A summary of Donna Haraway's plea for the concept of Chthulucene
Although the international Anthropocene Working Group, established in 2008, has yet to formally recognise this purported new epoch, the notion of the Anthropocene has already been taken up by a vast number of scholars from various fields such as climate and environmental sciences, political theory, social sciences, feminism(s), and even by some artistic performers. The name first made an appearance with Nobel Prize winning chemist Paul Crutzen, who proposed that the sheer scope of human activities calls for the use of a new geological term. While it is found by many to be a mandatory concept in framing, thinking about, and ultimately facing accelerating environmental and multi-species catastrophe, Donna Haraway goes against the grain in saying that “the relocation of peoples, plants and animals; the leveling of vast forests; and the violent mining of metals […] is not a warrant for wringing one's hands about the perfidy of the Anthropos, or of Species Man, or of Man the Hunter” (Haraway, 2016a). She claims that since the word is already well entrenched in environmental and political discourse, it will indeed need to be used in the future, albeit with some rethinking of what it should entail ontologically: “despite its problems, the term Anthropocene was and is embraced because it collects up many matters of fact, concern, and care” (Haraway, 2016b).
Her preferred terminology in the context of the environmental crisis' origin is unequivocally and uncompromisingly found in the notion of Capitalocene. In her criticisms she explicitly aligns herself with Jason Moore's critique1 of the Anthropocene. They both argue that it is not 'Species Man' per se that is causing environmental devastation on a global scale – it is the hegemonic “world-system” as a “capitalist world-ecology” (Moore, 2013). Haraway herself puts forward a formulation involving several criticisms of the use of the term Anthropocene.
While outlining all of them in their entirety is beyond the scope of this paper, some of the more important points are non the less outlined (from Haraway, 2016b; see also Haraway, 2016a):
1.) The myth associated with Anthropos sets up a story that already seems to end badly;
2.) Species Man does not make history;
3.) Man plus Tool does not make history;
4.) History must give way to geostories, to Gaia stories2; people do not do History (own emphasis);
5.) The social apparatus of the Anthropocene tends to be top-heavy and bureaucracy prone;
6.) Despite reliance on computer modelling and systems theories, Anthopocene discourse is marked by bounded utilitarian individualism.
In her critique of the term Anthropocene, and her plea for the alternative concept of Capitalocene, Haraway takes a step further by outlining a third conceptual frame for thinking about (or, thinking-with) humans and non-humans in times of heavy losses in life and quality of environment. That conceptual frame is the Chthulucene. Both the Anthropocene and Capitalocene are seen as lending themselves “too readily to cynicism, defeatism, and self-certain and self-fulfilling predictions” (Haraway, 2016b). The Chthulucene, alternatively, is “made up of ongoing multispecies stories and practises of becoming-with in times that remain at stake, in precarious times, in which the world is not finished and the sky has not fallen – yet” (Haraway, 2016b). In the Chthulucene, humans are not the only important actors – they, along with other beings, are with and of the earth, and “the biotic and abiotic powers of this earth are the main story” (Haraway, 2016b).
In this formulation, she alludes to complex systems approaches such as 'Gaia theory', conceptualised by Lovelocke and subsequently developed together with Lynn Margulis. In short, the Gaia hypothesis contends that “Gaia and its inhabitants co-evolve together in a web of relationships of which symbiosis (not, as in most evolutionary theory, competition) is the dominant kind” (Curry, 2011: 98). Haraway herself suggests that “an unfurling Gaia is better situated in the Chthulucene, an ongoing temporality that resists figuration and dating and demands myriad names” (Haraway, 2016b). Etymologicallly, 'her' Chthulucene is not a reference to H. P. Lovecraft's monster Cthulhu (note the spelling difference). Rather, it conflates the Greek chthonios (of, in, or under the earth and seas) and the suffix kainos (i.e., '-cene', which signals the new, recently made) (Haraway, 2016b). It “entangles myriad temporalities and spatialities and myriad intra-active entities-in-assemblages – including the more-than-human, other-than-human, inhuman, and human-as-humus” (Haraway, 2016b)." (email submission, October 2017)
In the Chthulucene, 'making kin' is of utmost importance. For Haraway, “kin” means something other than entities bound by ancestry – it signifies new kinds of relations between humans and non-humans alike. She states that “making and recognising kin is perhaps the hardest and most urgent” challenge humans in and of the earth face today, although in the deepest sense, “all earthlings are kin” (Haraway, 2016b). Relatedly, and in the context of rising human population, she puts forward a slogan for the Chthulucene – that is, 'Make Kin, Not Babies!'. Both “Make Kin” and “Not Babies” are hard - “they both demand our best emotional, intellectual, artistic, and political creativity, individually and collectively, across ideological and regional differences, among other differences” (Haraway, 2016b). For Haraway, if we are to achieve multispecies ecojustice, this entails the practise of “better care of kinds-asassemblages (not species one at a time)” (Haraway, 2016b).
Another important aspect of “partial and robust biological-cultural-political-technological recuperation and recomposition” in the Chthulucene is the practice of mourning of irreversible losses, such as extinct species (Haraway, 2016b). Indeed, in the wake of the so-called Sixth Great Extinction, we are hearing very little about the species that are going extinct throughout the world on an almost daily basis. Haraway joins van Dooren in his proposition that “mourning is intrinsic to cultivating response-ability” (Haraway, 2016b). “Mourning is about dwelling with a loss and so coming to appreciate what it means, how the world has changed, and how we must ourselves change and renew our relationships if we are to move forward from here. In this context, genuine mourning should open us into an awareness of our dependence on and relationships with the countless others being driven over the edge of extinction... The reality, however, is that there is no avoiding the necessity of the difficult cultural work of reflection and mourning. This work is not opposed to practical action, rather it is the foundation of any sustainable and informed response” (van Dooren & Rose, 2015; emphasis in original).
Curry, Patrick. 2011. Ecological Ethics. Polity Press
Haraway, Donna. 2016a. Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press
Haraway, Donna. 2016b. Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene. Available at: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/75/67125/tentacular-thinking-anthropocene-capitalocene-chthulucene/ (7.11.2016)
Moore, Jason. 2013. Anthropocene or Capitalocene, part III. Available at: https://jasonwmoore.wordpr ess.com/2013/05/19/anthropocene-or-capitalocene-part-iii/ (7.11.2016)
van Dooren, Thom and Deborah B. Rose. 2015. Keeping Faith with the Dead: Mourning and De-extinction. Australian Zoologist In-Press