Cyborg Anthropology

Cyborg Anthropology is a discipline that studies the interaction between humans and technology from an anthropological perspective. The discipline is relatively new, but offers new insights into new technological developments and their effect on culture and society.

Unknown Engraver - Humani Victus Instrumenta - Ars Coquinaria.
Unknown Engraver - Humani Victus Instrumenta - Ars Coquinaria.

A Cyborg Manifesto

"A Cyborg Manifesto" is an essay by biologist and philosopher Donna J. Haraway. It was first published in 1985 in the journal Socialist Review, and has since appeared in two revised editions, the latest of which forms the basis of the English translation. The full title is "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century".

"A Cyborg Manifesto" was the first widely read academic text to explore the philosophical and sociological implications of the cyborg. A sub-focus group within the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in 1992 presented a paper entitled " Cyborg Anthropology", which quoted Haraway's "Manifesto". The group described cyborg anthropology as the study of how humans define humanity in relation to machines, as well as the study of science and technology as activities that can shape and be shaped by culture. includes studying the ways in which all people, including those who are not scientific experts, talk about and conceptualize technology. The subgroup was closely related to STS and the Society for the Social Studies of Science. More recently, Amber Case has been responsible for explaining the concept of cyborg anthropology to the general public. She believes that an important aspect of cyborg anthropology is the study of networks of information between humans and technology.

In the text, Haraway introduces the cyborg figure as a metaphor for the unsustainability of a number of common dichotomies in Western culture and thought: nature/culture, body/spirit, human/animal, animal/machine, reality/fiction. Although the cyborg is a product of this order - the result of the links between technology, science, power, language, family life - its emergence shows that the existing society contains at least as much destructive power as utopian potential. The Cyborg Manifesto critiques previous feminisms, particularly feminism's focus on identity politics, and calls for the formation of "affinity coalitions" as an alternative. In so doing, the cyborg is the embodiment of Haraway's desire for feminism to move beyond the constraints of traditional categories of gender, politics, and feminism. The manifesto is considered a milestone in the development of feminist and posthumanist theory.

Haraway writes:

"At the end of the twentieth century - our time, a mythic time - we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism, or more briefly, cyborgs. The cyborg is our ontology - it gives us our politics. The cyborg is a condensed image of both fantasy and material reality - the two centres that together structure every possibility of historical transformation. In the "Western" scientific and political traditions - the tradition of racist, male-dominated capitalism; the tradition of progress; the tradition of appropriating nature as a resource for the production of culture; the tradition of reproducing the self by mirroring the other - the relationship between organism and machine has been the subject of boundary disputes. What was at stake in that struggle were the territories of production, reproduction and imagination. This essay is an argument for the pleasure of blurring boundaries and for the responsibility of defining them."

Donna J. Haraway: "From Cyborgs to Companion Species".

Main points

Haraway begins the manifesto by explaining three elemental breaks since the 20th century, which have enabled her hybrid: the cyborg, is the breakdown of the divide between human and animal, animal-human and machine, and physical and non-physical. Evolution has blurred the line between human and animal, driven by cultural movements in favor of animals, machines are restlessly more alive and we terrifyingly inert, the lines between natural and artificial are ambiguous; and microelectronics and the political invisibility of cyborgs have blurred the lines of the physical.

Problems with Western patriarchal tenets

Haraway highlights the problematics and justifications of Western traditions such as patriarchy, colonialism, essentialism, and naturalism (among others). These traditions allow for the problematic formation of taxonomies and what Haraway calls, "antagonistic dualisms" that govern Western discourse. These dualisms, Haraway clarifies, "have all been systemic to the logics and practices of domination of women, people of color, nature, workers, animals...all who were constituted as others." He mentions that the most important dualisms are: self/other, mind/body, culture/nature, man/woman, civilized/primitive, reality/appearance, whole/part, agent/resource, builder/constructed, active/passive, good/evil, truth/illusion, total/partial, God/man. He explains that these dualisms are in competition with each other, creating paradoxical relations of domination. However, high-tech culture challenges these dualisms.

Cyborg Theory

Hataway's cyborg theory rejects notions of essentialism while proposing a chimerical, monstrous world of animal-machine fusions. The cyborg theory is supported by writings such as "the technology of cyborgs" and asserts that "The politics of cyborgs is the struggle for language and against perfect communication, against the code that translates all meanings to perfection, the central dogma of phallogocentrism." Instead, Haraway's cyborg calls for a non-essentialized, semiotic metaphor capable of uniting all political coalitions on planes of affinities rather than identities. Following Lacanian feminists such as Luce Irigaray, Haraway's work addresses the gap between feminist discourse and the dominant language of Western patriarchy. As Haraway explains, "grammar is politics by other means" and effective politics is only spoken in the language of domination.

As she details in a chart of the paradigmatic shifts from modern to postmodern epistemology within the Manifesto.

Criticism of traditional feminism

Haraway takes issue with some traditional feminists, this is reflected in comments describing how "women somehow sustain everyday life better, and so epistemologically have a potentially privileged position. "2 Traditional feminist views operate on the absolute premise that all men are one way, and women another, whereas "the cyborg theory of parts and wholes" does not wish to explain phenomena in a total theory. Haraway suggests that feminists should move beyond naturalism and essentialism, criticizing feminist tactics as "identity politics" that victimize those excluded, and proposes that it is better, strategically, to confuse identities.

Call to action

Haraway calls for a revision of the concept of gender, away from Western patriarchal essentialism and toward "the utopian dream of hope for a monstrous genderless world" clarifying that "Cyborgs may consider more seriously the partial, fluid aspect of sex and sexual embodiment. Gender, after all, might not be the overarching identity, even if it has historical breadth and depth." (review) Haraway also calls for a reconstruction of identity, no longer dictated by naturalism and taxonomy, but by affinity, in which individuals can construct their own groups by choice. In this way, groups could construct a "kind of post-modernist identity out of otherness, difference and specificity" as a way of countering Western traditions of exclusive identification.


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This page was last changed on 2021-09-21.