Haraway, Donna

Assigned: Haraway, Donna. From “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s” (2043-65); from The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness (2065-71). Also read the editors’ introduction (2040-43).

From “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s” (1985)

An Ironic Dream of a Common Language for Women in the Integrated Circuit

1. On 2043-44 (“This essay is an effort to build…”), Donna Haraway declares that she wants to “build an ironic political myth faithful to feminism, socialism, and materialism” (2043), and compares her use of the analytic fiction, the “cyborg,” to a form of blasphemy. Why are both irony and blasphemy appropriate ways, in her view, of describing the means by which she builds her theory or myth? In what sense is she trying to avoid falling into the trap of either/or binary thinking or naïve faith in absolutes? What does Haraway apparently mean by the term “cyborg” (2044)? What is the dark side of this term in connection with certain aspects of modern experience, such as war and industrial production? (2044)

2. On 2044-46 (“By the late twentieth century…”), Haraway offers a more nuanced delineation of the term “cyborg” and its uses within her theoretical framework. How does she explain her comment that modern human beings essentially confound the border between “machine and organism” (2044), and that they are in effect cyborgs? According to her, how does a great deal of modern Western politics and science involve a kind of “border war” between these two entities, “organism and machine…” (2044 bottom)? How does Haraway also outline the subversive potential of the cyborg myth in terms of its way of handling traditional dilemmas in philosophy and other fields? (2045-46)

3. On 2046-48 (“I will return to the science…”), Haraway suggests that there have been three “crucial boundary breakdowns” (2046) in the modern era, and on these pages, she discusses the first two: the first concerns “the boundary between human and animal” (2046), and the second has to do with the boundary between “animal-human (organism) and machine” (2046). What evidence does she offer for each breakdown, and what consequences of these breakdowns does she identify? In particular, what is the connection between the second breakdown and the increasing “[t]extualization” (2047) of nearly every area of human endeavor? On what basis does Haraway partly defend this practice of textualization? (2047-48)

4. On 2048-49 (“The third distinction is a subset…”), Haraway discusses the third of three “crucial boundary breakdowns” in the modern era: this one involves “the boundary between physical and non-physical…” (2048). How does she characterize the nature and implications of “microelectronic devices” (2048) in the late twentieth century? In what sense do these devices; i.e., computers and other sophisticated electronic devices, challenge the distinction between what is physical and what is not? What dangers and opportunities do they present? Finally, how does Haraway describe the most common socialist and feminist view of the “boundary breakdowns” that she has been describing, and to what extent does she agree or disagree with that view? (2049)

5. On 2049-50 (“From one perspective, a cyborg…”), Haraway offers a dual vision of what “a cyborg world” (2049) portends for humanity. How does she characterize both visions, the ominous and negative as well as the positive? Why is it necessary, in her view, “to see from both perspectives at once…” (2049 bottom)? In what sense, for Haraway, is the “Livermore Action Group” of protesters against the Livermore Laboratory in Northern California an example of “a cyborg society” (2050) that might challenge the ominous power of a militarized technology?

Fractured Identities

6. On 2050-52 (“It has become difficult to…”), Haraway criticizes the longstanding feminist and radical notion that a unified collective identity or consciousness must be the goal if progress is to be made. On what basis does she offer this critique—what problem besets the search for such an identity as “woman”? (2050-51) Why does Haraway reject theories grounded in what she calls “[i]nnocence, and the corollary insistence on victimhood as the only ground for insight…” (2051)? How does she describe the efforts of “[c]yborg feminists” (2051) with regard to the search for female “unity”? What analysis does Haraway also go on to offer with respect to the Marxist emphasis on labor and the correspondent socialist-feminist emphasis on motherhood and domestic tasks as labor? (2051-52)

The Informatics of Domination

7. On 2052-54 (“In this attempt at an…”), Haraway writes that people in her time “are living through a movement from an organic, industrial society to a polymorphous, information system…” (2052). How does she draw out the implications of the list of transformations or “dichotomies” (2052) that she provides on 2052-53? In what sense are these dichotomies different from either binary oppositions (i.e., mutually exclusive opposites) or appeals to some natural order of things on either side of the list?

8. On 2054 (“One should expect control…”), Haraway focuses on “some important inadequacies in feminist analysis” that remains mired in an outdated habit of analyzing discourse in terms of “organic, hierarchical dualisms” rather than adopting a contemporary approach. In her view, if one is to understand “[t]he actual situation of women” with accuracy, what adjustment to feminist theory is necessary? What is the importance of the cyborg myth in this regard?

9. On 2055-57 (“Communications technologies and…”), Haraway addresses the transformative power over the human body of “[c]ommunications technologies and biotechnologies…” (2055). How does such technology, according to her, result in “the translation of the world into a problem of coding…” (2055)? What examples of this change does she provide, and what tends to happen when a system such as biology becomes “stressed” (2055)? Finally, what examples drawn from “a mundane, largely economic reality” (2056) does Haraway draw upon to illustrate the great power of biotechnologies as well as communications technologies involving microelectronics?

The Homework Economy         

10. On 2057-58 (“The ‘New Industrial Revolution’ is…”), writing in 1985, Haraway considers a key aspect of the contemporary worldwide economy: namely, how it has produced “a new worldwide working class” that seems to consist of nearly all workers. How does she use Richard Gordon’s term “the homework economy” (2057) to illustrate this new kind of economy and working class? In what sense is that class, according to Haraway, “feminized” (2057)? What does she suggest accounts for the effectiveness of this homework economy in stripping away the model that once provided “relatively privileged, mostly white, men’s unionized jobs” (2058) and replacing it with the new “feminized” working class?

11. On 2058-59 (“The new economic and technological…”), what additional factors involved in the “feminization” of the work force and in the perpetuation of poverty does Haraway identify? What kind of “demands” (2058) are being placed upon women in the new economic dispensation of the 1980s? With regard to the family as an institution, how does Haraway (citing Fredric Jameson) delineate the three major developments in the modern family structure? In spite of the generally unfavorable qualities of the contemporary “homework economy,” what opportunity for “alliances on issues of basic life support” (2059) does Haraway believe will become possible because of this economy’s harshness and the constraints it places on workers of all types?

12. On 2059-60 (“The new technologies also have…”), Haraway refers to a few more implications of the new biotechnologies and computer or “microelectronic” technologies of the 1980s. What effect does she suggest new technologies will have on the production of the world’s food crops, and why, in her view, will women fail to benefit from this development? In addition, what role do communications technologies (along with the economic factors she identifies) play in the increasing privatization of life and the diminishing significance of “public life” (2059)? Finally, how is the advance of new technologies, according to Haraway, likely to affect older concepts of sexuality and reproduction?

Women in the Integrated Circuit

13. On 2060-62 (“Let me summarize the picture…”), Haraway writes that she prefers to describe women’s positions within “advanced industrial societies” by means of “a  network ideological image,” or, more simply, “networking…” (2061). In her view, what is the advantage of this image as compared to the older distinction between women’s public and private existences? What grounds for optimism about the prospects for political and social change does Haraway suggest feminists should observe, and how is the union known as SEIU (Service Employees International Union) District 925 an example of how women can work together to bring about positive change? As part of your response, look up this union branch’s history and achievements online, and summarize them. (2061) In what sense, too, according to Haraway, should “politics designed to produce loyal American technocrats” (2062) be the source of considerable optimism for feminists and others who challenge the status quo?

Cyborgs: A Myth of Political Identity

14. On 2062-63 (“To recapitulate, certain dualisms…”), Haraway returns to the idea that certain “dualisms” or paired (“binary”) terms have long structured the ideology and practice of dominating all those who are viewed as “others” (2062). How, in her view, does “[h]igh-tech culture” (2062) oppose such dualisms and the domination they facilitate? According to Haraway, what are the traditional ways of looking at the relationship between human and machine, and why are they “obsolete, unnecessary” (2063)?

15. On 2063-65 (“Monsters have always defined the…”), Haraway offers some concluding thoughts on the value of the cyborg for the possibility of human transformation and of social and political change for the better. In what sense is a cyborg a sort of “monster” (2063), and why has the concept of the monster long held an important place in philosophical and social speculation? According to Haraway, how does the cyborg myth challenge the notion that “unvalued female activity” or experience is “theground of life” (2064)? How, too, does this concept of the cyborg frustrate tendencies to posit a “universal, totalizing theory” and to advance “an anti-science metaphysics…” (2064)? In sum, how is Haraway suggesting humans should take charge of their relationships to the science and technology of the late twentieth century and beyond? (2064-65)

16. General question: In “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s,” Donna Haraway emphasizes the potential of labor unions to advance the cause of women, people of color, and others who have not traditionally been allowed into the mostly white male circle that dominates American and European societies. She mentions SEIU (Service Employees International Union) District 925 as a positive example of how a union can change workers’ lives for the better. Do some research on the history of the American union movement from the 1980s to the present time—to what extent do unions still have the kind of potential that Haraway attributes to SEIU District 925? What factors have tended to limit the power of labor unions, and, in your view, what are the labor unions’ prospects going forward?

17. General question: In “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s,” Donna Haraway makes the optimistic claim that “We can be responsible for machines; they do not dominate or threaten us” (2064), and of course her concept of the “cyborg” is in part a figure for interrelations between human and machine that challenge oppressive hierarchies. It has been several decades since Haraway published her manifesto in 1985, so how do you assess the abovementioned statement about our capacity to be “responsible for machines” and to avoid being overwhelmed by them? To what extent has time either borne out Haraway’s claim or refuted it? Explain.

From The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness (2003)


1. On 2065-67 (“In ‘The Cyborg Manifesto,’ I tried…”), Donna Haraway writes that “dogs are not about oneself” (2065). What, then, are they “about,” in her view, especially with regard to their lives as companions with human beings? How does she begin to describe the long history that dogs, as “companion animals” (2066), share with human beings?

From Species

2. On 2067-68 (“‘Companion species’ is a bigger…”), Haraway writes that “[c]ompanion species” is a very complicated category. What “four tones” (2067) does she identify as a means of getting at the complexity of this term? What larger point about “inhabitants of techno-culture” (2068) does Haraway want to explore based upon her research into the relationship between human beings and companion animals? In what sense do animals and human beings reciprocally “hail” (2068) each other as being implicated in and responsible for each other’s lives?

3. On 2068-69 (“In this long philosophical introduction…”), How does Haraway describe the vital significance of turning the facts of the relationship between humans and companion species into a compelling story? How does she draw upon her own personal upbringing to contextualize her interest in this area of investigation?

4. On 2070 (“So, I file dog stories…”), Haraway writes that her “favorite trope for dog tales is ‘metaplasm’” (2070). How does she define this term, and how does she relate it to her interest in the history that dogs and humans share? In what sense does an older interest of Haraway’s, the cyborg, have a place in the universe inhabited by dogs and human beings—how are cyborgs in some manner also “companion species” (2070), and what sorts of questions arise when one considers the place they may have in the universe so described?

5. On 2070-71 (“So, in The Companion Species…”), How does Haraway describe the purpose of the storytelling she will do concerning the “relating in significant otherness” (2070 bottom) that happens between human beings and other companion species? Since she says that her goal is not to produce “systematic” knowledge about the topic, what is her goal?

6. General question: In our selection from The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness, Donna Haraway explains in brief the basis of her interest in the long and complicated history between humans and dogs. It seems obvious that even well into the twenty-first century, human beings’ ethics in relating to other species have a long way to go, but to what extent have we made progress in this regard? To what extent, that is, have human beings begun to think about their responsibilities towards other creatures and to conceptualize them as deserving of consideration? Can animals have “rights”? If so, how do you see that notion working in practical, everyday terms?

7. General question: Like Donna Haraway in our selection from The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness, Jacques Derrida turned late in his career to reflection on animals and their relationships to human beings. Read at least part of the Norton selection from his 2006 text The Animal That Therefore I Am (Leitch 1645-54), and set down your thoughts on the similarities and differences in the approaches taken by these two authors. One possible area to consider would be the manner in which both authors’ distrust of conventional “binary” thinking (the rigid opposition posited between human and animal is one instance of such thinking) structures their reflections, and another might be the extent to which human beings have, or have not, “evolved” with respect to their views and treatment of animals. But these things are optional; cover what you consider essential to an understanding of where the two authors agree or differ.

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

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