Comps 9: Cyborg Manifesto

Haraway, Donna. "A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s." Australian Feminist Studies 2.4 (1987): 1-42. Print. 

Donna Haraway introduces the cyborg as a new model for human experience and feminist politics. Speaking in the language of irony and blasphemy, the cyborg is “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature from fiction” (291). The brining together of a series binaries, dialectics, or assumed contractions is the major intervention of Haraway’s work; “ this chapter is an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries, and for the responsibility in their construction” (292). 

“We are cyborgs,” Haraway tells us. “The cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics” (292). The cyborg explores unlikely bedfellow and productive couplings that may happen in the breaking down of boundaries between fiction and material reality. She institutes 3 critical boundary breakdowns: (1) Animal and human: “the cyborg appears in the myth precisely where the boundary between human and animal is transgressed” (293); organism and machine: in a world where our machines are increasingly live, and humans increasingly inert, what good are the distinctions between machine and organism;  and physical and non-physical: “the ubiquity and invisibility of cyborgs is precisely why these sunshine-belt machines are so deadly. They are hard to see politically as materiality” (294). In transgressing these boundaries, and in “potent fusions” Haraway attempts to do progressive political work:

From another perspective, a cyborg world might be about lived social and body realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints. The political struggle is to see from both perspectives at once because each reveals both dominations and possibilities unimaginable from the other vantage point. … Single vision produces worse illusions than double vision or many-headed monsters. Cyborg unities are monitors and illegitimate; in our present political circumstance we could hardly hope for more potent myths for resistance an recoupling. 295

The crux of Haraways move away from binaries and boundaries is a move away from identification. She argues convincingly that categories of ‘feminist’ and ‘women’ have begun to be more exclusive than productive; that “taxonomies of feminism produce epistemologies to police deviation from official women’s experience” (297). She suggests a move together affinity over identification. In this, she strives for a socialist feminist model that includes and understands domestic labour, and one that does not see sexual objectification as marxian labour. It is deeply essentialist to see women as simply alienated from her product through the processes of objectification, as opposed to someone who “does not exist as a subject, or even a potential subject, since she owes her existence as a women to sexual appropriation” (299). Further, “there is not room for race (or much else) in theory claiming to reveal the construction of the category of women and social group women as a unified or totalizable whole” (299). 

Haraway suggests the network as a solution to the problem of generalizing feminist taxonomies. Her goal is to learn how to read webs of power and social life, what she terms the informatics of domination. As such, the dream for a common language is thrown out, and the mission of the “struggle for language, and the struggle against perfect communication, against the ode that translates all meaning perfectly, the central dogma of phallocentrism” (312). There is no goal to make a totalizing theory, but rather, an exploration of boundaries, and the building of a political language. 

In essence, cyborg politics/myths/imagery suggests two central arguement. First, that “the production of a universal, totalling theory is a major mistake that misses most of reality” (316). Second, that “taking responsibility for social relations of science and technology means refusing an anti-science metaphysics, a demonology of technology, ands means embracing the skilful task of reconstructing the boundaries of our daily life, in partial connection with others, in communication with all our parts” (316). 

This essay is a stark refusal of some of the feminist manifestos and politics of the 70s that sought to place women and female bodies in connection with the earth, nature and the goddess. These hugely essentializing, often white, feminist practices sought to demonize men, and make mythic the female body and its practices. Hearsay rejects this. She embraces difference. She asks for a politics that does not give answers, but rather dives into history of oppression to begin a new politics. A hybrid, cyborg politics. 

Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualism in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves. … an imagination of a feminist speaking in tongues to strike fear into the circuits of supersavers of the right. It means both building and destroying machines, identities, categories, relationships, space stories. Though both are bounded in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.


Why should our bodies end at the skin, or include at best other beings encapsulated by skin” (314).