Tag Archives: cyborg

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Haraway (reposted)

Hi ITP crew-

I posted this in the Forum, but thought perhaps I ought to put it here. (The internet is for redundancy? Or at least forgives it to an alarming degree?)

Art attribution… somewhat difficult to track. The image is linked to its url, but I pulled this off a google search and found it floating around a number of sites.

“This chapter is an effort to build an ironic political myth faithful to feminism, socialism, and materialism” Donna J. Haraway (149).

Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto (first published in Socialist Review in 1985, then included as a chapter in 1991) is a great place to start deepening our conversation from last week. Not only do her concerns express fundamental conditions of current trends in theorizing the digital, her writing style manifests the blurred boundaries of the organic and the mechanical she describes.

The way Haraway so fluidly metastasizes metaphor and science corresponds with her mission of myth making. She writes in images and with wry allusion (“other than a shroud for the day after the apocalypse that so prophetically ends salvation history” (158)). The politics Haraway argues for reorganizes “world-wide social relations tied to science and technology” (161), identifying dichotomies that mark the transition from “comfortable old hierarchical dominations” to “scary new networks” she calls “informatics of domination” (161). Choosing to list and categorize concepts and classifications, she highlights the role of language in paradoxically establishing and transgressing boundaries.

I pose, as a reaction to this reading, a few questions about the cyborg made manifest. Have we reached a point at which the materialism of digital tools has superseded our theoretical concerns? Do these metaphors still work? What function does the cyborg serve as we become more and more connected to our smartphones?

Haraway discusses the shift in world ideological frameworks and I am curious whether we have dissolved even further since her claim that “boundary-maintaining images of base and superstructure, public and private, or material and ideal never seemed more feeble” (165). Has the omnipresence of technological redundancy further diluted our attempts at unifying ideas or movements?

“‘Networking’ is both a feminist practice and a multinational corporate strategy — weaving is for oppositional cyborgs.” (170) Haraway looks for new coalitions within the loosened picture of women in society that no longer relates solely to the private/public dichotomy. As Haraway describes the shifting realm and power of women, “the task,” she states, “is to survive the diaspora”(170). As the internet continues to expand these consortia, how do movements coalesce? Is Amy Schumer really the face of new feminism? “Feminist cyborg stories have the task of recoding communication and intelligence to subvert command and control” (175). Do new representations of women succeed to any extent of Haraway’s mission? What will we include in our “powerful infidel heteroglossia” (181)?

I look forward to hearing how each of the disciplines represented in class approach the vast political, economic, gendered reaches of this text. Irony seems to be an excellent adhesive for cohering these extremes. Lean on the opposite to assert your position. What ironies are most notable in Haraway’s text? Does irony ultimately hold? Or do we all become mustaches on coffee mugs?

ironic mustache mugs. as labelled by the internet.

-Jojo

 

Citation

Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto:  Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, Routledge, 1991, 149-81.

Nakamura and Gane & Haraway

In her ethnographic study of the online world LambdaMOO, Nakamura finds that individuals “perform bodies as text”, often taking on racial identities that (possibly) do not match their real life (RL) racial identities. When individuals are in “[control of] the conditions of their own self-representations“ does this make a space more or less democratic? Is it problematic that race can be overlooked or “not even an option”, or are people increasingly free to take on new identities and shed RL ties (if only while in the cyber world)? This leads to what Nakamura called identity tourism in which players choose to perform a type of racial play. While people may insist that everyone is “the same” in these virtual worlds, access to technology is not; “one of the dangers of identity tourism is that is takes this restriction across the axes of race/class in the ‘real world’ to an even more subtle and complex degree by reducing non-white identity positions to part of a costume”. Identity tourism suppresses racial discourse and degrades the concept of race into something to be performed, not lived, and hence offers an escape only for those who: 1. have access to these spaces and 2. desire to perform race virtually with no repercussions in RL.

This calls to mind Haraway’s insistence that the virtual is never immaterial and one must always consider the “materialities of information”. In considering the materialities of our virtual lives and self-descriptions, to what truths and RL experiences should we be held accountable? And how do we accurately textualize and contextualize our existence in the virtual world? How do we best “wield the signs of subordinated identity in a public domain” (Judith Butler in Nakamura)?

Haraway may have been asking a similar question when talking about our inherent connected, situated, relational existence when she asked: “Taking this relationship seriously and unwinding who we are here lands us in many concatenated worlds, in a very situated ‘becoming’. Then the fundamental, ethical, political question is: to what are you accountable if you try to take what you have inherited seriously?” How do we recognize and acknowledge the many worlds we inhabit and the connections they imply?

Race and gender bring to mind another seemingly related concept – our existence as a human species. According to Nakamura, “new and futuristic technologies call into question the integrity of categories of the human”. Haraway complicates our understanding of our existence as “human” when she claims that we (humans) have been “worlded” and “produced” as species through “the powerful world changing discourses of biology”. Our existence has been anthropomorphized by language and discourse. What, then, does it mean to be “human”? Haraway contends that though living as a species is non-optional because we have been produced this way, we also live as cyborgs and living as a cyborg allows and prompts us to question the (re)constitution of our world. How do we find and use ghosts/bugs in the system and tropes/trippings to look at the world we inhabit to identify cracks, fissures, and opportunities for change?

Furthermore, just as race and gender are understood as a social constructs, should “human” fall into the same category? Haraway calls for a new focus on ‘category work’. When Haraway speaks of category work, she asks for a new and deeper understanding the relationality and connected nature of our lives. How do we engage in category work in an intersectional world? How do we address and understand our own “becoming “ and the “torque” we experience from simultaneously inhabiting various worlds?

————
Gane, N. (2006). When we have never been human, what is to be done?: Interview with Donna Haraway. Theory Culture Society, 23:135.

Nakamura, L. “Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet.”

N. Katherine Hayles, How we became posthuman

Feel free to skip directly to the provocation at the bottom, but if you’re anything like me, you found this text challenging and dense, and may benefit from a quick summary of some of the major points. Please feel free to challenge or add to my paraphrasing of this work in the comments.

<summary>

Embedded in the prologue and first chapter of N. Katherine Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman (1999), is a discussion of “what came before” — what it meant to be “human.” For 17th Century theorists of liberal humanism like Locke and Hobbes, the “human” was an individual free from the will of others, “the proprietor of his own person” and capacities (see this for more). Hayles writes that framing the subject in this way helped those theorists form a foundation for market relations and selling one’s labor for wages (even though technically the market existed before the theory!) In the mid 20th century, the liberal humanist or “natural” self was critiqued from many angles — including feminist, postcolonial, and postmodern.

The relatively new field of cybernetics (the study of regulatory systems) stepped in with its own critique, formulating an alternative model for subjectivity: the ‘posthuman, “a cyborg material-informational entity whose boundaries are being constantly constructed and reconstructed” (3). The term views the body as “the original prosthesis we all learn to manipulate,” and recognizes the ways that human beings have become “seamlessly articulated with intelligent machines” (3).

We are cyborgs, even if we don’t have electronics embedded in our person, simply because of the ways technology has become wrapped up in our identity production. Hayles brings up the example of one iteration of the famous Turing test, where you must guess whether an entity communicating with you through technological/electronic mediation is a male or female. Whether or not you guess correctly, the technology has “spliced” what she calls the “enacted body” (the flesh behind the computer) and the “represented” body (electronic signs and symbols) (xiii). That means one’s embodiment (flesh) does not ensure a singular meaning of gender nor identity in a technologically mediated space, fundamentally altering how we think about ourselves.

Crucially for Hayles, even as the idea of the posthuman has departed from the idea of the “human” in many ways, this model of subjectivity continues liberal humanism’s tenet that the body is subordinate to the mind and cognition. There’s something fetishistic and (like Haraway said about this subject in her interview) macho, about the idea that consciousness and information can live on without the human body — that we can “download” human consciousness into a machine — and that humans are understood as sets of “informational processes” apart from materiality.

</summary>

<provocation>

Hayles’ book is about tracing how the privileging of abstract information over embodiment came to dominate the field of cybernetics as the concept of the posthuman was developed, demonstrating “what had to be elided, suppressed, and forgotten, to make information lose its body” (13). She argues that this conclusion was not inevitable. After all, postcolonial, feminist, postmodern, and critical race theorists underscore the importance of the body in their critiques, as they eviscerate liberal humanism for the role it played in the domination and oppression of the industrial and colonial periods.

She asks whether the deconstruction of the liberal humanist subject can be an opportunity to put flesh back into conversations about cybernetic subjects (5) so that we can celebrate the mortality of the human being, the materiality of information, and realize the extent to which humans are embedded in a material world that we very much depend on.

The implications of this argument are potentially far-reaching. I think about a course I took in undergrad called the Anthropology of Consumption, which was all about examining the social relationships that go into a thing’s commoditization and creating a “commodity biography” which becomes a lens through which to view global capitalism (for example, this one, by my professor about coffee from Papua New Guinea). Posthumanism, around the time Hayles was writing, viewed technology as merely a conduit for information. Sleek marketing reinforces the notion that technology delivers information and entertainment out of the ether, straight into our brains. The fact of information’s materiality, however, becomes startlingly explicit for me when it is time to throw away broken electronics, or when I watch or listen to documentaries about e-waste, and the children in far away countries who pick through piles of it looking for parts to sell.

Perhaps a way to continue Hayles’ project of reconciling posthumanism with a recognition of embodiment and materiality could involve a “commodity biography”-type approach. This conception could help expose the supply chains, labor, and natural resource exploitation that went into bringing it our way. Technology is a part of the material world, and should be viewed as such.

Hayles’ book seems like just the start to what seems to me a worthwhile project. My provocation is: think about your own field of study OR the other readings for the week. In what ways might the human subject of your field or text be in fact, “posthuman”? What arguments and examples would you bring up from your field or the other readings for this week to argue for the incorporation of “embodiment” in the conception of posthumanity?

Another question I had for the group while reading this work: Writing in 1999, Hayles mentions how the “transformation to posthuman is not a universal human condition — it affects a small fraction of the world’s population.” Is this still the case? Why or why not? What specific examples can you provide to flesh out your answer?

</provocation>

<citation>

Hayles, N. K. (1999). How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. University of Chicago Press.

</citation>

– Sara Vogel