Staying with the Trouble

book cover

** Intro to “Staying with the Trouble” **

Context1: Mental Model/Frame

  • Thought processes of how things are/how things work  – made up of facts, intuitions, experiences, stereotypes and unquestioned assumptions.
  • We all carry many frames about (the sky is blue, we eat lunch at noon, the world is round).
  • These frames are cultural and historical but we often don’t notice that unless we read history or cross cultures.
  • They change through history (assumptions about race, sexuality and gender have changed radically in last 100 years).
  • BUT
  • We tend to fit new information into our existing frames.

Context 2: Darwinism and Capitalism

  • Two ideas/frames that organize much of contemporary thinking/experience
  • They are often simplified to “survival of the fittest”  “free markets” “eat or be eaten”
  • Some implications are
    • that our economic system is natural
    • that competition is an unavoidable biological and social law
    • that competition rather than co-operation is fundamental
  • If we use the concept of competition to frame our understanding, how much will we see competition everywhere and reproduce that competition?
  • Das Kapital, Karl Marx (1867); On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin (1859)

Donna Haraway says:

  • It matters what concepts we use to think with.
  • “It matters what thoughts think thoughts. It matters what knowledges know knowledge. It matters what relations relate relations. It matters what worlds world worlds. It matters what stories tell stories.” p 35

Staying with the Trouble

  • Starts with ideas/frames from recent biological investigations that question the primacy of competition,  and emphasize instead co-operation, co-development, relationships, connections, symbiosis.
  • What happens if we use these frames to understand/experience and live in the world? What would we understand? What would we reproduce?

This semester we are going to use Haraway’s alternative framing:

  • To think about current state of world
  • As an analytic tool for media projects
  • How do the projects that you will watch/play/experience/listen to anticipate, reflect,  or elucidate Haraway’s frame?

Haraway’s tone

  • not an easy read – complicated texts take time and rereading – but even skimming will get you something – so persist!
  • H. committed to not simplify – see frame above, its about connections and tangled webs of life, not simple eat or be eaten ideas
  • playful with language and words – asks you sometimes to keep multiple meanings in play
  • we will jump about, double back and maybe read the same thing again
  • a main aspect of the class will be to see if we have understood her
  • notice half the book is footnotes! read them!

** End of Intro **

Haraway, (SWTT), Chap 1  “California Racing Pigeons,” “Pigeon Blog”, “Reliable Voyageurs”

  • what are companion species? oddkin? (check index for other uses)
  • how is Haraway using the terms “response-ability” and “becoming with”?
  • what conversations and reactions did pigeon blog start and why?

Haraway, (SWTT),Chap 2 p 44 -57 – “Anthropocene,” “Capitolocene”, “Chthulucene” and Chapter 4 p 100 – 103″Making Kin”

  • how does Haraway define these three terms?
  • check index for other uses of Chthulucene.

Haraway, (SWTT) Chap 3 p 58 -76

  • key words symbiogenesis, holobionts, response-ability
  • difference autopoeisis and sympoeisis?
  • what is Haraway saying about models?
  • what models does she bring up, models for what?

Haraway, (SWTT), Chap 3 p (reread from 71 then pp 76-98

  • why is the concept of weaving important to Haraway? (How) does it connect to the question of symbiogenesis?
  • what is the concept of hozho? And how is it useful to Haraway?

General Questions

Write or paste into the blog a short quote from the week’s reading. Write a question or comment about the quoted text.

Take one small specific part/scene of the media and show how it illustrates an important point/thread/idea that permeates the whole work.

Game Presentation Questions

  1. Overview of game: makers, plot/narrative, goal?
  2. What is the role of the characters in the game?
  3. How does the Audio/Visual style contribute to the relationship between humans and nature the game conveys?
  4. What are the game mechanics and how do they add to the gaming experience?
  5. What is the extra information in the game and how is it handled?

BBC Beautiful Minds: James Lovelock

  • What is the Gaia Hypothesis?
  • What was daisy world?
  • What is a scientific model?

Never Alone

  • Describe a particularly compelling moment/incident in your own play experience – i.e. not just the game, but the effect it had on you, the interactive, dynamic whole!
  • Why do you play as a fox and a girl?
  • Why do the spirit’s help you? Who, what are they?
  • What do the “bad guys” represent, polar bear, various spirit enemies?
  • What are the game mechanics and what do they allow you to do, think, feel?

We Made Ourselves Over

  • What is Eternal Data?
  • What is a molecular harvester?
  • Why are they remaking the city?
  • Why do teenage girls make the decisions?
  • Why are they eating bugs? What are the barrage balloons for?
  • Why does Hessa stop being a leader after she has downloaded (your) consciousness?
  • What/do the interactive episodes add to the experience?

Chasing Coral – Some Questions -> Crocheted Coral Reef

  • Who was the protagonist of this story? and what was their story?
  • What did you learn about corals/coral science that you did not know before? How was the information conveyed?
  • Is the problem of loss of corals an advertising problem?
  • What was your mood at the end of the movie? Why? Imagine taking part in the Crocheted Coral Reef Project – would it have a different impact on your mood?


Scott McDonald argues that retraining our perception is a precondition for environmental consciousness but David Ingram suggests that the films McDonald promotes are only accessible for trained viewers and can never be popular.

  • Position 1: Argue in support of Scott McDonald’s position.
  • Position 2: Argue in support of David Ingram position.

Argument Stage:

Work out three strong arguments for your position, you can and should refer to the texts. Support each argument you make with an example from a media work we have watched/experiences this semester. Include media art and games in your examples as well as film.

  • Position 1 makes arguments. Position 2 takes notes of the arguments for the rebuttal stage.
  • Position 2 makes arguments. Position 1 takes notes of the arguments for the rebuttal stage.

Rebuttal Stage: look over your opponents arguments and make a reasoned rebuttal for each point. Refer to both scholarship and media examples for each rebuttal you make. Use language like this: “Position 1 argues that (summarize their argument), but we argue …”

  • Position 1: rebuts three arguments of Position 2.
  • Position 2: rebuts three arguments of Position 2.

When the Levees Broke: Part 1 – find a short clip (max 30 secs) to support your argument and be ready with the reference to the minute.

  1. Define affective in terms of Cognitive Film Theory. How does Spike Lee use the affective register in When the Levees Broke?
  2. Define emotional in terms of Cognitive Film Theory. How does Spike Lee use the emotional register in When the Levees Broke?
  3. Define cognitive in terms of Cognitive Film Theory. How does Spike Lee use the cognitive register in When the Levees Broke?
  4. We discussed the idea of a voice of authority in documentary when we watched Gasland. What is the voice of authority and why/how did Josh Fox question it? How does Spike Lee handle questions of a voice of authority in When the Levees Broke?
  5. We discussed the traditional three act narrative structure with a beginning, middle and end, that many fictional and documentary films have. Does When the Levees Broke have this structure? If so describe how it works, if not describe the way the film is organized.
  6. We discussed the relationship between form and the construction of meaning (Mad Max:Fury Road, Time and Tide.) Describe the formal properties of When the Levees Broke – how do they construct meaning in the film?
  7. Define ideology – as used by Hageman in his essay (see link from Tambien La Lluvia). How does Spike Lee make use of ideological contradictions to construct meaning in his film?
  8. Define mental frame as we have discussed it in this class. What mental frames can you discern in the different voices in When the Levees Broke?
  9. Haraway suggests that to cope with climate change we need a mental frame that values sympoesis, symbiosis and cooperation over competition and survival-of-the-fittest. How does Spike Lee engage these mental frames in When the Levees Broke?
  10. “It matters what thoughts think thoughts. It matters what knowledges know knowledge. It matters what relations relate relations. It matters what worlds world worlds. It matters what stories tell stories.” Haraway p 35. Give examples that reflect this statement of Haraway’s in When the Levees Broke.

Planet Earth: Episode 1: Pole to Pole

  • Anthropomorphism (representing animals/objects as if they were human)
    • birds of paradise (deflated)
    • baboons in water
    • elephants?
  • Competition and cooperation.
    • predators
      • wolf, shark, hunting dogs
      • two kills and a miss, what about this choice?
    • cooperation/system thinking
      • sun powers everything
      • trees needed to provide eco-system to feed animals
      • animal trails helps movement of fertilizing water
      • dogs share, elephants encourage
  • Stress on photogenic
    • babies, cute animals
  • time lapse – meaning? pros and cons