I’m pleased to announce that The Routledge Companion to Digital Ethnography, edited by Larissa Hjorth, Heather Horst, myself & Genevieve Bell, will be published later this year.
For the companion I also contributed a chapter called “More-Than-Human Lab: Critical and Creative Ethnography After Human Exceptionalism.” This is how it starts:
Haere mai. Welcome. This story starts with an introduction so that the reader can know who I am, and how I have come to know what I know. My name is Anne Galloway. My mother’s family is Canadian and my father’s family is British. Born and raised outside both places, for the past seven years I have been tauiwi, or non-Māori, a settler in Aotearoa-New Zealand. I have always lived between cultures and have had to forge my own sense of belonging. Today I am in my home, on a small rural block in the Akatarawa Valley of the Tararua ranges, at the headwaters of the Waikanae River, on the ancestral lands of Muaūpoko (Ngāi Tara) & Ngāti Toa, with my partner, a cat, seven ducks, five sheep—four of whom I hope are pregnant—and a multitude of extraordinary wildlife. The only way I know how to understand myself is in relation to others, and my academic career has been dedicated to understanding vital relationships between things in the world. Most recently, I founded and lead the More-Than-Human Lab, an experimental research initiative at Victoria University of Wellington. Everything I have done has led me to this point, but for the purposes of this chapter I want to pull on a single thread. This is a love story for an injured world, and it begins with broken bones…
Starting with an example of our speculative design work, the chapter explores the potential of non-realist or fantastic ethnography as a means to embody feminist ethics of care and create spaces of hope in a fragile world.
You’ll have to wait for the full chapter, but here’s an excerpt on care after human exceptionalism:
What if we refuse to uncouple nature and culture? What if we deny that human beings are exceptional? What if we stop speaking and listening only to ourselves?
The More-Than-Human Lab combines ethnography and creative research methods to explore “creaturely” (Pick 2011) and more-than-human (Whatmore 2006) worlds through what Haraway (2015) refers to as “webs of speculative fabulation, speculative feminism, science fiction, and scientific fact” (p. 160). We work to go beyond definition or judgment, in order to think with the world and not for the world.
I want to recognize “the vulnerability faced by certain human populations and ecologies” (Vaughn 2016, n.p) and attend to the historical trajectories and impermanent assemblages (Tsing 2015; Yusoff 2016) that characterize life on earth. Following Braidotti, I see the posthuman Anthropocene “as an amazing opportunity to decide together what and who we are capable of becoming… [and] a chance to identify opportunities for resistance and empowerment on a planetary scale” (2013, p. 195). I also want to take seriously Todd’s (2016) reminder that these dreams are not new, that Indigenous (and other oppressed) people have been “dreaming of an otherwise” for hundreds of years, and that our “ability to face the past, present, and future with care—tending to relationships between people, place, and stories—will be crucial as we face the challenges of the Anthropocene” (n.p.).
This focus on a feminist ethics of care is, I believe, the direction that ethnographic critique needs to take if we want to thrive—or even just survive—in a wounded world. As Haraway put it, “caring means becoming subject to the unsettling obligation of curiosity, which requires knowing more at the end of the day than at the beginning” (2008, p. 36). And since caring is always also relational practice, or something we do with human/nonhuman others, Mol, Moser and Pols (2010) argue that a focus on actual, everyday practices allows us to ask questions about what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ care, or ‘too much’ and ‘not enough’ care.
Puig de la Bellacasa (2012) also reminds us that how we care is very important, as:
“[C]are can also extinguish the subtleties of attending to the needs of an ‘other’ required for careful relationality. All too easily it can lead to appropriating the recipients of ‘our’ care, instead of relating ourselves to them […] Appropriating the experience of another precludes us from creating significant otherness, that is, from affirming those with whom we build a relation. How to care for the ‘oppressed’ is far from being self-evident” (p. 209).
And, again, Mol, Moser and Pols (2010) distinguish care from justice, as care constitutes situated knowledges and practices rather than ethical principles:
“In the ethics of care it was stressed that in practice, principles are rarely productive. Instead, local solutions to specific problems need to be worked out. They may involve ‘justice’ but other norms (fairness, kindness, compassion, generosity) may be equally or more, important – and not in a foundational way, but as orientations among others” (p. 13).
It is this being and doing (differently) with others that underpins everything the More-Than-Human Lab seeks to explore.
And here’s the full reference list, because that’s always what I read first:
Abu-Lughod, Lila. 1991. “Writing Against Culture.” in Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present, edited by R. G. Fox, pp. 137-162. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.
Braidotti, Rosi. 2013. The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Butler, Octavia. 1993. The Parable of the Sower. New York: Aspect Press.
Gibb, Camilla. 2005. Sweetness in the Belly. Toronto: Anchor Canada.
Haraway, Donna. 2008. When Species Meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Haraway, Donna. 2015. “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin.” Environmental Humanities, vol. 6, pp. 159-165.
Jain, Anab. 2013. “Staying with the Trouble.” Conference presentation at Poptech 2013, 24-26 October, 2013, Camden, Maine, USA. Transcript available at: http://superflux.in/work/staying-with-the-trouble
Le Guin, Ursula K. 1969. The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: Ace Books.
Le Guin, Ursula K. 2009. “The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists” in Cheek by Jowl: Talks & Essays on How & Why Fantasy Matters, pp. 25-42, Seattle: Aqueduct Press.
Levy, Andrea. 2004. Small Island. London: Headline.
Mol, Annemarie, Ingunn Moser and Jeannette Pols. 2010. “Care: putting practice into theory.” In Care in Practice: On Tinkering in Clinics, Homes and Farms, pp. 7-25, edited by Annemarie Mol, Ingunn Moser and Jeannette Pols, Bielefeld: Transcript-Verlag.
Narayan, Kirin. 1999. “Ethnography and Fiction: Where Is the Border?” Anthropology and Humanism, vol. 24, pp. 134–147.
Pick, Anat. 2011. Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film. New York: Columbia University Press.
Pink, Sarah, Heather Horst, John Postill, Larissa Hjorth, Tania Lewis and Jo Tacchi. 2015. Digital Ethnography: Principles and Practice. London: Sage.
Puig de la Bellacasa, Maria. 2012. “Nothing comes without its world’: Thinking with care.” The Sociological Review 60: 197-216.
Todd, Zoe. 2016. “Relationships.” Theorizing the Contemporary, Cultural Anthropology website, January 21, 2016. http://www.culanth.org/fieldsights/799-relationships
Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Cambridge: Princeton University Press.
Underberg, Natalie M. and Elayne Zorn. 2013. Digital Ethnography: Anthropology, Narrative and New Media. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Vaughn, Sarah. 2016. “Vulnerability.” Theorizing the Contemporary, Cultural Anthropology website, January 21, 2016. http://www.culanth.org/fieldsights/791-vulnerability
Whatmore, Sarah. 2006. “Materialist returns: practising cultural geography in and for a more-than-human world.” Cultural Geographies, vol. 13, no. 4, pp. 600-609.
Yusoff, Kathryn. 2016. “Anthropogenesis: Origins and Endings in the Anthropocene.” Theory, Culture & Society, vol. 33, no. 2, pp. 3-28.