Book Release: Haraway’s “Staying with the Trouble”

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Image via Duke UP website

Debuting this September 2016 from Duke University Press is Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (available here.) Haraway’s text challenges the concept of the anthropocene, noting that in an age of ever-increasing environmental degradation, any centralization of the human detracts from the ill-effects of a “damaged earth” on all forms of life. Haraway posits a new term, the Chthulucene:, to describe the contemporary state of human and non-human existence. She argues that this new term highlights the multi-directional, tentacular ways in which life forms are bound together as kin in this new world. Moreover, this term encourages us to consider not human self-making, but rather sym-poiesis: the mutual entanglements of human and inhuman life as they “make” and define one another. The text unites an environmental approach with themes that resonate throughout Haraway’s work: including feminism, technoscience, kinship, and the destabilization of the “human” category.

This publication will be of interest to anthropologists spanning environmental studies, medical anthropology, and anthropological theory, as well as scholars of science and technology studies. Haraway’s commentary on “making kin”and the Chthulucene previously appeared in the open-access journal Environmental Humanities and is available in full here.


About the Author

Donna Haraway serves as Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of California Santa Cruz in the History of Consciousness Department. In addition to Staying with the Trouble and many past publications, Haraway has also released a collection of her manifestos this year, entitled Manifestly Haraway. The collection is available here through the University of Minnesota Press.

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Blog Archive: Latour’s AAA 2014 Address

In this installment of the blog, we revisit one of our first conference features. This commentary piece examined Bruno Latour’s Distinguished Lecture address at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington, DC. You can access the original post here.


 

This year at the American Anthropological Association 2014 Meeting, Bruno Latour was invited to deliver the distinguished lecture. Entitled “Anthropology at the Time of the Anthropocene,” Latour discusses the rise in the term anthropocene to describe our current stage of natural history. Although the term makes reference to how “human” (anthro) our current age may be, Latour jests that this term was introduced by geologists, not social scientists. In the anthropocene, it is humans that play the defining role in our geological historical moment.

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via Wikimedia Commons

The assumption, Latour notes, is that human agency is the prime source of action that shapes the physical world. Humans are responsible for climate change, for pollution, for altering the literal, natural fabric of our world. Yet we know that not all humans have the same impact on our environment. As Latour quips, there is not “One Human” who is responsible for the changes we see in our climate or environment. We are simultaneously assessing human power as a plural, collective entity, as well as using this concept to suggest that the blame for global change does not fall evenly across all humans. As anthropologists and cultural theorists, we know how fragile human agency can be when we divide it amongst many contending social and cultural groups.

Is there another way to think about human action that does not problematically configure humans as both collective and individual, acting but not universally accountable for all human actions? Latour posits that rather than focusing solely on agency, with a strong emphasis on human intention and purpose when committing action, we could think instead about animation, or what forces–human and non-human– are in motion in a given social space. To do so, we can no longer assume that the human agent is a colloquial be-all-end-all.

How does this assertion speak to medical anthropology, social medicine, and medical humanities? At first, we might raise our brows at the discussions of geography, environment, and most of all the suspicion surrounding the primacy of human agency. Decentralizing the human agent, we might say, is perhaps the least humanistic approach to the study of human experience. Indeed, medicine is the care of humans by humans!

However, our human ability to question our own power and position in the universe, amidst other natural and non-human forces, is a mark of our species. Whether through philosophy, religion, or social science, humans have a proclivity for ruminating about our place in the material, corporal world. We crave knowledge about what sets us apart from non-human things, and how we are sometimes reliant on them. For scholars of medicine, such inquiries about our relationships with the physical universe is key. We consider the place of non-human agents in disease and care. We ask: why do physicians rely on certain tools? Why do patients see stethoscopes, thermometers, and scalpels as making a clinician legitimate in his or her practice? How are medical traditions made unique by their tools and pharmaceutical formulas? Could the layout of a hospital or clinic itself alter the way care is given?

In an age where technology permeates developed and developing societies, Latour’s suggestion to destabilize human agency is productive when considering medicine as a cultural object. We must think not only of ourselves, but the physical environments we live in and the material objects and devices we cannot seem to live without.

Many scholars understandably resist Latour’s idea that non-humans could have some primitive agency. Yet even if we do not assign agency to non-human tools, things, and environments, thinking seriously about their role in sociocultural systems is informative. Medicine is a lively site of exchange between patients and physicians, as well as practitioners and devices, patients and new medical innovations, and the built environments which house them. As Latour invites us to do, we should pause to consider humans within the midst of a rich material world around us that– like humanity itself– is constantly in motion.

 

Book Release: Harding’s “Objectivity and Diversity”

Via UC Press website

Via UC Press website

Released this May 2015 from Duke University Press is Sandra Harding’s Objectivity and Diversity: Another Logic of Scientific Research. Harding’s book critically examines the notion of objectivity, and posits a new framework for scientific thought that does not strive to be politically and culturally neutral. Instead, Harding argues, scientists must consider the economic, social, and political dimensions of their work, and seek to produce knowledge and new technologies that are sensitive to the ways in which these innovations may impact disenfranchised populations. In this way, Harding suggests that science may be truly “objective” by reflecting the social reality of the world in which it is practiced and produced.

Harding’s book contributes to the constructivist body of literature on the social and cultural dimensions of scientific practice, alongside the likes of Daston and Galison’s Objectivity (2010), Agazzi’s Scientific Objectivity and its Contexts (2014), and Shapin’s The Scientific Revolution (1996). Harding similarly demonstrates the cultural situatedness of science, while underscoring the responsibility of contemporary science to promoting social justice. This publication will be of interest for science and technology (STS) scholars as well as anthropologists researching biomedicine and the culture of scientific and evidence-based care practices, particularly amongst underserved or marginal populations.

Sandra Harding is Distinguished Research Professor at UCLA. Her work explores the philosophy of science, epistemology, and feminist and postcolonial theories.


To learn more about Harding’s book, click here: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/O/bo19804521.html

Other books cited on objectivity:

Daston and Galison 2010: http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/objectivity

Agazzi 2014: http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319046594

Shapin 1996: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/S/bo3620548.html