Staying with the Trouble: Notes on Chapter 5

As usual I am responding to sections that most students were interested in or wanted explained. This week I start with quotes that address the main theme/story of this chapter before working through the chapter chronologically. As usual I have put the names of students next to sections they asked about. Visiting any links I have added is optional.

In chapter 5 Haraway talks about hormone replacement therapy (HTR) for menopausal women, specifically the drug premarin which was a synthetic estrogen. She herself had this therapy in the late 80s. Then she was shocked by two things:

  • The therapy was found to cause damage to women’s hearts.
  • The medicine was made by mistreating horses.

If the first frightened her, the second made her feel shame. She writes:

Social movements for animal flourishing had noticed those horses and made a very effective fuss about it, and these movements were full of feminist women and men. Why not me too? Was it only after it turned out that HRT probably harmed my heart rather than guarded it that the horses came into my ken?” p 111 Andrew

  • Animal rights activists and feminists agitated against the way horses were treated. Since Haraway is both, she asks herself why she was unaware of the their protests when she was taking HRT.
  • She asks herself whether she only opened her eyes to this trouble for horses when it appeared that she might have been harmed by HRT.
  • This reiterates her points about our need to think and make connections, not to deliberately keep ourselves ignorant.

“Still, I managed not to know about the conditions of work for those adult horses for a very long time, much less know about the fate of the excess foals. I ate equine conjugated estrogens; I drank pooled mares’ urine, literally; but I did not conjugate well with the horses themselves. Shame is a prod to lifelong rethinking and recrafting one’s accountabilities!”  p 111 Isaac B

Isaac asks whether the main point of the chapter is “advocating for animal rights, bringing awareness to corrupt pharmaceutical ethics, or all of these things?” I think it is all these things plus:

  • The story of her dog needing estrogen, her own history with estrogen, and her research into its production, is an illustration of the kind of complex web of inter-connections that Haraway thinks we must understand to handle environmental troubles.
  • She shows how she herself has been implicated in these webs in ways that shame her. The implication is that we should all look to our own life practices.

Years after she took HRT, her vet suggested she use another estrogen replacement drug DES to treat her dog.

But giving this beloved, elder, nonreproducing dog … even very low-dose and infrequent diethylstilbesterol caused acute DES Anxiety Syndrome in me.” p 106 Isaac R.

Isaac asks why? Haraway explains the following:

  • DES is a synthetic estrogen which was given to pregnant women between 1940-71, (including as I read it, Haraway’s mother) and caused cancer in their daughters.
  • It was also used widely to promote animal growth then banned in the 1970s because it was carcinogetic.
  • More generally estrogen replacing drugs for menopausal women was a huge feminist issue. Haraway took them herself and describes how widespread they were by 2000 until studies came out linking them to heart disease and breast cancer.
  • With this history it would be hard for Haraway to believe that estrogen could be beneficial for her dog.

At this point I will return to the beginning of the chapter and work through chronologically.

Cyborgs are kin, whelped in the litter of post-World War 2 information technologies and globalized digital bodies, politics, and cultures of human and non-human sorts … They are, rather, imploded entities, dense material semiotic “things”—articulated string figures of ontologically heterogeneous, historically situated, materially rich, virally proliferating relatings of particular sorts, not all the time everywhere, but here, there, and in between, with consequences.” Austin, Ethan M, Maddy L.

  • For context, and if you want to follow up on cyborgs, Haraway wrote A Cyborg Manifesto in 1985 (pdf).
  • Cyborgs are classically hybrids of machine and organism – science fiction entities that reflect technologies and ways of thinking. Haraway suggests that they originated in the scientific developments of world war II and just after e.g. computers, atomic bombs, radar, missile guidance systems. I think we can add developments in medicine: discovery of DNA, organ replacement, etc. etc.
  • Given advances in AI, molecular and nano-engineering, gene-editing, etc. the difference between machine and organism is getting a little muddled – imploding.
  • Haraway wants to say that the specific details of a cyborg matter – how it is conceived, when it was made, what it is made of, how it relates to other things.
  • Treated with synthetic hormones, she and her dog are cyborgs. In this chapter she traces the implications of that.
Yoked cattle

Conjugating is about yoking together; conjugal love is yoked love; conjugated chemical compounds join together two or more constituents. People conjugate in public spaces; they yoke themselves together transversally and across time and space to make significant things happen… Conjugated estrogens are about yoking molecules and species to each other in consequential ways. ” p110 Marissa, Candice K, Janae, Daniel, Xavier, Robert S, Alex Z

  • Haraway is playing with two words yoke and conjugate. (they are connected!)
  • Yoking – means connecting together with an overtone of coercion or at least of a strong bond.
  • Conjugating – when you conjugate a verb you run through the different forms: person (I, you, it, we etc.) and tenses (past, present, future perfect etc.) The different forms detail relationships, context and possibilities.
  • So she means to demonstrate connections and implications in all possible ways: taking account of past, present and future; of me, you and it; as she tells her story about estrogens.

There is no innocence in these kin stories, and the accountabilities are extensive and permanently unfinished. Indeed, responsibility in and for the worldings in play in these stories requires the cultivation of viral response-abilities, carrying meanings and materials across kinds in order to infect processes and practices that might yet ignite epidemics of multispecies recuperation and maybe even flourishing on terra in ordinary times and places. Call that utopia; call that inhabiting the despised places; call that touch; call that the rapidly mutating virus of hope, or the less rapidly changing commitment to staying with the trouble.” p 114 Barbara H, Genevieve, Jiajun, Yize

  • The kin stories – are the linked stories of people, animals, and biological products – like Haraway, her dog, estrogen, the horses that provide hormones, the animals in feedlots that were fed them.
  • We can’t claim we are innocent or not responsible if we nevertheless benefit.
  • viral responsibilities – using term like virus, epidemics and infect may sound odd at this time of pandemic. What Haraway wants to convey is something closer to viral advertising. She is hoping that her way of making connections, seeking out those connections actively, will catch on. She thinks this will give us a chance to flourish.
  • She wants hope and change about possible environmental futures to go viral.

Digital and molecular species vied for attention with urethras and vaginas. Females in trouble seemed to luxuriate everywhere; even the industrially synthesized molecules seemed to respond to the lure of (always nonreproductive, in this story) sexual tropisms, despite decades of astute feminist wariness of so-called sex hormones. Cyborgs laughed.” p 114-5 Roman

  • Haraway is summing up the chapter and noting all the issues she touched on.
  • She uses metonymic connections – a part standing in for a whole.
    • urethras – stands in for the story of horses urine making hormones, and the dog’s leaky bladder.
    • vaginas – stands in for the troubled history of medication for pregnant women and menopausal women.
  • Feminists are always wary of biologically based reasons for making a distinction between genders – they too often lead to oppression – but here sex matters, estrogen is a female sex hormone specifically.
  • In these stories we can’t be neutral or neuter – the Cyborgs laugh ironically, because this has been a feminist dream.

Each time I trace a tangle and add a few threads that first seemed whimsical but turned out to be essential to the fabric, I get a bit straighter that staying with the trouble of complex worlding is the name of the game of living and dying well together on terra.” p 115-6 Lingjia

  • Haraway is commenting on her own process of trying to understanding environmental issues.
  • One whimsical thread in chapter 5 might have been linking the medical needs of her dog to the larger complex picture about pharmaceuticals.
  • Haraway wants to say that it’s necessary to stay with complex worlding – i.e. tracking down all the pieces of the story.