Cyborg Manifesto — Donna Haraway (1983)

Cyborg Manifesto — Donna Haraway (1983)

“Michael Foucault’s biopolitics is a flaccid premonition of cyborg politics, a very open field.”

“The stakes in the border war have been the territories of production, reproduction, and imagination. This chapter is an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction.”
“the relation between organism and machine has been a border war. The stakes in the border war have been the territories of production, reproduction, and imagination.”
“a ‘final’ irony since the cyborg is also the awful apocalyptic telos of the ‘West’s’ escalating dominations of abstract individuation, an ultimate self untied at last from all dependency, a man in space. An origin story in the ‘Western’, humanist sense depends on the myth of original unity, fullness, bliss and terror, represented by the phallic mother from whom all humans must separate, the task of individual development and of history, the twin potent myths inscribed most powerfully for us in psychoanalysis and Marxism. Hilary Klein has argued that both Marxism and psychoanalysis, in their concepts of labour and of individuation and gender formation, depend on the plot of original unity out of which difference must be produced and enlisted in a drama of escalating domination of woman/nature. The cyborg skips the step of original unity, of identification with nature in the Western sense. This is its illegitimate promise that might lead to subversion of its teleology as star wars.” — this last sense in which the cyborg is, again, the fulfillment of a kind of knowledge of self — what Marx and Freud missed (that Simondon understood) is that there is not originary unity… — Hilary Manette Klein – Feminist Studies – Vol. 15, No. 2, The Problematics of Heterosexuality (Summer, 1989), pp. 255-278
“The main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism. But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers, after all, are inessential.”
Charting Three Breakdowns

  • ANIMAL <> MAN — “By the late twentieth century in United States scientific culture, the boundary between human and animal is thoroughly breached. The last beachheads of uniqueness have been polluted if not turned into amusement parks–language tool use, social behaviour, mental events, nothing really convincingly settles the separation of human and animal. And many people no longer feel the need for such a separation; indeed, many branches of feminist culture affirm the pleasure of connection of human and other living creatures. Movements for animal rights are not irrational denials of human uniqueness; they are a clear-sighted recognition of connection across the discredited breach of nature and culture. Biology and evolutionary theory over the last two centuries have simultaneously produced modern organisms as objects of knowledge and reduced the line between humans and animals to a faint trace re-etched in ideological struggle or professional disputes between life and social science. Within this framework, teaching modern Christian creationism should be fought as a form of child abuse.”
  • ANIMAL <> TECHNOLOGY — Pre-cybernetic machines could be haunted; there was always the spectre of the ghost in the machine. This dualism structured the dialogue between materialism and idealism that was settled by a dialectical progeny, called spirit or history, according to taste. But basically machines were not self-moving, self-designing, autonomous. They could not achieve man’s dream, only mock it. They were not man, an author to himself, but only a caricature of that masculinist reproductive dream. To think they were otherwise was paranoid. Now we are not so sure. Late twentieth-century machines have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and art)ficial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed, and many other distinctions that used to apply to organisms and machines. Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert.
  • PHYSICAL <> NONPHYSICAL — ” Modern machines are quintessen- tially microelectronic devices: they are everywhere and they are invisible.”
    • The silicon chip is a surface for writing; it is etched in molecular scales disturbed only by atomic noise, the ultimate interference for nuclear scores. Writing, power and tech- nology are old partners in Western stories of the origin of civilization, but miniaturization has changed our experience of mechanism.
    • 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 – a matter of immense human pain in Detroit and Singapore.”
      • Transparency and knowledge – something can become invisible because its a closed black box, and something can become invisible because its too open, sunshine, light…


  • “However, a woman is not simply alienated from her product, but in a deep sense does not exist as a subject, or even potential subject, since she owes her existence as a woman to sexual appropriation. To be constituted by another’s desire is not the same thing as to be alienated in the violent separation of the labourer from his product.”
  • “It is no accident that the symbolic system of the family of man and so the essence of woman breaks up at the same moment that networks of connection among people on the planet are unprecedentedly multiple, preg- nant and complex. ‘Advanced capitalism’ is inadequate to convey the structure of this historical moment.”
  • “Some differences are playful; some are poles of world historical systems of domination. ‘Epistemology’ is about knowing the difference.”

The Informatics of Domination

  • “we are living through a movement from an organic, industrial society to a polymorphous, information system from all work to all play, a deadly game.”
  • The cyborg is not subject to Foucault’s biopolitics; the cyborg simulates politics, a much more potent field of operations.”
  • “Technologies and scientific discourses can be partially understood as formalizations, i.e. as frozen moments, of the fluid social interactions constituting them, but they should also be viewed as instruments for enforcing meanings. The boundary is permeable between tool and myth, instrument and concept, historical systems of social relations and historical anatomies of possible bodies, including objects of knowledge. Indeed, myth and tool mutually constitute each other.”
  • Furthermore, communications sciences and modern biologies are constructed by a common move the translation the world into a problem of coding, a search for a common language in which all resistance to instrumental control disappears and all heterogeneity can be submitted to disassembly, reassembly, investment and exchange.
    • communications sciences, the translation of the world into a problem in coding can be illustrated by looking at cybernetic (feedback-controlled) systems theories applied to telephone technology, computer design, weapons deployment or database construc- tion and maintenance. In each case, solution to the key questions rests on a theory of language and control; the key operation is determining the rates, directions and prob- abilities of flow of a quantity called information. The world is subdivided by boundaries differentially permeable to information. Information is just that kind of quantifiable element (unit, base of unity) which allows universal translation, and so unhindered instru- mental power (called effective communication). The biggest threat to such power is interruption of communication. Any system breakdown is a function of stress. The funda- mentals of this technology can be condensed into the metaphor C3I, command-control- communication-intelligence, the military’s symbol for its operations theory.
  • Communications technologies depend on electronics. Modern states, multi- national corporations, military power, welfare state apparatuses, satellite systems, political processes, fabrication of our imaginations, labour-control systems, medical constructions of our bodies, commercial pornography, the international division oflabour and religious evangelism depend intimately upon electronics. Microelectronics is the technical basis of simulacra; that is, of copies without originals. Microelectronics mediates the translations of labour into robotics and word process- ing, sex into genetic engineering and reproductive technologies, and mind into artificial intelligence and decision procedures.

The ‘homework economy’ outside ‘the home’

  • “The extreme mobility of capital and the emerging international division of labour are intertwined with the emergence of new collectivities, and the weakening of familiar groupings.”
  • “In the prototypical Silicon Valley, many women’s lives have been structured around employment in elcctronics- dependent jobs, and their intimate realities include serial heterosexual monogamy, negotiating childcare, distance from extended kin or most other forms of traditional community, a high likelihood of loneliness and extreme economic vulnerability as they age.”
  • Gordon, Richard, and Linda M. Kimball. “High technology, employment and the challenges to education.” Prometheus 3.2 (1985): 315-330.
  • “To be feminized means to be made extremely vulner- able; able to be disassembled, reassembled, exploited as a reserve labour force… factory, home and market are integrated on a new scale and that the places of women are crucial and need to be analysed for differ- l’nces among women and for meanings for relations between men and women in various situations.”
  • “The homework economy as a world capitalist organizational structure is made possible by (not caused by) the new technologies. The success of the attack on rela- tively privileged, mostly white, men’s unionized jobs is tied to the power of the new communications technologies to integrate and control labour despite extensive disper- sion and decentralization. The consequences of the new technologies are felt by women both in the loss of the family (male) wage (if they ever had access to this white privi- lege) and in the character of their own jobs, which are becoming capital-intensive; for example, office work and nursing.”

  • “Technologies like video games and highly miniatur- ized televisions seem crucial to production of modern forms of ‘private life.”
    • Books, etc., did the same no?

Cyborgs: a myth of political identity

  • “Cyborg politics is the struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication, against the one code that translates all meaning perfectly, the central dogma of phallogocentrism.”
  • “Cyborg politics is the struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication, against the one code that translates all meaning perfectly, the central dogma of phallogocentrism. That is why cyborg politics insist on noise and advocate pollution, rejoicing in the illegitimate fusions of animal and machine.”
  • Anne McCaffrey’ s pre-feminist The Ship Who Sang (1969) explored the consciousness of a cyborg, hybrid of girl’s brain and complex machinery, formed after the birth of a severely handicapped child. Gender, sexuality, embodiment, skill: all were reconstituted in the story. Why should our bodies end at the skin, or include at best other beings encapsulated by skin?
    • The Bateson example of the blind man with the stick: IN STEPS TO AN ECOLOGY OF MIND, THE ANTHROPOLOGIST and scientist Gregory Bateson repeatedly uses a simple example to chal- lenge taken-for-granted assumptions about the body and the self. Consider, he says, a blind man with a stick. “Where,” Bateson asks, “does the blind man’s self begin? At the tip of the stick? At the handle of the stick? Or at some point halfway up the stick?” (Davis, Joseph E. “If the ‘Human’ Is Finished, What Comes Next?: a Review Essay.” (2007): 1–16. Print.)

Intense pleasure in skill, machine skill, ceases to be a sin, but an aspect of embodiment. The machine is not an it to be animated, worshipped and dominated. The machine is us, our processes, an aspect of our embodiment. We can be responsible for machines; they do not dominate m· threaten us. We are responsible for boundaries; we are they” – P 315

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