From Anthropocene to Chthulucene – Staying with Speculation: Natures, Futures, Politics

Portrait of Greta Thunberg

Dr Christine Mortimer is an International Teaching Fellow in Management and Organisational Behaviour, Lancaster University (c.mortimer1@lancaster.ac.uk) and Dr Malé Lujan Escalante is Lecturer in the Centre for Innovation, University of Bristol (male.lujane@bristol.ac.uk)

This blog post relates to the Global Discourse article Luke Moffat, Christine J. Mortimer & Maria Luhan Escalante: Introduction

‘We-all of us on Terra-live in disturbing times, mixed up times, troubling and turbid times’. ‘Our task is to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events, as well as to settle troubled waters and rebuild quiet places’ (Haraway, Staying with Trouble).

Donna Haraway in her book, ‘Staying with Trouble’ (2016), articulates the future that we are now living in, every single one of us. Since December 2019, when the world first heard, from Wuhan in China, the news of a new pneumonia like virus, 2020 became the year that we all have been encouraged to believe that as a species we are in a global war against an unseen enemy. Through the pandemic the idea of ‘a battle with nature’ has been consistently voiced in the media, ‘Army prepares for battle against invisible enemy as Nightingale Hospital set to open.  The closing of national borders globally, echoes the events from World War 1 and 2. The news headlines for ‘frontline’ deaths are now over 2 million people. However, this does not consider the exponential numbers of people that Covid-19 has personally affected.

Within the introduction to Staying with Speculation: Natures, Futures, Politics are these words, ‘The questions of what speculation is, what it means, and what it is for, touch and trouble the pieces of work in this issue. As nature begins to “speak back” at our various misdemeanours, exploitations, and violence’s, the urgency of tackling the messy, unpredictable, volatile and multiple materials of possible futures is thrown into stark relief’. And, here we are in a place and space where nature has spoken back urgently to the ‘human-centred’ view of our relationships with this beautifully diverse ‘worlds within world’ that we inhabit, in the form of the current pandemic, which has been with us over the curation of this special edition.

Global Discourse is an interdisciplinary, problem-orientated journal of applied contemporary thought, while considering core questions of distributive justice, wellbeing, cultural diversity, autonomy, sovereignty, security and recognition. More importantly it seeks to foster discussion and debate between often artificially isolated disciplines and paradigms. The Journal, and this special edition, both fulfil Donna Haraway’s point that we need to make ‘Oddkins’ and, in her words, ‘we require each other in unexpected collaborations and combinations, in hot compost piles’.

As Laura Forlano in her Foreword to Part One of the issue ‘Scaffolding Debates’ mentions that the idea of speculation requires the blurring of borders between scientific fact, technological possibility and inventive speculation. The articles and responses, forewords and afterwords duly engage not only with questions of multi-species justice, wellbeing and cultural diversity, but also the intersections between fact, possibility and speculation. Nik Bearten in his afterword of the first section notes that to deeply speculate we need to ‘build new worlds out of new words’. To do this we must ‘stay with the trouble’, as Haraway puts it, and find the words and the opportunities that bring together inventiveness and critical perspectives to make way for more activist approaches that exist in lived experiences.

Anne Galloway’s Foreword to Part Two of the edition highlights the theme going through the articles that confront ideas of distributive justice, diversity, autonomy, sovereignty and recognition through the notion of ‘More-than-human Worlds’. Anne, very clearly challenges how to contemplate multiple ontologies, some of which we can only guess at. How do we discover ways of creating a world that is accepting of the ‘many worlds’ within it, particularly as the non-human element has only ever been considered as a resource or worse as an enemy that must be extinguished?  Which nicely brings us back to Covid-19, where the development of technology and the awesome effort that has been made around the world, puts us, as a species, in the very space that Haraway warns us of, the ability of technology to come to the rescue of ‘its naughty but very clever children’, emphasising the human-centredness of our thinking processes and thought systems. The papers in Part Two, offer alternative ways to view the more-than-human world, from listening to the Ice, to considering how animals interact with humans, through to how we develop sustainable food production. They also offer alternative words and ways of seeing, that help draw us closer to envisaging the worlds within the world.

Part Three takes us into the world of speculative ethics. The Foreword by James Fathers touches on the problems we have as a species to form kinships between ourselves. Black Lives Matter was a global movement in the midst of the pandemic demonstrating that we do have the capacity, if and when we choose to. James touches on the idea that we need dreams to help us transcend the fear that threatens to paralyse and numb us and perhaps this period of time, through the pandemic has given us all space to engage and consider what sort of future we want as a species. Viv Kuh, in her Afterword, suggests that engaging with these unknown authors helps us feel less alone and that, although we are separated and feel isolated there are kin out there to build relationships with, even if, they are unknown apart from the words they have written and the worlds they have created.

Further reading

Nik Baerten: Practitioner afterword: the debate

Kaya Barry, Michelle Duffy & Michele Lobo: Speculative listening: Melting sea ice, and new methods of listening with the planet          

Shawn Bodden & Jen Ross: Speculating with glitches: keeping the future

Paul Cureton: Reply to Investment in the imaginary

Lewis Coyne: Review of Against Nature by Lorraine Daston

Lorraine Daston: Reply to Reviews of Against Nature by Lorraine Daston

Joe Deville: Reply to Speculating with glitches: keeping the future moving

Marketa Dolejšová: Edible Speculations: Designing Everyday Oracles for Food Future       

Maria Luján Escalante: Reply to Beyond Speculation: using speculative methods to surface ethics and positionality in design practice and pedagogy   

James Fathers: Foreword to part 3: speculative ethics     

Laura Forlano: Foreword

Ann Galloway: Foreword to part 2

Jack Griffiths: Review of Against Nature by Lorraine Daston          

Michael Hauskeller: Review of Against Nature by Lorraine Daston

Anna Jackman: Investment in the imaginary

Naomi J. Jacobs: Reply to Touring the carbon ruins: towards an ethics of speculative decarbonisation

Arjen Kleinherenbrink: New Images of Thought – On Two Kinds of Speculative Realism

Vivienne Kuh: Practitioner afterword

Melanie Levick-Parkin: Beyond Speculation: using speculative methods to surface ethics and positionality in design practice and pedagogy

Michael Lewis: Review of Against Nature by Lorraine Daston

Clare McCracken: Dystopias for discourse

Luke Moffat: Reply to Science fiction, reconfigured social theory and the Anthropocene Age: Exploring and thinking about planetary futures through fictional imaginaries     

Luke Moffat, Christine J. Mortimer & Maria Luhan Escalante: Introduction

Christine J. Mortimer: Reply to It Matters what Designs Design Designs: Speculations on Multispecies Worlding   

Angela Piccini: Reply to Dystopias for discourse  

Serena Pollastri: Reply to Edible Speculations: Designing Everyday Oracles for Food Futures

Paul G. Raven and Johannes Stripple: Touring the carbon ruins: towards an ethics of speculative decarbonisation

Yannick Rumpala: Science fiction, reconfigured social theory and the Anthropocene Age: Exploring and thinking about planetary futures through fictional imaginaries  

Stuart Sim: Reply to New Images of Thought – On Two Kinds of Speculative Realism

Bronislaw Szerszynski: Reply to Speculative listening: Melting sea ice, and new methods of listening with the planet                 

David Tyfield: Interview: Governing Complexity and Reconceptualising Liberty

Georgina Voss: Practitioner Afterword: Three Decks And More  

Michelle Westerlaken: It Matters what Designs Design Designs: Speculations on Multispecies Worlding