Common Worlding and Education in the Chthulucene

Common Worlding and Education in the Chthulucene

Affrica Taylor and Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, with Iveta Silova as moderator

APRIL 16, 2020

Mounting evidence that unsustainable extractive and consumptive human activities have fundamentally destabilized the earth’s geo-bio systems has prompted earth scientists to propose that we are leaving the Holocene and tipping into the Anthropocene, or literally the era of Man (Steffen, Crutzen & McNeil 2007). This Anthropocene proposition has, in turn, triggered a flood of debates across the physical and social sciences about the implications for life on earth as we know, and about how best to respond. Education scholars have been slow to engage with these debates and even slower to contribute to them. Few challenge the discipline’s mid-20thcentury human-centric learning and development premises that preclude the ecological awareness that is necessary to transform the business-as-usual of education. There are some exceptions, including early childhood and environmental education scholars from the Common Worlds Research Collective.  Informed by the entangled feminist, ecological, and decolonising thinking, ethics and strategies of non-educational scholars such as Donna Haraway (2016), Anna Tsing (2015) and Deborah Bird Rose (2004), they have been experimenting with more-than-human Anthropocene-responsive early years pedagogies and methods for some years now (for instance Taylor, Blaise and Giugni 2013; Taylor & Pacini-Ketchabaw 2017, 2019; Hodgins 2019; Taylor 2019).

There is no consensus on how best to respond to the Anthropocene. Cross disciplinary debates have exposed many paradoxes, contradictions and traps. Donna Haraway, for instance, challenges us to think beyond the standard responses to the Anthropocene that typically pivot between heroic and saviour-like techno-fixes and apocalyptic game-over scripts, pointing out that such responses will not get us out of the narrowly-conceived, anthropocentric hole we have already dug (Haraway 2016). She is also a vocal opponent of the name ‘Anthropocene’, because it risks reiterating the lofty human-centric conceits of Man. Her alternative is the Chthulucene, a term she has adapted from Greek mythology. Chthonic beings are creatures of the earth – definitely not lofty. In Haraway’s feminist re-imaginings, they include a host of Medusa-like tentacular female figures with entangling, connective and recuperative powers.  The reason she is proposing this alternative feminist nomenclature is not to deny Man’s destructive effects upon the earth, but to indicate the need for responses that offer a radically departure from huMan exceptionalist interventions. She describes the Chthulucene as ‘a timeplace for learning to stay with the trouble of living and dying in response-ability on a damaged earth’ (Haraway 2016:3).  This new kind of learning involves re-tracing and re-establishing connective threads between us and other beings, as well as getting down to the earthy business of remaking and recuperating worlds together.

This plenary panel is structured as a conversation between the presenters’ common worlding educational research and Haraway’s (2016) speculative feminist (SF) envisioning of the Chthulucene. By addressing questions raised by Haraway and/or adopting the connective and speculative feminist (SF) story-telling methods she has pioneered, the three presenters will discuss some of the earthy possibilities for common worlding education in the Chthulucene.

Iveta Silova will act as a moderator, bringing her recent conversations with Donna Haraway about education in the Chthulucene into dialogue with the ideas offered by the two presenters – Affrica Taylor and Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw. Unfortunately, Mindy Blaise is no longer able to join the keynote panel.

Affrica Taylor, Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, and Mindy Blaise (collective biography)

We share a commitment to exposing and challenging education’s complicity with modernity’s larger project of colonizing minds, peoples and lands, and to queering its normative and anthropocentric binary premises. But our methods do not end with critique and deconstruction. We also experiment with practical ways of articulating our feminist, more-than-human common world ethics into grounded modes of collaborative learning with the world, not only just about it. Our ultimate goal is to enhance the possibilities for recuperative and inclusive cohabitation on a damaged planet.  About a decade ago, we established the Common Worlds Research Collective to provide a supportive international network for other feminist researchers and educators interested in similiar kinds of more-than-human relational pedagogies and methods. The Collective now has 68 members from 12 countries.  These days, most members are mobilising these pedagogies and methods as a response to the pressing challenges of anthropogenic global warming and mass species extinctions.