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A Cyborg Manifesto

Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century

by Donna Haraway

Last tended to June 18, 2020

Donna Haraway defines a cyborg as "a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction"

They are "creatures simultaneously animal and machine, who populate worlds ambiguously natural and crafted" Haraway suggests the idea of a cyborg is useful to think with "as a fiction mapping our social and bodily" an imaginative resource to play with.

She suggests that in our current times (she wrote this in the late 1980s) "we are all chimeras; theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism"

Throughout the history of western science and politics, the division with organisms and machines has been a "border war"

This war emerges from the same traditions that brought us racism, sexism, capitalist gender divisions, the idea of "progress," the appropriation of nature as a resource for culture, and a tendency to reproduce the self from the reflections of The Other

She's arguing we should loosen up and do some serious play in these boundaries. To treat them with some much needed ironic humour. Take pleasure in their confusion, and responsibility for their reconstruction.

For Haraway, the idea of the cyborg is useful for exploring a "post-gender world". She claims Cyborgs don't have much of an origin story in the West, which is ironic, given how obsessed we are with becoming floating minds freed from bodily inconveniences.

The idea of the cyborg forces us to rethink our presumed categories of "nature" and "culture". It breaks our cultural assumption that nature exists as a raw material resource for us transform into culture.

In fact It breaks us out of a whole range of Cultural Dichotomies; it doesn't fit neatly into gender labour roles, it's not part of the nuclear family, it's not in the bible, it's not wholly from the earth, and not wholly created by humans, it doesn't have race or a history of colonialism. It's like an escape hatch from our problematic historical legacy.

"The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust"

One of the issues with the idea of Cyborgs is so far they've been framed as militaristic macho males fighting for patriarchal capitalism or socialism. "But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins."

The only cultural images we can conjure up are the terminator, minority report, or the oversexualised women of Ex Machina. Where are the films about podgy middle-aged cyborg mothers?

Haraway points out the crucial boundary breakdowns that make Cyborgs possible:

  1. Humans and animals
  2. Animal-humans (living organisms) and machines
  3. Physical and non physical

As Haraway puts it, “our best machines are made of sunshine; they are all light and clean because they are nothing but signals, electromagnetic waves, a section of a spectrum, and these machines are eminently portable, mobile... people are nowhere near so fluid, being both material and opaque Cyborgs are ether, quintessence.” This observation links to the larger pattern of ubiquitous invisibility that we recognise as a common aspect of modern technology, a lack of materiality that leads us to think of Cyborgs as “floating signifiers".

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Maggie Appleton © 2020