Donna Haraway's cyborg manifesto is one of the most important text of cyber-cultural studies as well as feminist studies of the past twenty years. Her conclusion that she draws, “I d rather be a cyborg than a goddess” is grounded in the following analysis of the cyborg given here by Carolyn Keen (rc):
“A Cyborg Manifesto” is a socialist-feminist analysis of “women's situation in the advanced technological conditions of postmodern life in the First World” (Penley, interview cited below). The “elementary units of socialist-feminist analysis,” race, gender, and class (173) are in the process of transformation. The tools for analysis: Marxist, psychoanalytic, feminist, anthropological (173) are problematic as they are currently articulated (1985). Problems Haraway finds with each of these “tools” of analysis:
Marxism: 1. Marxist “humanism,” we can only come to know the subject through labor; relies upon a Western sense of self. 2. Erases “polyvocal, unassimilable, radical difference made visible in anti-colonial discourse and practice” (159).
Psychoanalysis: 1. Relies upon the family and birth of the self “drama,” which is about individuation, separation, the birth of the self, wholeness before language [Lacan's imaginary]. 2. Freudian and Lacanian (and theories based upon their work) rely upon the category of woman as other; “in this plot women are imagined either better or worse off [better off=eg. woman as goddess], but all agree they have less selfhood, weaker individuation, more fusion to the oral [instead of the written, which is the preferred "technology" of the cyborg], to Mother” (177). 3. Universalizes. In an interview with Haraway, she asks: “Can you come up with an unconscious [which she wants to "keep"] that escapes the familial narrative…or that poses the familial narratives as local stories?”
Feminism: 1. “There is nothing about being female that naturally binds women. 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” (155). [However, though "female" is a construction, women are still historically real.] 2. Feminism in the US has been characterized by the “natural” unity of all women, not taking into account, nor allowing room for, categories of race and class. 3. The reaction [in progress?] to this imposed unity risks “lapsing into boundless difference and giving up on the confusing task of making partial, real connection” (161). Although a partial solution, why is this problematic?
“I do not know of any other time in history when there was greater need for political unity to confront effectively the dominations of 'race', 'gender', 'sexuality', and 'class'” (157). Goals of the “ironic political myth” of the “cyborg”–a utopian, “possible world.” (On utopias: “Most utopian schemes hover somewhere in between the present and the future, attempting to figure the future as the present, the present as the future” [Penley, interview cited below]). Why the cyborg as a metaphor for this text?
“Cyborg replication is uncoupled from organic reproduction” (150) “The cyborg does not dream of community on the model of the organic family” (151).
The cyborg does not aspire to “organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all the powers of the parts into a higher unity” (150). The cyborg “is not afraid of joint kinship with animals and machines…of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints” (154). The cyborg is the “illegitimate child” of patriarchy, colonialism, and capitalism.
The cyborg thus evades traditional humanist concepts of women as childbearer and raiser, of individuality and individual wholeness, the heterosexual marriage-nuclear family, transcendentalism and Biblical narrative, the great chain of being (god/man/animal/etc.), fear of death, fear of automatism, insistence upon consistency and completeness. It evades the Freudian family drama, the Lacanian m/other, and “natural” affiliation and unity. It attempts to complicate binary oppositions, which have been “systemic to the logics and practices of domination of women, people of colour, nature, workers, animals” (177).
Haraway likens “cyborg” to the political identity of “women of color,” which “marks out a self-consciously constructed space that cannot affirm the capacity to act on the basis of natural identification, but only on the basis of conscious coalition, of affinity, of political kinship” (156). “Cyborg” though, is grounded in “political-scientific” analysis. This analysis takes up most of the “manifesto.”
Haraway's political-scientific analysis of where “we” are going: “We are living through a movement from an organic, industrial society to a polymorphous, information system” (161). Her “chart of transitions” on page 161-62 lists specifics. (This was later modified; in case you're interested in the changes, I've attached the 1989 chart below.) The movement she sees occurring is both “scary” and reason for coalition. Haraway, trained in biology, analyzes scientific discourse as both constructed and as “instruments for enforcing meanings” (164). “Scientific discourse,” she says in the interview cited below, “without ever ceasing to be radically and historically specific, does still make claims on you, ethically, physically.” Haraway argues that “one important route for reconstructing socialist-feminist politics is through theory and practice addressed to the social relations of science and technology, including crucially the systems of myth and meanings structuring our imagination” (163). The relations between science and technology, largely ignored by feminists, is a material reality which women need to be aware of–not fear or disparage. These relations are “rearranging” categories of race, sex and class; feminism needs to take this into account. Haraway's analysis of “women in the integrated circuit” tries to suggest, without relying too much on the category of “woman” (as a natural category), to suggest that as technologies radically restructure “life” on earth, “women” do not, and are not, through education, training, etc., learning to control these technologies, to “read these webs of power” (170). A socialist-feminist politics must address these restructurings.
“Cyborgs: A Myth of Political Identity” acknowledges Haraway's debt to writers of “science fiction,” and finds in these texts the sources of her cyborg myth. “Cyborg monsters in feminist science fiction define quite different political possibilities and limits from those proposed by the mundane fiction of Man and Woman” (180).
Since, as Haraway sees it, the world is changing rapidly–and this is due mainly to scientific/technological discourses and the claims they make physically upon “us”–the tools that Haraway (and ourselves) find available and in use are no longer viable. The world/culture/discourses upon which they are based are changing. And the premises upon which these tools rest are those which support capitalism, imperialism and patriarchy, which may be, according to her analysis, dwindling, but only to be replaced by something as bad, if not worse, (and possibly, she seems to suggest, better). She wants to keep some kind of agency (not based upon a whole and individual self), materialism, and a feminism not based upon natural unity between women (contradiction is allowed in the “ironic cyborg myth”). Haraway perhaps isnt doing a lot that is new in this piece. What is interesting is the rhetorical strategy, the suggestion that an anti-science stance is unrealistic and ignores potential pleasures, and the potential value of science-fiction. Haraways cyborg probably wont fare well with many readers, who arent wanting to give up much of what Haraway points to as humanistic.
|Realism and modernism
||Biotic component, code
||Play of signifiers
|Biology as clinical practice
||Biology as inscription
| Microbiology, tuberculosis
|Organic division of labour
|Racial chain of being
||United Nations Humanism
||Fields of difference
|Second World War
|White capitalist patriarchy
||Informatics of domination
Here is the link to Harraway's manifesto itself.