Donna Haraway: a new-new transdisciplinary synthesis

I’m starting a new tradition: favorite talk of the year. Here’s mine for 2013 — Donna Haraway at Arizona State’s Institute for Humanities Research. What’s yours?

By “favorite” I mean (based on the Sound Opinions guidelines) simply that: this talk (1) is a 2013 video or audio shared online, and (2) is the one that I watched or listened to more than any other this year. I check out a lot of talks, but Haraway’s stream of ideas and associations kept me coming back multiple times.

Here are a few choice sections (from the talk on Vimeo):

Marilyn [Strathern] was the one who taught me: It matters what ideas you use to think other ideas with.

It seems like a very simple thing to say.

It especially matters what-ideas-you-use-to-think-other-ideas-with if one of them is not in control of the other, if they reach into and interrupt each other, if the result of using ideas-to-do-ideas-with destabilizes both in ways that change the name of the game for the possibility of ongoing-ness, accountable to the power structures of the encounters and the entanglements.

So, playing with Marilyn’s phrase: It matters what thoughts think thoughts. It matters what knowledges know knowledges. It matters what relations relate relations. It matters what worlds world worlds.

Marilyn defines analogy in a particularly interesting way. She practices the art of comparison — a rather dangerous thing to do. It’s supposed to be a 19th-century comparative ethnological thing to do.

Marilyn practices the art of comparison and analogy in the sense that she defines analogy as the bringing together or colliding together — or however they got together — of entities, beings, worlds, ideas, systems that are dissimilar, so that one holds still long enough to be an extended metaphor for investigating the other.

That’s the practice of comparison in Marilyn’s hands — and that’s the practice that I’m going to try to engage tonight in the rest of this talk.

Relations in multispecies cosmopolitics work by indigestion and infection, rather than reproduction — that’s the most important thing to remember. Making worlds, and coming to be accountable to each other, and finding out who is kin to whom, looks more like indigestion and infection, than it does like reproduction.

The new synthesis, the evolutionary synthesis, the modern synthesis — that I think is still the strongest apparatus of science within the Anthropocene — couldn’t handle three critical things, from a biologist’s point of view: microbes, development of embryology, and symbiosis. Those three things almost never appear in the writings of the architects of the modern synthesis.

Symbiosis, development, and microbiology were literally indigestible — and are the key fleshly doings, within which the ecological, evolutionary, developmental, historical, technical, political new-new synthesis that I am proposing takes place.

Transdisciplinary knowledges for a new-new synthesis: eco-evo-devo-histo-techno. … Our worlds are trans-ing in remarkable ways. …

We understand that “interdisciplinarity” isn’t quite what we’re talking about. But something is going on here that is more [like] redoing the codes of each other, trans-ing each other — in sexualities, in cognitive apparatuses, in the flesh. And that these trans-ing apparatuses are producing our kin and our tools.

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