“Staying with the trouble” – Donna Haraway quote leads to productive ‘trouble’

‘Staying with the Trouble’ insists on working, playing and thinking in multispecies cosmopolitics in the face of the killing of entire ways of being on earth that characterise the age cunningly called ‘now’ and the place called ‘here.’

Donna Haraway

I am the teaching assistant on a VERY interesting course for third year geography students about ‘Wildlife in the Age of Humans’.  It’s been a blast reading challenging and well-chosen readings, attending v. good lectures and then trying to make seminars interesting/engaging/challenging-in-the-right-way.

I make brief prompting powerpoints for the seminars.  One trick has been to get people reading out quotes (from the article they (are supposed to) have read and get a conversation going that way.

This week the first quote was the one above.  They’d been exposed to Haraway before in week 1, on the subject of gorilla dioramas and the creation of ‘nature’.

So, with this the reading out of the quote was easy (it’s a sentence!) but the “unpacking” took 10 or 15 minutes, and was super-useful and engaging (‘lightbulb moments’ for a couple of the students, I think.)

And here is the unpacking that we all came up with

‘Staying with the Trouble’ – means not giving up when the subject matter or object (a scorpion, sewers, ‘bad’ behaviour) makes you squeamish or angry. It means trying to stay in a place of ambiguity when cherished notions and beliefs are being attacked or undermined.  It’s at these points – of uncertainty, of fear, when your defences might go up – that, if you are brave and lucky, you might make a ‘breakthrough’.  You might not be a happier or ‘better’ person afterwards, but then again, you might.

-insists on working, playing and thinking.  This mostly came from me – Haraway wants to point out that there are more ways of gaining knowledge and/or wisdom than the standard(ised) whitelabcoandclipboarddoubleblindrandomised way that is held up.  How do humans learn to do anything – via productive play, mentored and corrected etc. How do we learn to be creative? By mashing stuff up, “failing” recombinating etc.

in multispecies cosmopolitics.  The point of the course, this multispecies thing. Think of humans not as the centre of the universe (the way the Earth used to be though of) but as one species among others.  Cosmopolitics – students weren’t familiar, but recognised the word cosmopolitan – a mixed bunch of people rubbing along, co-habitating or even being convivial.  i.e. the normative/intellectual essence of the course.

in the face of the killing of entire ways of being on earth.  The destruction of ecosystems and species, the sixth great extinction, the mcdonaldisation of society as one student put it.  Celebrity culture, Hollywood, standardisation, the death of languages, other cultures. The insistence on ‘one global culture’ and the work that that does to render other questions unaskable or, if askable, only answerable in one way (‘the market is natural/will provide’)

that characterise the age cunningly called ‘now’ and the place called ‘here.’  They struggled more here, and were intrigued by the word ‘cunningly’.  Got them thinking about how the insistence on ‘now’ means that our attention is diverted from the past and the future (especially the consequences for future generations – human and “non-human”), and ‘here’ means an increasingly standardised architecture and culture work. Cunningly because the use of ‘here’ and ‘now’ foreclose those awkward questions, leaving less defensive institutional work to be done…




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