolitics, new materialism, critical animal studies, multispecies studies, and decolonizing projects. This book is for more than academics, however. Haraway's emphasis on the power of storytelling and the need to radically alter the kinds of stories we tell should be required reading for all academics, artists, and activists committed to finding more ethical ways to live and die well in ongoingness. It should also be noted that Staying with the Trouble provides an excellent example of feminist citational practices through Haraway's persistent engagement with and citations of vibrant communities of fellow feminist scholars, scientists, students, artists, and activists engaged in a wide range of related, interdisciplinary fields.
Haraway's multiple SF figurations and her clarion call for response-ability are timely, necessary, and contagious forms of thinking, acting, living, and surviving in the shadows of the Anthropocene and the Capitalocene. It may [End Page 239] be hoped that these figurations will infect us all as we look for, grasp hold of, and engage with the multispecies tentacles of the Chthulucene.
David R. Anderson is a PhD student in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University. His research examines the entanglements of N/nature, the Child, and Futurity through the scholarship of Queer Ecologies, Critical Disability Studies, and Monster Studies. He is a recipient of the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship (2016–2019), and his most recent work has been published in Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities (forthcoming), Organization and Environment, and Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.