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Episode 1 Transcript - Donna Haraway

In this episode of The HPS Podcast, Samara interviews a member of 'HPS Royalty' - Donna Haraway, who highlights the important role of narrative and storytelling in the sciences.

For Donna, storytelling in science involves being aware of how important scientific narratives are to scientific practice, and to the ways science contributes to humanities broader 'story' of the world. Donna proposes that engaging in 'polymath curiosity' by reading more in the world of HPS and beyond can help scientists ensure they stay innovative and playful with their thinking. Donna also suggests 'thinking about thinking' is helpful. For example, not just considering relationships as being linear or hierarchical, but rather thinking in webs of interactions, like in the game of 'Cat's Cradle'. Ultimately, Donna would love everyone to appreciate more the camaraderie, sense of humour and exploratory capacities of good scientists.

Samara Greenwood:

What value is history and philosophy of science to scientists?

Are there qualities already present in science that are not appreciated enough?

What other ways might we think about knowledge making to help direct us toward better outcomes?

Earlier this year, I had the unique opportunity to discuss these topics with one of the most well-known scholars of science studies, Professor Donna Haraway. Donna Haraway is distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of California Santa Cruz, and in 2002, she was awarded the Banal Prize for lifetime contributions to the field. Donna originally completed her PhD in biology at Yale, but went on to an unusually interdisciplinary career crossing the boundaries of science, women's studies, history of science, science fiction and social studies of science to name just a few. Her work is focused on disrupting persistent, controlling stories of western science to embrace more complex, diverse, and ultimately revitalising accounts for the podcast. I began by asking Donna what she has learned about science through science studies.

Donna Haraway:

First of all, I think of myself very much as a member of the scientific community. My PhD is in evolutionary and developmental and ecological biology. Evelyn Hutchinson was my PhD advisor and his approach to theoretical ecology is in my bones. And his approach to the illuminated 13th century Italian manuscripts and his approach to the Bloomsbury world in London. And the fact that in his labs, when I was a graduate student, we were reading Simone Weil and Karen Stevens and Kurt Gödel as well as recently published papers in various fields of contemporary biology, and that these were - in some non-trivial sense - part of the same subject.

That polymath curiosity and that kind of giving each other and oneself and one’s students a kind of permission for serious curiosity and serious craft of storytelling in one's field, as a part of the practise of one's field.

Samara Greenwood:

Donna would go on to draw on this polymath curiosity to develop several ground-breaking works, including her 1985 paper, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs”. In this essay, Donna rejected simple binary ways of thinking about our bodies and technology to instead advocate for more messy diversity. Another important work was her 1989 book, Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the world of Modern Science. In Primate Visions, Haraway argued that the larger stories told by Primatologists, particularly about the role of females and males in evolutionary history, were often deeply influenced by the social and political contexts in which they practised. With this in mind, I then asked Donna what she felt science studies had to offer scientists,

Donna Haraway: Lots of things! Science studies and history of science emphasise narrative skills and pay attention to the way language works. And I think that that has given us a lot of insights into the working of scientific languages as well as others.

I would love scientists themselves to take more pleasure in their own work and to read ours for that.

In a sense, I'm standing outside the scientific community, when I say that for a minute. But I think of myself as tentacles in every camp, way more than a biped. At least I would like to be that kind of person. Biology, evolutionary, ecological, developmental, behavioural biology's are necessarily narrative. Not only narrative. But you really can't be a good scientist in these fields without engaging in pretty crafty storytelling.

Valuing an outreaching curiosity, valuing the craft of storytelling, valuing that the sciences require storytelling. It's not something you do when you're finished with your day. It's not something you do just to explain your science. It's something you do to practise your science.

Certainly if you're a biologist.

Samara Greenwood:

Through her scholarship, Donna has shown that traditional conceptions of science are often inadequate. Narrow understandings of science, obscure the ways in which researchers and their perspectives are entangled with the knowledge they produce, both for better and for worse. For Haraway, when we acknowledge and even celebrate the role of storytelling in science, we can be more thoughtful about how we might story otherwise. This might mean reflecting more critically on dominant narratives as well as being more open to imaginative exploration of alternatives. In 1988, Donna coined the term “situated knowledges” to refer to the understanding that all knowledge comes from particular positions in the world. These positions in the world then constrain what is possible to see and know about a particular phenomena of scientific interest. It is important to recognise our situatedness because only then can we become truly accountable for what we learn to see.

For Haraway, this means noticing if you have cited nothing but privileged white people or men, or if you have, you have erasedindigenous people or if you forget non-human beings and so on. Race, sex, class, region, sexuality, gender species. While these are fraught categories, for Haraway, they still do important work. Understanding the ways in which our knowledge is situated is not only important for better science, but also for a better society as the stories of science are central to the ways in which we understand ourselves and our place in the world. In her work. Donna also suggests another way to refigure our conception of science is to look to new ways of understanding the process of knowledge making.

Donna Haraway:

I also think that an attention to the way technologies of thinking work, including technologies of storytelling, has led me to value analytical figures like string figures, like networks, like the particularities and specificities of relational realities that scale in and scale out, to structure different kinds of orderings as gerunds, as active things in the world that are much richer and other than the theoretical figures of hierarchical nesting or other kinds of figures that we're much more used to working with as technologies for thinking. I want scientists - who already use these other thinking technologies - to pay more attention to them and to enlarge them with a sense of the absurd and a sense of humour and a sense of speculative fabulation, as a kind of propositional thinking.

Samara Greenwood: Rather than only thinking in terms of linear or hierarchical frameworks, Donna suggests that the game of Cat's Cradle may be a useful alternative process. In the game of Cat's Cradle, loops of string are placed around fingers and then woven together in such a way as to produce increasingly intricate and involved string figures. She suggests such an alternative image is valuable as neither science nor cat cradling is about winning, but rather about creating and passing on complex patterns and learning from them in an involved interactive process. Over time by playing cat cradle with the sciences, HPS and science studies, we may create better patterns of understanding in the world.

Donna Haraway: Ultimately, I came see Cat's Cradle and string figures - obviously a trope - but it's also a method. It's a proposal to think otherwise. We all know how to think in twos and threes. We all know how to think in nests. We know how to think in hierarchically nested arguments. That's all fine. We would be fools to give up those tools. But I think if I've done anything around the methodology of thinking practises, it's foregrounding the thinking in Cat’s Cradling. It's kinetic. Something has to hold still for something else to move, and it goes back and forth. It has a whole dynamics and structure to it. I think of it as a thinking practise and, in that sense, a technical proposition. It is also a metaphor, but almost nothing that I care about is just a metaphor.

Samara Greenwood: To end we were able to discuss one more topic before being lovingly interrupted by her dogs. So I asked Donna: What kind of more general revisioning of science would you like to see today?

Donna Haraway:

I wish people who don't have a lot of experience with scientists and with scientific practises - and who themselves kind of stereotype them - would pay attention to the camaraderie, the sense of humour, the exploratory capacities of good scientists, and vice versa.

I want scientists to pay more attention to historical fiction, to history of science, to science studies, to collaborative work between people in science studies and people in other sciences - of which there was a great deal. So I want a deeper, broader, more capacious <bark> <laughter> curiosity and sense of humour and generosity toward each other's work. And less stereotyping.

Samara Greenwood: That sounds fabulous. Thanks so much. Was there anything else you wanted to add?

Donna Haraway: The interpretation of the dogs barking has everything to do with my husband's students arriving for her math lesson <laughter>.

Samara Greenwood: Thank you for listening to the first season of the HPS Podcast, where we discuss all things history, philosophy, and social studies of science. To learn more, check out our website at There you can also find links to our blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Insta, as well as show notes for today's topic. I'm Samara Greenwood, and my co-producer is Indigo Keel. We look forward to having you back again next time.


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