Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto,” Affinity and Identity, and Wishing I took LIT3046

Originally published in 1985, Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto exists as a major work of late 20th century feminist discourse, and offers challenging however highly interesting and influential ideas regarding the roles of feminism and feminists in science, technology, and socialism.

It’s amusing that in this version offered to me, editor Simon During’s author’s note poses a question and intentionally does not answer it:

Is this really a manifesto? For whom? Whatever the answer, it’s an amazing “blasphemous” call for a profound change of consciousness in everyone living in high-tech culture (271).

I don’t really take any great issue with this, but it’s unsettling to me that the very title of the piece is immediately questioned by the editor, who I can’t imagine would seek to provide any such harsh criticism, especially because I thought the piece functioned well as a manifesto.

I believe Fractured Identities to be the most striking section of this work. Donna Haraway approaches the notions of affinity and identity as they pertain to each other and feminism. To work toward this, she questions the identity of the feminist and the “female,” attempting to bridge the feminist narrative in the direction of affinity instead of identity:

It has become difficult to name one’s feminism by a single adjective — or even to insist in every circumstance upon the noun. Consciousness of exclusion through naming is acute. Identities seem contradictory, partial, and strategic. With the hard-won recognition of their social and historical constitution, gender, race, and class cannot provide the basis for belief in ‘essential’ unity. There is nothing about being ‘female’ that naturally binds women. There is not even such a state as ‘being’ female, itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices…. For me — and for many who share a similar historical location in white, professional middle-class, female, radical, North American, mid-adult bodies — the sources of a crisis in political identity are legion. The recent history 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. But there has also been a growing recognition of another response through coalition — affinity, not identity (276-277).

For Haraway, present identity discourse and politics existed as yet further examples of a patriarchal constraint placed on discourse which ultimately prevented not only the unity of individuals beneath feminism, but also the proper understanding of of the arbitrary boundaries placed on gender. In response to this, she notices attempts among Americans to regain some “essential unity” (for which she shows some skepticism) but Haraway’s understanding would be that the solution lies in coalition through “affinity,” which I take to mean something like “similarity.”

Haraway then calls upon the work of Chela Sandoval, who speaks of “oppositional consciousness,” which is based in “otherness, difference, and specificity.” This is to say that especially for women of color in particular, the discourse which primarily is put to use has consistenly relied on on this opposition or contradiction: that the identity is based in difference from an oppressor, which is not the right way to go about it.

In an increasingly technological age, Haraway calls to action that we must move away from the essentialism of archaic identity politics, and look to the cyborg for the affinities between animals and machines.

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