The Cyborg Today

In her essay, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century”, Donna Haraway embraces the dissolution of boundaries between human and machine in the technological age as grounds for creating a new politics. Haraway offers the image of the cyborg as an “ironic myth” that inspires new ways of approaching and reformulating social relations. Like other emerging third-wave feminists of the time, Haraway rejects identity politics that actually reify the oppressive dualities of race, class, and gender by imposing identities. According to Haraway, every attempt at definition by necessity fixes and delimits the object. She says, for example, “Consciousness of exclusion through naming is acute… There is nothing about being ‘female’ that naturally binds women” (155). The cyborg, by contrast, embodies the increasing interconnections between human and machines and does away with the old dualisms, especially of natural/artificial and mind/body. In this imaginary, according to Haraway, the confusion of such categories and dissolution of identity creates an opportunity for new coalitions. Haraway therefore proposes that we base a politics on affinity, where people can construct their own groups by choice. At the time, this argument critiqued common feminist articulations of technology as a destructive force. Here (and this is where the irony comes in), Haraway presents the cyborg as a figure that, in its monstrosity, creates a potential for new politics that searches for “pleasure in the confusion of boundaries” (150).

After finishing this essay, my first reaction was to marvel at Haraway’s vision and hope for technology’s potential to unite human beings, especially since this vision was articulated well before the popularization of the internet as a means of connectivity and communication. Of course, Haraway is careful to point out and explain at length the “intensification of insecurity and cultural impoverishment, with common failure of subsistence networks for the most vulnerable” that results from the socio-economic situation created by the digital revolution (172). Here, she emphasizes the the exploitation of women of color in supplying the labor. But she remains optimistic, asserting that “there are grounds for hope in the emerging bases for new kinds of unity across race, gender, and class” (173).

Taking up Haraway’s call, I’m going to draw attention to a digital project at the GC that engages the dissolution of binaries. I this this is a particularly useful provocation for our class, since we are now beginning to conceptualize our own projects, and we could benefit from taking Haraway’s ideas as inspiration for examining other student projects. How might we look at projects as engaging or enacting a politics related to the cyborg myth? After searching the various projects on the New Media Lab website, I was particularly interested in Nora Goldman’s work on gender expression in social media. Goldman, a Linguistics PhD student and New Media Fellow, scrapes twitter for language patterns in her project, “Language and Gender in the Online Feminist Movement”. In her introduction, Goldman points out that “When the Internet first became publicly available, some theorized that it would serve as an equalizing medium of communication. If we have no visual or audio cues when communicating, the thinking went, all of our prejudices and insecurities related to our social identity become irrelevant, allowing for a truly egalitarian linguistic exchange.” However, her project questions evaluates whether twitter exhibits the “same stereotypical gender patterns as any other mode of communication.” Here, Goldman might call to mind Haraway’s assertion that “cyborg politics is the struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication” (176). We don’t have access to Goldman’s results, but we might still comment on the potential for technology (such as social media) to create the space for unity through coalition. Given your own social media experience and Goldman’s hypothesis, where can we recognize this unity or harness the potential for coalition? Perhaps in the hashtag? (I’m only half-joking)

2 thoughts on “The Cyborg Today

  1. I was thinking of Haraway and social media in her 1991 take on communications technology. She writes that “the new communications technologies are fundamental to the eradication of ‘public life’ for everyone.” It’s possible my margin comment was “LOL.” And guess what, even with public lives for everyone who chooses them (and then some), our imaginations are still militarized. I wish that online intimacies bred altruistic communities, but that doesn’t seem to be so, except in isolated pods of commonalities.

    I am interested in Goldman’s study, but with all the other reading for this week will not take the time to examine it. Instead, I have a provocation of my own. I’m interested in the fact that the week we are studying bodies is the one week our readings are all by or about women writers. The rest of the semester women thinkers are less represented on our syllabus. Are women at their (our)* best when writing about bodies? Do they self-isolate on physical/sensual topics?

    *I’m echoing Haraway’s connecting herself with her identities in the chapter, e.g., “I think that radical and socialist/Marxist-feminisms have also undermined their/our own epistemological strategies…” (emphasis added)

    While hunting for the “their/our” example in the chapter, searching on the “/” symbol, I discovered Haraway is a heavy user of the slash, a way of further combining identities (and something I do a lot, too, but hadn’t considered). I would like to explore how merging words/concepts/identities relates to Haraway’s cyborg theory and consider words as machines/animate objects. I’m also interested in her bringing fiction writers (science fiction, but to me the key is that they’re fiction writers) into her argument, which feels humanizing and comfort making. Maybe in class. Gotta go read Hayles and Nakamura now!

  2. I also noticed Haraway’s frequent use of the / and that I too use it frequently myself, as Jenna noted.

    Filipa cites one of Haraway’s central ideas: “There is nothing about being ‘female’ that binds women.” The next sentence reads: “There is not even such a state as ‘being’ female…” So why, then, as the paragraph continues, does Haraway describe herself as “white, professional, female…”? Does she write and intend this in the context of “historical location”? I’d like to understand Haraway’s process in this particular paragraph and the “Fractured Identities” section.

    I toured the various projects on the New Media Lab website and found them all very intriguing, and will mull how they apply to the reading/s. (n.b. /!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *