Haraway—A Cyborg Manifesto

A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century

by Donna Haraway

[Haraway, Donna. 1991. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, 149–81. London/New York: Routledge.]


Context: 1984, Reagan and the Star Wars Missile Defense System ($84 billion) – radical feminism and a call toward the ‘natural’

    1. a call to use irony/blasphemy as a method within feminism
    2. four-part definition: a cyborg is a “cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of lived social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (149)
      1. international women’s movements have created “women’s experience” which is an essentialist fiction – the cyborg is concurrently fiction and lived experience, so…
    3. Haraway makes an argument “for the cyborg as a fiction mapping our social and bodily reality and as an imaginative resource suggesting some very fruitful couplings” (150)
      1. because, “We are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs” (p. 150).
      2. The cyborg does not require the nature/culture binary – so one no longer appropriates and incorporates the other.
    4. The cyborg is a fact of the present due to three current (1985 & 1991) breakdowns of traditionally held boundaries
      1. human/animal boundary
        1. animal rights, evolutionary science leading to an understanding of human animality
        2. More recently – non-human animal, interspecies transplants
      2. animal-human (organism)/ machine boundary
        1. authorship is in question – programs did not formerly write themselves, did not act autonomously, now they do as a matter of course
        2. more recently – ever growing efficiency of AI programs, anthropomorphization of technology, i.e. Siri
      3. physical/non-physical boundary (a subset of the previous)
        1. sunshine machines” run on invisible waves – everywhere and nowhere, microprocessors are small almost to the point of invisibility, cruise missiles are transported undetectably on pickup trucks
        2. Small is not so much beautiful as pre-eminently dangerous” (153).
    5. American socialists and feminists tend to see the world in terms of “deepened dualisms,” between mind and body, animal and machine, idealism and materialism
      1. they think that because technology is dominant, resistance must come in a return to the natural
      2. whereas, in a cyborg world, people would not “be afraid of joint kinships with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints” (154)
      3. it could be possible to avoid the masculinist orgy of Star Wars apocalypse if we embrace this cyborg ontology instead of resisting/ignoring technological domination
    1. affinity politics instead of identity politics
      1. Identity politics don’t really mean anything: “there is nothing about being female that naturally binds women together into a unified category. There is not even such a state as ‘being’ female, itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices” (p. 155).
      2. affinity politics create coalitions based on choice rather than identity
        1. examples – Chela Sandoval and “oppositional consciousness” and Katie King’s feminist taxonomies
        2. women of color’ does not explicitly define who the group incorporates or excludes like ‘Chicana’ or ‘African-American’ would, thus it is a possible model for affinity politics
    2. Critique of Marx and MacKinnon
      1. It’s good that Marxist thought has emphasized the “daily responsibility of real women to build unities, rather than to naturalize them” (158) however, Marxism (and with it, socialist feminism) is an inherently Western concept and silences any anti-colonial understandings.
      2. Catherine MacKinnon deconstructs the idea of an essentialist ‘woman,’ as nothing more than a construction male desire – However, her non-existent woman is equally essentializing, using the same tools that she argued against.
      3. Most troubling is how neither Marxist nor radical feminism can account (or make room) for race.
      4. We should instead look at Julie Kristeva’s view that woman (like homosexual, and youth) is a socially constructed category, and leave behind all essentialist tendencies.

  1. THE INFORMATICS OF DOMINATION (back to the cybernetic)
    1. we are living through a movement from an organic, industrial society to a polymorphous information system – from all work to all play” (161)
          1. Comfortable old hierarchical dominations Informatics of Domination

        Representation — Simulation

        Bourgeois novel — Science fiction

        Realism and modernism — Postmodernism

        Organism Biotic component, — code

        Work — Text

        Mimesis — Play of signifiers

        Depth, integrity — Surface, boundary

        Heat — Noise

        Biology as clinical practice — Biology as inscription

        Physiology — Communications engineering

        Microbiology, tuberculosis — Immunology, AIDS

        Magic bullet — Immunomodulation

        Small group — Subsystem

        Perfection — Optimization

        Eugenics — Genetic engineering

        Decadence (Magic Mountain) — Obsolescence (Future Shock)

        Hygiene — Stress Management

        Organic division of labour — Ergonomics, cybernetics of labour

        Functional specialization — Modular construction

        Biological determinism — System constraints

        Reproduction — Replication

        Individual — Replicon

        Community ecology — Ecosystem

        Racial chain of being — United Nations Humanism

        Colonialism — Transnational capitalism

        Nature/culture — Fields of difference

        Co-operation — Communications enhancement

        Freud — Lacan

        Sex — Genetic Engineering

        Labour — Robotics

        Mind — Artificial intelligence

        Second World War — Star Wars

        White capitalist patriarchy — Informatics of domination

        The objects to the right “cannot be coded as natural,” which subverts the tendency to code the left as natural—things now exists side by side, not as the fruition of natural processes

      1. move from essential components to interconnected networks
    1. Biotechnologies and communications technologies are now the same, part of common move toward “the translation of the world into a problem of coding” If all things are interconnected and concurrent, large issues become solvable through cryptographic interventions.
      1. Biology as cryptography: no longer organ (or organism)-based, but now seen in terms of molecular genetic coding, immunological populations.
      2. The need for electronics brings this cryptography to the rest of society. Everything becomes understood in terms of networks.
    1. The New Industrial Revolution
    2. feminization of labor
      1. Richard Gordon – “homework economy” – new electronics jobs held by women
      2. leads to labor itself being “feminized” – vulnerable: stable jobs are the exception, not the rule
      3. technology redistributes labor internationally, not only to different regions, but into the home
    3. feminization of poverty
      1. as unstable jobs are increasingly done by women, males incomes are not guaranteed
      2. That women regularly sustain daily life partly as a function of their enforced status as mothers is hardly new; the kind of integration with the overall capitalist and progressively war-based economy is new” (167).
    4. Progression in recent history (using Jameson’s dominant aesthetic periods)
      1. realist – patriarchal nuclear family; upholding and upheld by the dichotomy of public/private
      2. modern – family mediated (or enforced) by the welfare state and institutions like the family wage
      3. postmodern – family of the ‘homework’ economy; women-headed households and explosions of feminism, accompanied by a general erosion of gender itself
    1. the public/private binary breaking down
      1. in industrial society, home/factory dichotomy separated working class life, home/market dichotomy separated bourgeois life
    2. instead of the separation, everything networks on/as an ‘integrated circuit’
      1. This term comes from theorist Rachel Grossman, and refers to a microchip in a computer that has multiple functionalities, here it is “suggesting the profusion of spaces and identities and the permeability of boundaries in the personal body and the body politic” (170).
      2. These integrated circuits are shown through the examples of Home, Market, Paid Work Place, State, School, Clinic-hospital, and Church. these examples uncover both a porous relationship between places and actors, and also a “massive intensification of insecurity.”
    3. Not as bad as it looks – although the informatics of domination look (to Marxists) like “false consciousness and people’s complicity in their own domination,” what is often lost in these formulations are “virulent forms of oppression, nostalgically naturalized” (172).
      1. For example, Haraway’s ability to get a PhD in biology is due in part to US national science-education policies brought on by the launch of Sputnick. So she has “a body and mind as much constructed by the post-Second World War arms race and cold war as by the women’s movements” (173).
      2. This very partiality is the strength of feminism. Any attempts at a unifying or common language are inherently “totalizing and imperialist” and feminist points of view “do not need a totality to work well.”
    1. a lot of “thank you”s
    2. women of color” as a cyborg identity – a “subjectivity synthesized from fusions of outsider identities and in the complex political-historical layerings of her ‘biomythography” (174).
      1. specially marked by literacy – as a tool of both assimilation and resistance to Colonial rule
      2. Cyborg writing is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other” (175).
      3. Writing is the pre-eminent technology of the cyborg – Cherríe Moraga, writing in hybridized English and Spanish, is chimerical, never whole.
      4. This is not just literary deconstruction. Rather, it is “liminal transformation” (177).
    3. Haraway recapitulates some points
      1. She reminds us of Western dualisms (culture/nature, male/female, self/other, total/partial, etc…)
      2. She restates her main argument: “In so far as we know ourselves in both formal discourse (for example, biology) and in daily practice (for example, the homework economy in the integrated circuit) we find ourselves to be cyborgs, hybrids, mosaics, chimeras. Biological organisms have become biotic systems, communications devices like others. There is no fundamental, ontological separation in our formal knowledge of machine and organism, of technical and organic” (177-178).
    4. prosthesis – Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang – “Why should our bodies end at the skin, or include at best other things encapsulated by skin?” (178)
      1. For cyborgs, “machines can be prosthetic devices, intimate components, friendly selves” (178).
      2. feminist science fiction has shown examples of the cyborg ontology for years
    5. Monsters define the limits of community in Western imaginations (Haraway will later refer to this as the ‘promise of monsters’)
      1. Ancient Greece – Centaurs and Amazons confused human and animal
      2. Early modern France – conjoined twins and hermaphrodites confused bodily natural and unnatural
      3. Cyborgs confuse the “mundane fiction of Man and Woman”
    6. regeneration instead of rebirth (one last image)
      1. organismic, holistic politics depend of rebirth metaphors that call on the resources of reproductive sex
        1. salamanders – re-growths are monstrous, but also potent
      2. We require regeneration, not rebirth, and the possibilities for our reconstitution include the utopian dream of the hope for a monstrous world without gender” (181).
    7. Final points
      1. The production of universal, totalizing theory is a major mistake that misses most of reality, probably always, certainly now.”
      2. Taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology means refusing an anti-science metaphysics, a demonology of technology, and so means embracing the skilful task of reconstructing the boundaries of daily life, in partial connections with others, in communication with all of our parts.”
      3. Finally, “Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves. This is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia.”
              1. She’d rather be a cyborg than a goddess.

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