Feminists Write the Anthropocene: Three Tales of Possibility in Late Capitalism

This essay in the Journal of Cultural Economy reviewed three recent books: Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Alexis Shotwell’s Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times, and Anna Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins.

Situated in the context of feminist science studies and anthropology, these three books extend decades-old critiques of classificatory practices and kinship and their relationship to oppression and economic exchange. In keeping with feminist and ethnographic methods and ethics, they view capitalism, colonialism, and the Anthropocene from the bottom up. Colonialism, scale, the generation of capital, and the limits of natural kinds are coded as ongoing problems to be explained rather than accepted as explanatory frameworks. These apparently universal systems turn out to contain many disjunctures when viewed at ground level. It is through the activity of overlooked actors – Haraway’s chthonic ones, the refugees and undocumented immigrants whose work Tsing recounts – and the anti-purity, world-making projects they have embarked upon – like the SRLP, as Shotwell describes it – that possibilities for the future are understood to emerge. And it is in identifying and problematizing the work going on in the joints of global capitalism in the Anthropocene that these authors offer useful interventions for remaking the categories of politics, kinship, and technoscience so that our world might be made more livable.

When feminists write the Anthropocene, they call readers to consider how the making of futures is already happening close to home, while remaining attentive to how local, situated projects come to appear universal. On a planet overtaken by the problems and figure of man, this perspective is crucial to keep in mind for both scholarly and worldly work.

The review is available here. It will be open-access shortly. You can also reach out to me for a copy at danya.glabau@gmail.com.

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