Flo Carson

Flo Carson - Social Anthropologist, studying International Development at Sciences Po, Paris. I am slightly obsessed by gender, politics, media, human rights and global health. I've worked in Asia, Africa and Europe and keen to explore more of the world we live in. Take a look at my Twitter & Tumblr for my most recent posts. tly

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Cyborg Manifesto

Ashamed to admit it, but I only heard of Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto about a month ago. If you haven't read it yet, you must - and you can by clicking here.

Donna Haraway is a professor of science and technology studies and therefore not someone I would instantly assume to be able to forge a coherent, exciting essay on feminism, identity and modernity. However, I was promptly proved wrong. Particularly in a moment when intersectionality and privilege are increasingly being discussed in the public sphere, Haraway's article, written in 1991 appears more relevant than ever.

So, when I read the essay, it was a matter of dipping in and out, always alongside intense note taking. My interpretation of the essay, is probably quite subjective and academically incorrect. But here are the main things I took from it...
What is Haraway's Cyborg?This cyborg demands a de-essentialised, material-semiotic approach and existence that crosses and combines diverse political positions along lines of affinity as opposed to identity. The cyborg sits comfortably on the fence between man made and nature, it is a 'creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction'. However, I believe fiction is just as socially real. It is carefully constructed into existence in an imagination. Haraway goes on to mirror this point and insists that the 'boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion' anyway.  Haraway's cyborg is 'our ontology', but I think it could also be considered our 'phenomenology' too.

It is 'committed to partiality, irony, intimacy...', clearly smashing any conventional dualities which our brains are culturally instructed to think with.

'The silicon chip is a surface for writing'. I adore this quote. It reminds me of the importance for women to take up technology urgently. Without the ability to code, develop soft ware and hard ware, women will continue to lose. It also reminds us that technology doesn't have to be such a dry, structured thing. It can be creative, unique, and filled with potential. As Marshall McLuhan said, the 'medium is the message' and if women are incapable of creating that medium, then it leaves us voiceless.

Haraway insists that 'the new communication technologies are fundamental to the eradication of "public life" for everyone'. However, this leaves me confused. For me, these new technologies, make everything public. Meaning that it would be an erasure of the private life. Perhaps this is just a matter of blurring the dualities, and they are both left dissolved into one another. 

It is 'committed to partiality, irony, intimacy...', clearly smashing any conventional dualities which our brains are culturally instructed to think with.

Intersectionality & Feminism: 'Single vision produces worse illusions than double vision or many headed monsters' according to Haraway. 'The feminist dream of a common language... is a totalising and imperialist one'.

Haraway rightfully and explicitly mentions various ethnicities, backgrounds, economic and educational levels. This corresponds nicely with current debates on intersectionality. A singular, supposedly united voice of feminism is flawed, unproductive and incorrect. Whilst, I believe that internal arguments are divisive and unhelpful; feminism must concede and accept that we are all coming from such different backgrounds but that we all are pushing for equality. That's all feminism is fundamentally about anyway. Whilst privilege should be checked regularly , I personally don't think shouting down women who do have an opportunity to make lasting changes is helpful, especially if they are making an effort to raise other women's voices in the process. It would be idiotic to assume there is a single voice and vision of feminism. However, she ultimately insists that 'there are grounds for hope in the emerging bases for new kinds of unity across race, gender and class'. Let us accept this point and move forward with this optimistically, always in the back of our mind.

Following her Marxist basis, Haraway matches three kinds of society with three kinds of capitalism:
1) Early Industrial - Nationalism - Patriarchal nuclear family (white bourgeoisie)
2) Monopoly - Imperialism - Modern family, wage and welfare
3) Multinational - Multinationalism - Homework economy family, women headed households, feminism.

Haraway details the 'continued erosion of the welfare state, decentralisation with increased surveillance and control, citizenship by telematics.'
Haraway falls into the Marxist trap of reductionism; despite the various ethnicities, literacy levels, educational backgrounds and economic situations, Haraway assumes a universal and even move towards Multinationalism. Pockets within nations are still heavily insulated and isolated, they are aware there is an outside and they can access this more easily. But realistically, Indian villages with minimal infrastructure, water, electricity and no internet, certainly do not consider themselves multinational.

My favourite statements from the entire essay are: 'We are not responsible for boundaries, we are they' and 'I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess'.

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