Haraway, Donna. "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century". Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. New York: Routledge, 1991.

In her article, "A Cyborg Manifesto", Haraway attempts to create what she calls "an ironic political myth"(p.149) which combines postmodernism with socialist feminism. Central to her myth is the image of the cyborg, which is "a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction."(p.149) The cyborg for Haraway is both a metaphor for the postmodernist and political play of identity as well as a lived reality of new technology. As she says, "I am making an argument for the cyborg as a fiction mapping our social and bodily reality and as an imaginative resource suggesting some very fruitful couplings."(p.150) The role of irony in the cyborg myth cannot be overlooked, since for Haraway it implies a sense of agency in the world around us: "Acknowledging the agency of the world in knowledge makes room for some unsettling possibilities, including a sense of the world’s independent sense of humour… [it] makes room for surprises and ironies at the heart of all knowledge production…"("Situated Knowledges", p.199) The cyborg, then, stands for shifting political and physical boundaries which, in its interface with us and the world around us, often wittily pulls the rug out from under what we perceive to be "natural".

It is often argued that technology and its partner, civilization (which is a highly arguable concept in itself) are ways of subduing nature and bending it to human will. Nature-culture is a familiar adversarial binarism which has fuelled many world events and ideologies, from colonialism to Freudianism. The dualistic epistemological division between nature and culture in Western societies (such as the model advanced by Levi-Strauss, of which Hartsock is critical) has been a sacred one; it has been at the heart of the great narratives of salvation history and their genetic transmutation into sagas of secular progress. Yet in Haraway’s paradigm, "nature" has the last laugh as it melds with technology and the borders between become indiscriminate. "Nature", as always, is not subdued but subverted.

Not only does Haraway reveal the ambiguity and irrelevance of nature-culture binarisms in the cyborg age, she also reveals that "natural" was never even so. She charts the differences between "comfortable old hierarchical dominations" (p.161) which have the appearance of "naturalness" since they are so embedded in our Western cultural consciousness, and the "scary new networks"(p.161) which sprouted after the Second World War. Here are a few of her "before-and-after" pairs:




Biotic component


Communications engineering


Population control


Genetic engineering

Haraway’s chart allows her to point out the problems with facile assumptions of a more "natural" past. "[The] objects on the right-hand side cannot be coded as ‘natural’, a realization which subverts naturalistic coding for the left-hand side as well. We cannot go back ideologically or materially. It’s not just that ‘god’ is dead; so is the ‘goddess’".(p.162)

Haraway’s vision critiques the false organic self which some, particularly radical, feminists use as a basis for affinity and identity. However, Haraway does not limit her critique of an imagined "natural" to feminists; she is consistent in her opposition to false organics in other fields, particularly the scientific. In the same book as "Cyborg Manifesto", she includes other essays which critique sociobiology, animal research and others for embedding "functionalist and capitalist economic" terms of reference in their observations of "[o]rganic form [as] hierarchical and physiological co-operation and competition based on ‘natural’ domination and division of labour."

Therefore, says Haraway, feminists cannot use an imagined organic ontology as a point of politics or engage in uninformed technophobia because there simply isn’t such a "natural" self.

With its indiscriminate boundaries, the merger between nature and civilization gives us the cyborg. The cyborg, according to Haraway, resists what has gone before; it is more than the sum of its parts. "The cyborg incarnation is outside of salvation history. Nor does it mark time on an oedipal calendar, attempting to heal the terrible cleavages of gender…"(p.150) In addition, the cyborg "is a creature in a post-gender world; it has no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labour, or other seductions to organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all the powers of the parts into a higher unity." (p.150)

Since the cyborg does not exist as nature or culture, but is rather a hybrid of both and more, it is not limited by traditional binarisms and dualist paradigms. The cyborg exists as a kind of unfettered self. The cyborg is polymorphous perversity. It is both visionary in its polyvocal play and troubling in its origins: Haraway sees the cyborg as "the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism."(p.151)

Haraway feels that there are three major boundary breakdowns in the formation of the cyborg. The first is between human and animal. She notes: "Biological and evolutionary theory over the past two centuries have simultaneously produced modern organisms as objects of knowledge and reduced the line between humans and animals to a faint trace re-etched in ideological struggle or professional disputes between life and social science."(p.152) With the development of transgenic organisms, the idea of genetic integrity/unity of the organism is called into question.

The second boundary breakdown is between organism and machine. Not only are our household machines becoming more lifelike and taking on personalities, but humans are coupling with machines for medical purposes: pacemakers, dialysis, artificial limbs and joints, hearing aids.

The third boundary breakdown is between the organic and inorganic. Haraway notes: "Our best machines are made of sunshine; they are all light and clean because they are nothing but signals, electromagnetic waves, a section of a spectrum… People are nowhere near so fluid, being both material and opaque."(p.153) Far from the big grinding gears and metal millstones of yesteryear, today’s machines carry almost infinite amounts of information on a tiny chip hidden somewhere behind an attractive facade. This ethereal invisibility renders machines potent weapons: "They are as hard to see politically as materially. They are about consciousness—or its simulation."(p.153)

Thus Haraway’s cyborg myth is "about transgressed boundaries, potent fusions, and dangerous possibilities which progressive people might explore as one part of needed political work."(p.154) The myth captures the "contradictory, partial and strategic" identities of the postmodern age. Haraway feels that the cyborg myth has the potential for radical political action as it frees feminists from a desperate search for similarity with one another, since physical/epistemological boundary breaks can be extrapolated to political boundary crossings.

This brings us to the second aspect of Haraway’s cyborg vision: its use as a metaphoric paradigm for political action. Haraway writes: "[M]y cyborg myth is about transgressed boundaries, potent fusions, and dangerous possibilities which progressive people might explore as one part of needed political work."(p.154) The physical reality of the liminal cyborg self translates into a framework for action which also encompasses partiality, boundary transgressions, contradiction, and fracture. There is no pretense to unity or singularity; in fact such aspirations are not focused but myopic, as well as dangerous: "Single vision produces worse illusions that double vision or many-headed monsters."(p.154) The lesson that many feminists have learned is that feminist systems based on a monolithically guiding concept are not only exceedingly limited in scope and application, but also that diversity and difference are punished. "Taxonomies of feminism produce epistemologies to police deviation from official women’s experience."(p.156) As a result, theories and systems lose their utility for collective political action.

This is not to endorse the cyborg heartily as a utopic vision. Haraway is very clear that we must enter the cyborg politic with eyes wide open, and be aware of its agenda, stating: "From one perspective, a cyborg world is about the final imposition of a grid of control on the planet, about the final abstraction embodied in a Star Wars apocalypse waged in the name of defense, about the final appropriation of women’s bodies in a masculinist orgy of war."(p.154) Like Braidotti's "Mothers, Monsters and Machines" , technology is a potential tool for both normative discursive control and erasure of the maternal/female body. However, as Braidotti notes in the same chapter, and as Haraway states, the cyborg can represent other, more positive things (the advantage, of course, of having multiple selves). Haraway hopes to use the cyborg to represent "lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints."(p.154) The solution for her is to see with plural vision; to be aware and critical of both birth-and-death aspects of the cyborg in the development of political struggle.

What are the effects for feminist identities of advocating a cyborg politics? Many battles have been fought in the feminist community over problems of identity—from what standpoint should one speak, if at all? The problem, of course, is that "[i]t has become difficult to name one’s feminism by a single adjective…Consciousness of exclusion through naming is acute. Identities seem contradictory, partial and strategic."(p.155) The desire for political ontology is not to be entirely derided, for it often serves as a necessary component in a political consciousness, process and development. But eventually feminists are forced to acknowledge the "limits of identification"(p.157), at least in traditional models where identification means sameness. Then, they can begin to explore their contradictory political consciousness and ask: "What kind of politics could embrace partial, contradictory, permanently unclosed constructions of personal and collective selves and still be faithful, effective—and ironically, socialist-feminist?"(p.157)

Thus the old static categories which were useful determinants in the past of "us" and "them" are "all in question ideologically. The actual situation of women is their integration/exploitation into a world system of production/reproduction and communication called the informatics of domination."(p.163) Identity politics—or rather, monolithic identity politics which do not account for shifts and partialities—are no longer effective when identities are constantly being reworked. Haraway suggests instead a politics of affinity and "kinship"—not kinship in the most literal sense, but in the manner of recognizing that our travels across this political plane can make for new and visionary connections.