A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late 20th Century

Haraway D. (2006) A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late 20th Century. In: Weiss J., Nolan J., Hunsinger J., Trifonas P. (eds) The International Handbook of Virtual Learning Environments. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-3803-7_4

The Cyborg Manifesto is an pivotal essay in posthumanist theory. The cyborg is a rejection of the rigid boundaries between human, animal, and machine. The divide between human and animal has been blurred by evolution; the divide between human and machine has been blurred by the 20th century; and the divide between physical and non-physical has been blurred by digital technologies. A cyborg theory rejects essentialism and proposes a fusion between animal and machine. "A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction" (pg. 117).

It is a critique of identity politics in traditional feminism and embraces a coalitional affinity feminism instead, where people construct group identity for themselves rather than through political power. She proposes a world where resistance to Western identification involves constructing one's own "post-modernist identity out of otherness, difference, and specificity." Antagonistic dualisms inherently construct a Dominant and an Other. For example, the antagonistic dualism between man/woman. She criticizes radical feminist thought which posits woman as wholly oppositional to man, only existing because of how men have constructed them. "Painful fragmentation among feminists (not to mention among women) along every possible fault line has made the concept of woman elusive, an excuse for the matrix of women’s dominations of each other ... The recent history for much of the US left and US feminism has been a response to this kind of crisis by endless splitting and searches for a new essential unity" (pg. 122-123). In criticizing radical, liberal, and socialist feminism, she writes: "Literally, all other feminisms are either incorporated or marginalized, usually by building an explicit ontology and epistemology.10 Taxonomies of feminism produce epistemologies to police deviation from official women’s experience" (pg. 124).

In discussing the failure of Western feminism, she writes: "The theoretical and practical struggle against unity-through-domination or unity-through-incorporation ironically not only undermines the justifications for patriarchy, colonialism, humanism, positivism, essentialism, scientism, and other unlamented -isms, but all claims for an organic or natural standpoint. I think that radical and socialist/Marxist-feminisms have also undermined their/our own epistemological strategies and that this is a crucially valuable step in imagining possible unities. It remains to be seen whether all “epistemologies” as Western political people have known them fail us in the task to build effective affinities" (pg. 124).

She criticizes Catharine A. MacKinnon's radical feminism in its essentialist and reductionist quality. MacKinnon's approach looked not at Marxist class but at gender/sex as a product of patriarchy, where men appropriate women sexually. The construction of woman is inherently one of another's (men's) desire. Sexual objectification is the consequence of the construction of sex/gender; existence as women is sexual appropriation. Haraway calls this theory "totalizing in the extreme," "obliterat[ing] the authority of any other women’s political speech and action" (pg. 126). She damns it as "even more authoritarian doctrine of experience" (pg. 126). In these feminisms, Haraway calls out the "embarassed silence" on issues of race: "There was no structural room for race (or for much else) in theory claiming to reveal the construction of the category woman and social group women as a unified or totalizable whole" (pg. 127).

She describes the new labor economy, Richard Gordon's "homework economy," which has resulted in a feminization of all labor. "Work is being redefined as both literally female and feminized, whether performed by men or women. To be feminized means to be made extremely vulnerable; able to be disassembled, reassembled, exploited as a reserve labor 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" (pg. 133). This new world order of capitalism is made possible because of new technologies and how they enable control of even dispersed labor. New technologies are deeply entrenched in privatization, the synthesis of "militarization, right-wing family ideologies and policies, and intensified definitions of corporate (and state) property as private" (pg. 135).

These new technologies impact the social relations of sexuality and reproduction, viewing the body as a utility-maximizing machine. She calls for a socialist-feminist engagement with science and technology and how it shapes and interacts with politics. The figure of the cyborg urges feminism to move beyond traditional gender politics. She hopes for "the utopian dream of the hope for a monstrous world without gender." She argues that a cyborg imagery can help with two things: "First, the production of universal, totalizing theory is a major mistake that misses most of reality ... and second, taking responsibility 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 ... Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves" (pg. 147).