This is the famous declaration of Donna J. Haraway, a, zoologist, philosopher and biologist, who is my tech heroine for the Ada Lovelace Day. Haraway is currently a professor and chair of the History of Consciousness Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, United States. Her most well know piece of work is the essay: A Cyborg Manifesto, in her book ‘Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature’. Given the freedom of the Ada Lovelace Day to interpret ‘women in technology’ as widely as you like, I thought I’d write about Donna Haraway, the radical visionary who observes the madness of the modern world from her cyborg vantage point, having declared herself a ‘quitessential technological body’.
In her expansive body of work, Haraway writes about machines, where and how they enter our bodies, how our bodies disperse into networks with information feeds running in and out of them. And in this world of messy hybrid networks, part human, part machine, differences between ‘natural' and 'artificial’ seem bygone. A Cyborg Manifesto, (1991) was the first essay she wrote on a computer, laughing and crying over cybernetics. And it is, in her own words, not to be dismissed as just some ramblings of a blissed out, technobunny, fembot. But an attempt to try to think through how to do critique, remember war and its offspring, keep ecofeminisim and technoscience joined in the flesh, and generally honour possibilities that escape unkind origins. 'Alice', a drawing by Patricia Piccinini, whom Haraway considers a 'sister in techno-culture'
While today it may not seem very radical to take a technology and completely alter the way it can be used or perceived, she was probably one of the first people who did this with the Cyborg Manifesto. She subjugates the previous perceptions of the position of woman as ‘home keepers’, and machines as being ‘masculine’ and ‘powerful’ by using the cyborg as a metaphor for a new constructed identity, which is not male or female, but a hybrid that is pleasurably situated at that place where boundaries blur. Because the cyborg does not depend on human reproduction for its existence, it lies ‘outside gender’, thus becoming a liberating opportunity for women (and men) to be re-constructed, like cyborgs, given the right tools.
"Technology is not neutral, she writes, "we're inside of what we make, and it's inside of us. We're living in a world of connections - and it matters which ones get made and unmade."
In a sense she attempts to expose ways that things considered natural, like human bodies, are not, but are constructed by our ideas about them, and the idea that machines can contribute to liberation is something feminists and women should consider. To quote from the essay: "A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. Social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction. The international women’s movements have constructed “women’s experience,” as well as uncovered or discovered this crucial collective object. This experience is a fiction and fact of the most crucial, political kind. Liberation rests on the construction of the consciousness, the imaginative apprehension, of oppression, and so of possibility. The cyborg is a matter of fiction and lived experience that changes what counts 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."
Here, its not just about those obvious cyborg images that spring to mind, not only about putting a sensor inside our body, (though that’s not to be ruled out) but more importantly about all the ubiquitous networks and services that are an integral part of our lives TODAY. She gives the example of a sports shoe, for the Olympics, "which in the cyborg era isnt just about running fast. Its about the interaction of medicine, diet, training practices, clothing and equipment manufacture, visualisation and timekeeping." 'Thunderdrome' , 2005 (It is possible that these two females are attracted to the noise and smell of the drag racing) by Patricia Piccinini.
I first read Donna Haraway about two years ago (thanks Alex, for the intro), and have since gone back to reading her essays over again, in an attempt to unravel yet more layers of fascinating connections and literary genius. By no means am I anywhere close to understanding or decoding the full depths of her work. I have only just begun to read her and this blog post is more of a pointer to my eager curiosity, to understand better how her work can help me reflect on my own technology-related practice.
To conclude, in the Haraway Reader, her reasons for liking stories excites me: “Stories are always more generous, more capacious, than ideologies; in that fact is one of my strongest hopes. I want to know how to inhabit histories and stories rather then deny them. I want to know how critically to live both inherited and novel kinships, in a spirit neither of condemnation nor celebration. I want to know how to help build ongoing stories rather then histories that end.” Happy Ada Lovelace Day all!
March 23rd, 2009
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