Sandoval, Chela. "New Sciences: Cyborg Feminism and the Methodology of the Oppressed." In The Cyborg Handbook, ed. Chris Hables Gray. New York: Routledge, 1995.

 

Sandoval's central argument in this article is that rather than so-called "cyborg politics" being a product of the technological and transnational age, "colonized peoples of the U.S. have already developed the cyborg skills required for survival under techno-human conditions". (p.408) She develops Donna Haraway's metaphor of the cyborg in order to argue that the cyborg can stand for a kind of oppositional consciousness and practice which has characterized the political standpoint of various marginalized groups in the U.S. This theme in Haraway's work is often overlooked in favour of the cyborg's implications for technoscience; however, Sandoval finds the trope of the cyborg a fruitful one for talking about what she terms a "methodology of the oppressed".

The methodology of the oppressed, can take a variety of forms, and has been identified by various theorists as womanism, situated subjectivities, nomadic consciousness, and so forth. All forms share some kind of engagement with multiple identities, marginalization, and resistance to transnational cultural domination. The end result (if it is possible to speak of an "end result" per se) of using this methodology, according to Sandoval, is a "differential mode of oppositional social movements"(p.410), which provides links between first-world theorizing (the groundwork of which, one could argue, has been laid in postmodernism/poststructuralism as well as academic postcolonialism) and the concrete freedom struggles of marginalized groups of people.

Sandoval identifies five different "technologies", or techniques used by marginalized groups of people, composed of both "inner" technologies of psychic resistance, and "outer" technologies of social praxis. First, "sign-reading", a kind of observant deciphering of cultural figuration. Second, deconstruction. Third, "meta-ideologizing", or appropriating hegemonic ideological forms in order to rework and re-use them in a revolutionary fashion. Fourth, "democratics", or using the three aforementioned techniques not just for survival, but for active change. Fifth, "differential movement", which Sandoval describes as "a polyform upon which the previous technologies depend for their own operation." (p.410) This last technique is not entirely clear to me, since Sandoval does not really elaborate on it, but I assume that she is referring in this sense to a kind of conscious and informed oppositional activity, a kind of space created between two or more forces moving in different directions. Differential consciousness is thus "a force which rhizomatically [cf. Plant and Braidotti] and parasitically inhabits each of these five vectors, linking them in movement, while the pull of each of the vectors creates ongoing tension and re-formation."(p.418) Fundamentally, differential consciousness exists in a constantly dynamic state of flux and development, continually re-aligning and re-organizing itself with changing emphases on each of the five techniques. In other words, strategy and conceptions of political identity are highly context-specific and historically particular.

In the next section, Sandoval develops the metaphor of Haraway's cyborg. A more complete discussion of Haraway's trope can be found in Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto". Suffice it to say that Sandoval is interested in the aspects of Haraway's work which parallel the theoretical developments in what Sandoval labels "U.S. Third World Feminism". In its organization of disparate elements, either technological or theoretical, Haraway's cyborg is a fruitful "object to think with" about how to align hegemonic Western feminist theory (as critiqued in Mohanty) with forms of oppositional consciousness which, according to Sandoval, characterize the standpoint of U.S. third world feminism, as well as that of other marginalized U.S. groups.

Sandoval notes the significance of "affinity" in political organizing (cf. Collins on "faith/feeling" and Braidotti on "affect"), understood as "alliance and affection across lines of difference which intersect both in and out of the body"(p.413), particularly in the context of "affinity-through-difference". Sandoval proposes that this new form of feminism be realized through a coalition between "'technics' (material and technical details, rules, machines and methods)" and "'erotics' (the sensuous apprehension and expression of 'love'-as-affinity."(p.416)

Sandoval is careful to point out that far from being an "example" of new academic theories (this position, as Mohanty notes, replicates relations of power which constitute "third world women" as being objects of knowledge, not as subjects and agents), U.S. third world feminism in fact represents the creation of a theoretical/methodological approach "that clears the way for new modes of conceptualizing social movement, identity, and difference."(p.414) As Mohanty would no doubt agree, the epistemological problem which becomes a political problem is that "women of colour" are homogenized and conflated with U.S. third world feminism as theory/methodology. This has the effect of both erasing specificity and diversity amongst women and feminists of colour (not to mention the very particular U.S. third world feminists), as well as inscribing knowledge/power relations which do not allow U.S. third world feminism to be a viable theory-creating body. In addition, framing this body of work as, in part, a methodology makes clear that the theoretical projects in which U.S. third world feminists are engaged are part of an ongoing struggle, rather than a search for static "truth", and that the process is as important, if not more so, than the product.

What, then, emerges from this methodology in terms of subjectivity? Certainly not the cognitively autonomous, self-directed and -contained subject of traditional philosophy and science as described by Code and critiqued by Collins, Haraway, Adam, and Harding (to name a few), nor the eternally fragmented, "slipping" subject of much poststructuralism/postmodernism as critiqued by Hartsock and Modleski, but rather, as described by Weedon, Braidotti, and Collins (among others), a subjectivity derived from "emergent, self-representing, contradictory" elements (p.415). This subject is always in process of "becoming", rather than a fixed self.