Donna Haraway

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Donna Haraway : biography

September 6, 1944 –
  • cybernetic organism
  • hybrid of machine and organism
  • Creature of both fiction and lived social reality

Haraway’s cyborg is an attempt to break away from Oedipal narratives and Christian origin myths like Genesis. She writes, "The cyborg does not dream of community on the model of the organic family, this time without the oedipal project. The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust."

As a postmodern feminist, she argues against essentialism, which she defines as "any theory that claims to identify a universal, transhistorical, necessary cause or constitution of gender identity or patriarchy" ("Feminist Epistemology"). Such theories, she argues, either exclude women who don’t conform to the theory and segregate them from "real women" or represent them as inferior.

Another form of feminism that Haraway is disputing is "a jurisprudence model of feminism made popular by the legal scholar and Marxist, Catharine MacKinnon" (Burow-Flak, 2000), who fought to outlaw pornography as a form of hate speech. Haraway argues that MacKinnon’s legalistic version of radical feminism assimilates all of women’s experiences into a particular identity, which ironically recapitulates the very Western ideologies that have contributed to the oppression of women. She writes, "It is factually and politically wrong to assimilate all of the diverse ‘moments’ or ‘conversations’ in recent women’s politics named radical feminism to MacKinnon’s version" (p. 158).

According to Haraway’s "Manifesto", "there is nothing about being female that naturally binds women together into a unified category. There is not even such a state as ‘being’ female, itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices" (p. 155). A cyborg does not require a stable, essentialist identity, argues Haraway, and feminists should consider creating coalitions based on "affinity" instead of identity. To ground her argument, Haraway analyzes the phrase "women of color", suggesting it as one possible example of affinity politics. Using a term coined by theorist Chela Sandoval, Haraway writes that "oppositional consciousness" is comparable with a cyborg politics, because rather than identity it stresses how affinity comes as a result of "otherness, difference, and specificity" (p. 156).

Cyborg feminism

In her updated essay "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century", in her book Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (1991), Haraway uses the cyborg metaphor to explain how fundamental contradictions in feminist theory and identity should be conjoined, rather than resolved, similar to the fusion of machine and organism in cyborgs. "A Cyborg Manifesto" is also an important feminist critique of capitalism.

The idea of the cyborg deconstructs binaries of control and lack of control over the body, object and subject, nature and culture, in ways that are useful in postmodern feminist thought. Haraway uses the metaphor of cyborg identity to expose ways that things considered natural, like human bodies, are not, but are constructed by our ideas about them. This has particular relevance to feminism, since Haraway believes women are often discussed or treated in ways that reduce them to bodies. Balsamo and Haraway’s ideas are also an important component of critiques of essentialist feminism and essentialism, as they subvert the idea of naturalness and of artificiality; the cyborg is a hybrid being.

According to Krista Scott:

Haraway feels that the cyborg myth has the potential for radical political action as it frees feminists from a desperate search for similarity with one another, since physical/epistemological boundary breaks can be extrapolated to political boundary crossings.