Ecofeminist philosopher Donna Haraway has a reputation for tackling the big intellectual questions of our time — and blowing them wide open.
Her 1985 "A Cyborg Manifesto" extended feminist theory into emerging questions surrounding technology and gender, helping to launch the field of science and technology studies. She's examined the complex relationships we form with dogs and the other "critters" of our planet. She's drawn on her training as both scientist and cultural scholar to connect the worlds of science and conceptual art to reckon with how technology is changing the fabric of human society. And most recently, she's entered the debate over the perilous state of our planet.
Haraway believes the "Anthropocene" seems "both too big and too small” to describe our historical moment, so she invented two other words — the “Chthulucene,” which breaks down the hierarchy between the human and nonhuman worlds, and the “Plantationocene,” which connects the climate crisis to specific economic and political practices of exploitation.
Steve spoke to Haraway during her visit to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she and her UC Santa Cruz colleague Anna Tsing spoke at a seminar on the Plantationocene. Their conversation flowed over a wide range of subjects, from her early career struggles to the interdisciplinary work she’s known for; how her love for a dog led her into a series of challenging research questions; and why she believes “making kin” with the more-than-human world is an urgent ethical responsibility.
Here's an excerpt from the print version of the interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Steve Paulson: You’ve written about the notion of “making kin.” What does kinship mean to you?
Donna Harroway: Making kin seems to me the thing that we most need to be doing in a world that rips us apart from each other, in a world that has already more than seven and a half billion human beings with very unequal and unjust patterns of suffering and well-being. By kin I mean those who have an enduring mutual, obligatory, non-optional, you-can’t-just-cast-that-away-when-it-gets-inconvenient, enduring relatedness that carries consequences. I have a cousin, the cousin has me; I have a dog, a dog has me.
I first started using the word “kin” when I was in college in a Shakespeare class because I realized that Shakespeare punned with “kin” and “kind.” Etymologically they’re very closely related. To be kind is to be kin, but kin is not kind. Kin is often quite the opposite of kind. It’s not necessarily to be biologically related but in some consequential way to belong in the same category with each other in such a way that has consequences. If I am kin with the human and more-than-human beings of the Monterey Bay area, then I have accountabilities and obligations and pleasures that are different than if I cared about another place. Nobody can be kin to everything, but our kin networks can be full of attachment sites. I feel like the need for the care across generations is urgent, and it cannot be just a humanist affair.