Haraway, D.: "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century"

Haraway, D. (2003). A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century. In R. Scharff & V. Dusek (Eds.), Philosophy of technology (pp. 429-450). Malden  MA: Blackwell Publishing. Originally published 1991.

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

Chapter goal: "to build an ironic political myth faithful to feminism, socialism, and materialism" (429). 


  • Irony: "contradictions that do not resolve into larger wholes, even dialectically...because both are all are necessary and true." Sees need for humor/'serious play,' especially within socialist-feminism. (429)
  • Cyborg: "cybernetic organism, hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction" (428).  Posits it has vital role in feminism/women's experience.

Premise: "The cyborg is a matter of fiction and lived experience that changes what countes as women's experience in the late twentieth century. This is a struggle over life and death, but the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion" (429).

"By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs" (430)

Both imagination and material reality, (notes opposing traditions, Western, patriarchal, appropriation of nature) cyborg represents the "border war" between "organism and machine" (430). What is interesting here is that the cyborg, in H's opinion, offers a potentially freeing opportunity, "the argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction....the most terrible and perhaps the most promising monsters in cyborg worlds are embodied in non-oedipal narratives with a different logic of repression, which we need to understand for our survival" (430).  

Cyborg is post-gender, no origin story, no beginnings rooted in unity and bliss--argues (citing Hilary Klein) that it is in the utopian creation myth from which concepts of difference and domination of woman/nature stem. "The cyborg is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity. It is oppositional, utopian, and completely without innocence" (430). What is at issue in cyborg world is relationships for forming wholes from parts; they are the "illegitimate offspring and 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" (430).

"Cyborgs are not reverent; they do not re-member the cosmos" (430).

Haraway identifies three crucial boundary breakdowns for her political-fictional (political-scientific) analysis:

  1. Boundary breach: human and animal. Humans are not "special" or "other" from animal. "Within this framework, teaching modern Christian creationism should be fought as a form of child abuse" (431).
  2. "Leaky distinction" between animal-human (organism) and machine. Past assumption that machines were not self-moving, self-designing, or autonomous (qte). "Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frightfully inert" (431). Also manifested through textualization. Certainty of what counts as nature undermined. "The transcendent authorization of interpretation is lost, and with it the ontology grounding 'Western' epistemology" (431). Claims that defining cyborg identity essential to human survival. 
  3. Boundary between physical and non-physical imprecise. ("Our best machines are made of sunshine; they are all light and clean because they are nothing but signals..." (431). These machines so "deadly" because "as hard to see politically as materially. They are about consciousness--or its simulation" (432). Describes engineers in terms worthy of priests in mystery cults.

Haraway's premises for the cyborg myth:

  • most American socialists and feminists see deepened dualisms (mind/body, animal/machine, idealism/materialism) in high tech culture.
  • recognizes impending need for unity for resisting domination, but argues that perspective shift may be more effective

"From one perspective, a cyborg world is about the final imposition of a grid of control on the planet, about the final abstraction embodied in a Star Wars apocalypse waged in the name of defence, about the final appropriation of women's bodies in a masculinist orgy of war (Sofia, 1984). From another perspective, a cyborg world might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints" (432).

The Informatics of Domination

Argues "for a politics rooted in claims about fundamental changes in the nature of class, race, and gender in an emerging system of world order analogous in its novelty and scope to that created by industrial capitalism; 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. Simultaneously materialand ideological, the dichotomies may be expressed by the...transitions from the comfortable old hierarchical dominations to the scary new networks I called the informatics of domination" (432).

Lists dichomoties, such as representation/simulation; public/private//fields of difference; mind/artificial intelligence (433). Not necessarily natural vs. artificial. H states not just god is dead, so is the goddess-- or both are brought back to life in this techno world. Sexual reproduction is even changed (think artificial insemination, etc.); f/x on family; unmasking the irrational. This includes notions of race, primative/civilized. 

"Any objects or persons can be reasonable thought of in terms of disassembly and reassembly; no 'natural' architectures constrain system design" (433).

Argues control strategies will focus on the borders (why do I think of Anzaldua here?), "boundary conditions and interfaces, on the rates of flow across boundaries--and not on the integrity of natural objects" (434). Often worked into bottom line (financially, socially, benefitting power structure). The cyborg "simulates" politics. Interfaced.

Points out how this analysis prepares us to see deficiencies in feminist analysis. The dichotomies are all in question ideologically.

"The actual situation of women is their integration/exploration into a world system of production/reproduction and communication called the informatics of domination" (434).

Places route of reconstucting socialist-feminist politics is through addressing social relations of science and technology, including myths/meanings structuring our imagination (close para). "It is the self feminists must code" (434).

Communications tech and biotech "recrafting" our bodies. "Indeed, myth and tool mutually constituted each other" (434).

"Furthermore, communications sciences and modern biologies are constructed by a common move--the translation of 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" (434).

Translation of the world into a problem of coding. Language and control > the flow of information > power. Coding= genetic coding, immunibiology, etc. "In a sense, organisms have ceased to exist as objects of knowledge, giving way to basic components, i.e., special kinds of information-processing devices" (435).

Coding extends to the economic reality: reliance upon electronics for all facets of life. "Microelectronics" mediates labor>word processing, sex>genetic engineering, mind>artificial intelligence. 

Rachel Grossman's image of women in the integrated circuit: used to "name the situation of women in a world so intimately restructured through the social relations of science and technology" (435). These are relationships, not determinism. Science and tech provide "fresh sources of power" that call for "fresh sources of analysis and political action" (435). Socialist-feminism can use this for progressive politics.

The "Homework Economy" Outside "the Home"

New Industrial Revolution (tech revolution?) creating a new working class. Women's lives structured around employment, putting off reproduction, distance. Gordon calls "homework economy" (though G relates it to electronic assembly). Work is being redefined as both literally female and feminized, whether performed by men or women (436). 

"To be feminized means to be made extremely vulnerable; able to be disassembled, reassembled, exploited as a reserve labour force; seen less as workers than as servers; subjected to time arrangements on and off the paid job that make a mockery of a limited work day; leading an existence that always borders on being obscene, out of place, and reducible to sex" (436)

Factory/home/market integrated on new scale; places of women crucial and need to be analyzed. Homework economy is made possible by the new technologies. Consequences: loss of family (male) wage and character of jobs (becoming more capital-intensive). Related to collapsing welfare state, increasing demands on women to sustain daily life for selves and multiple dependents > feminization of poverty. 

Argues that the forms of families (however idealized) relate to these forms of capital /politics/culture: the patriarchal nuclear family; the 'modern' family, mediated by welfare state/institutions; the 'family' of the homework economy, "with its oxymoronic structure of women-headed households and its explosion of feminisms and the paradoxical intensification and erosion of gender itself" (437). The issues surrounding homework economy family:

  • Context of projections for world-wide structural unemployment; failure to generate/maintain "male" jobs, feminization of work.
  • Effects on hunger/food production: women produce half of world's subsistence food, generally excluded from high-tech commodification of food and energy crops.
  • Privatization: Militarization, right-wing politics/ideologies, definitions of corporate/state property as privatized synergestically interact (437). Eradication of private life, installation of high-tech military establishment at expense of most, especially women.
  • Entertainment technologies: video games, tv-- "high-tech, gendered imaginations are produced here, imaginations that can contemplate destruction of the planet and a sci-fi escape from its consequences" (437)
  • New tech and social relations of sex and reproduction: body as a kind of private satisfaction and utility-maximizing machine. The interpretation of the body in medicine (feminism)
  • "Reformulation of expectations, culture, work, and reproduction for the large scientific and technical work-force" (437). Concern is the "bimodal" social structure with unempowered confined to homework economy, controlled by high tech structures (437-38).

Haraway asks what can be the strategies for change, posing several questions to her readers (438).

Women in the Integrated Circuit

Questions whether it was ever possible to use the public/private dichotomy to characterize women's lives, but now a "totally misleading ideology" (438). Prefers the network metaphor. Tracing one vision of women's "place" in the integrated circuit, from the idealized POV of advanced capitalist societies. "I want to suggest the impact of the social relations mediated and enforced by the new technologies in order to help formulate the needed analysis and practical work. However, there is no 'place' for women in these networks, only geometrics of difference and contradiction crucual to women's cyborg identities" (438). Understand, learn, develop new "couplings" and "coalitions."

  • home
  • market
  • paid work place
  • state
  • school
  • clinic-hospital
  • church

In essence, Haraway is demonstrating that women, the unempowered, have little to lose as the current boundaries are breached, but potentially have much to gain. "It is crucial to remember what is lost, perhaps especially from women's points of view, is often virulent forms of oppression, nostalgically naturalized in the face of current violation" (439-40).

Cyborgs: A Myth of Political Identity

Conclusion: "a myth about identity and boundaries which might inform late twentieth-century political imaginations" (440).

Discusses writing the body; looks to two overlapping groups of texts (those of women of color and those of fem sci fi) for insight "into the construction of a potentially helpful cyborg myth" (440).

Women of color: fusions of outsider identities and "complex political-historical layerings" (440). Cites Lorde's Sister Outsider; for Haraway S.O. is offshore labor, feminized, threatening women. Role of literacy, often at first a rebellion, potentially deadly.

  • "Cyborg writing must not be about the Fall, the imagination of a once-upon-a-time wholeness before language, before writing, before Man. Cyborg writing is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on  the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that has marked them as other" (441).
  • "Feminist cyborg stories have the task of recoding communication and intelligence to subvert command and control" (441). Discusses Cherrie Moraga-- reminiscent of Anzaldua. 
  • "Writing is pre-eminently the technology of cyborgs, etched surfaces of the late twentieth-century. Cyborg politics is 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...'We' did not originally choose to be cyborgs, but choice grounds a liberal politics and epistemology that imagines the reproduction of individuals before the wider replications of 'texts'" (442).
  • Returns to concept of the Fall and how the utopian feminist view disregards the reproductive politics that make Eden less "ideal" for women.
  • High-tech culture challenges the dualisms, the distinctions. Our sense of connection to tools is heightened--why should our bodies end at the skin (443)? 
  • "We don't need organic holism to give impermeable wholeness, the total woman and her feminist variants (mutants?)" (443).

Feminist SciFi: Boundaries of race, gender, time breached; animal/human hybridity. References Female Man, Wild Seed, etc. Cyborg monsters in fem sci fi often "define quite different political possibilities and limits from those proposed by the mundane fiction of Man and Woman" (444). 

What can be gained from seeing cyborg as other than enemy? Haraway provides a litany (in many ways repeated from earlier): cyborg is without the issues of identity, without the need to return to the "whole," not to be animated, for it is us. We are responsible for the machines, for our boundaries. Rethinking of sex and gender (and with it, of the cultural limitations imposed). "race, gender, and capital require a cyborg theory of wholes and parts" (444). 

"Cyborg imagery can help express two crucial arguments in this essay: first, the production of universal, totalizing theory is a major mistake that misses most of reality, probably always, but certainly now; and second, taking responsiblity for the social relations of science and technology means refusing an anti-science metaphysics, a demonology of technology, and so means embracing the skilful task of reconstructing the boundaries of daily life, in partial connection with others, in communication with all of our parts" (445). 

"I Would Rather Be a Cyborg Than a Goddess" (444).