Mid Semester Review


Donna Haraway and Andrew Hageman consider that media and art are part of a larger struggle (of ideology, of mental frames) about how the world works and the kind of behavior and speculations (worlding) we need in order for it to continue as a viable habitat for humans and life forms more generally.

Ideology, as Hageman uses the term, consists of all the the norms and assumptions we make about people and the environment, which in turn influence how we treat them. We take many of these ideas so much for granted that they are almost invisible to us. Haraway identifies some ideas that are deeply embedded in this way and which have effected how we understand and deal with the environment. Some of these are:

  • Human exceptionalism – the assumption that human beings are very different from other animals and are separate from and in control of nature.
  • Bounded individualism – the assumption that an individual entity, for example a person or a cell, is of primary importance to our understanding of how things work.
  • Competition – the assumption that competition between individuals is the primary mechanism for how nature works and by extension how human society works.
  • Review my introduction to “Staying with the Trouble.”

Haraway argues these ideas/mental frames are outdated, limit our understanding of how the world works, and prevent our ability to act in the face of environmental disaster. She suggests that using them to think with is the equivalent of self-willed blindness or thoughtlessness.

One of the main goals of this course is to understand the mental frames she would like us to substitute, and to use these frames to experience and analyze eco-media. Haraway’s ideas draw heavily from recent biological investigations that emphasize the importance of co-operation, co-development, relationships, connections and symbiosis. Some key concepts are:

  • Oddkin – the need for us to make unusual connections with other species as we confront current environmental issues.
  • String Figures – the process of tracing connections and co-creating understanding of complex processes.
  • Sympoiesis – the assumption that nothing makes itself but all making takes place in relationships.
  • Symbiosis – the idea that complicated mutually beneficial relationships are as crucial as competition.
  • Chthulucene – the mental frame that this is a multi-species era not the era of Anthropos (man).

All through “Staying with the Trouble” Haraway uses art and media projects to expand and illustrate her ideas, and argues that both art and science speculations are needed to cope with current environmental challenges. In Chapter 3 of “Staying with the Trouble”, for example, Haraway investigates four art/science projects juxtaposing them against her mental frames in order to describe and analyze them. She writes of these projects: “It is time to turn to sympoietic worldings, to vital models …, where ordinary stories, ordinary becoming “involved in each other’s lives,” propose ways to stay with the trouble in order to nurture well-being on a damaged planet.” p76

Following Haraway, I think it matters what mental frames and tools we bring to our analyses of different media. In the context of documentary I introduced some ways to think about how “meaning is made”, how truth/facts are represented, and where the voice of authority comes from. In week 4 I discussed a traditional narrative (Hollywood) film structure and the relationship between content and form. You also read Andrew Hageman’s articles about ideology, form & content, and contradictions.

This week please review the readings and webpages focusing on the critical tools that have been discussed, especially:

We could say that each media work is a model which reveals the mental frames the maker(s) use to understand the world. Describe and analyze Chasing Coral connecting the choices made by the director to the mental frames/ideas you have just reviewed. As usual focus on telling details. Do not make generalizations. Make formal citations.

These are the kind of questions you should be asking and answering.

  • What kind of formal structure does the movie use? How does the form construct meaning? Are there contradictions between the form and content?
  • How/does this movie align with Haraway’s criteria for media that “stays with the trouble”?
  • What connections can you make between the movie and the kind of mental frames Haraway is challenging: human exceptionalism, bounded individualism, competition.
  • What connections can you make between the movie and the kind of mental frames Haraway is embracing : oddkin, sympoiesis, holobiont, capitolocene, chthulucene?