Notes for Donna J. Haraway Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature

Key concepts: coding trickster, coyote, cyborg, cyborg politics, embodiment, feminist objectivity, informatics of domination, material-semiotic actor, objectivity, phallogocentrism, positioning, science question in feminism, situated knowledges, sociobiology, visualization technologies.

Ethical imperative to reappropriate scientific knowledge. Foucault biopolitics foreshadowed cyborg, which exhibits leakages between human, animal, and machine. The challenge is to reappropriate not the objects of knowledge but the epistemological position to be resisted, theories of language and control, because this approach is the one best suited to comprehend technoscience for heuretics. Try taking cyborg identity positively, suggesting pleasure in machine skill and technical competency as crucial aspects of embodiment. Coyote trickster for situated knowledge engagement supports my research in learning exercise of machine communications and alien phenomenology. Compare her detailed elaboration of immunology to Derrida's teaching plant fecundation. From the totalizing, reductive vantage perspective of “ideological doctrines of disembodied scientific objectivity,” science is rhetoric serving desire and power. Feminist objectivity as situated knowledge, embodied objectivity, complicates division of vision and marked body. Epistemologies of location, positioning, and situating. Is granting agential status to objects by as a consequence of admitting social and cultural determinants of sciences equivalent to actor network theory?

Related theorists: Bogost, Dawkins, Derrida, Flores, Foucault, Grossman, Marx, Ulmer, Winograd, Yerkes.

Chapter Three
The Biological Enterprise: Sex, Mind, and Profit from Human Engineering to Sociobiology

The opening quotation from Richard Dawkins suggests that human individuality is no longer the center of human being: the genes are center, and we are their survival machines.

(43-44) So science is part of the struggle over the nature of our lives. . . . I would like to explore biology as an aspect of the reproduction of capitalist social relations, dealing with the imperative of biological reproduction.
(43 table 1) The nature of analysis is technological functionalism, and ideological appeals are to alleviation of stress and other signs of human obsolescence.

Let us accept the cybernetic model for our study of machines to detect the contours of the default epistemologies governing philosophy as Socratic self questioning: so it is phallagocentric, what better means do we have of comprehending the technologically mediated world in which we abide, although at the same time, let the emphasis on embodiment foster situated knowledges of the phenomenology of machine life; Haraway invites such an approach in her call for reappropriation of sociobiological knowledge, as below on page 164.

(45) Between the First World War and the present, biology has been transformed from a science centered on the organism, understood in functionalist terms, to a science of studying automated technological devices, understood in terms of cybernetic systems.
(45) This chapter sketches those changes in an effort to investigate the historical connection between the content of science and its social context. The larger question informing this critique is how to develop a socialist-feminist life science.

We must be interested in this task or reappropriating knowledge, Haraway commands, because Marx said so.

(45) As Marx showed for the science of wealth, our reappropriation of knowledge is a revolutionary reappropriation of a means by which we produce and reproduce our lives. We must be interested in this task.
(45) it examines them [Yerkes and Wilson] as representing important formations, so as to give an idea where to continue a critical reading of classical biology in the process of formulating another biology.
(46) Yerkes worked to establish the utility of primates for interpreting the place of human beings in scientifically managed corporate capitalism - called nature.
(47) But a constant dimension of primate studies has been the naturalization of human history; that is, making human nature the raw material rather than the product of history. Engineering is the guiding logic of life science in the twentieth century.
(47) Psychobiology, as sociobiology later, was faced with rationalizing altruism in a competitive world - without threatening the basic structure of domination.

(48) The life sciences which studied organic capacity and variation from a physiological viewpoint provided the scientific underpinnings for the application of human engineering.
(49) Two committees formed under the auspices of the National Research Council (NRC) are relevant to the themes of this chapter: the Committee on Scientific Aspects of Human Migration (CSAHM) and the Committee for Research on Problems of Sex (CRPS). Yerkes was chairman of both. . . . Neither committee worked from a population perspective, but rather from a physiological model of organic capacity, variation, and health.
(50) Animal models for human organic capacity and variation allowed human engineering to be an experimental natural science.
(50) Research centered on the idea of evolution, and all but ignored the idea of populations. . . . All this would change with the post-Second World War synthesis of ethology, neural biology, and population genetics and ecology.
(53) But the association of 'leadership' and biological dominance was considered natural.
(54) The existence of chimpanzee differences in 'techniques of social control' suggested that human modes were also psychobiologically legitimated and inevitable. . . . [quoting Yerkes] That the female is, chameleon-like, a creature of multiple personality, is clear from our observations.
(54) 'Personality differences' should be managed, not foolishly denied.
(55) Though less differentiated than in the human species, personality 'clearly' existed among chimpanzees 'as the unit of social organization'. . . . It is significant that the culture concept depended on personality in the anthropology of the 1930s. We have moved with Yerkes from instinct, through personality, to culture, to human engineering. Scientists themselves interwove sex, mind, and society in a vocation of scientific service establishing a promising new life science of comparative primate psychobiology, reaching form learning through motivation to experimental sociology. Primatology served as a mediator between life and human sciences in a critical period of reformulation of the doctrines of nature and culture. Yerkes ordered his life in the belief this science would serve to foster a higher state of individual and social consciousness, the ideological goal of liberal humanism.
(56) Yerkes believed that industrial systems had evolved from slavery, to the wage system, to the present system based on co-operation and that only now could the value of the person be realized. . . . Yerkes and his liberal peers advocated studying traits of the body, mind, spirit, and character in order to fit 'the person' perfectly into the proper place in industry.
(56) By Yerkes' logic, equality was everyone's right to occupy one's natural place determined by disinterested science.
Differences were the essential subject for the new science.
(57) Although the person should be the
object of scientific management - an essential structure of domination in the science of co-operation - the ideology of self-expression was also intrinsic to Yerkes' exposition. . . . Satisfaction of basic instincts, themselves known through science, was the essence of self-expression in this model.

(57-58) Organic engineering based on the person is not the dominant form of life science in the late twentieth century. It can even be argued that biology has ceased to exist and the the organism has been replaced by cybernetic systems, which have radically changed the connections of physical life, and the human sciences. . . . By the early 1960s, the communications revolution was established in power; its effects can be followed in biology in four revealing, collective, authoritative texts, culminating in a well-published, state-of-the-art introductory biology text by E. O. Wilson and his colleagues.
(59) Furthermore, sociobiology, like all modern biologies, studies a control machine as its central object. Nature is structured as a series of interlocking cybernetic systems, which are theorized as communications problems. Nature has been systematically constituted in terms of the capitalist machine and market.

Interestingly, my approach to reverse engineering a microcomputer based control unit arrives at a similar perspective (communications problems of a control machine) by employing an ancient, Socratic method; here the progress and scarcity involve the hardware interface and operating system tools available.

(59) Progress and scarcity were the twin forces in capitalist development.
(59) Sociobiology (Wilson, 1975, p. 10) is a biological understanding of
groups - societies and populations.
(60) The genetic calculus of sociobiology concerns maximization strategies of genes and combinations of genes. . . . Sociobiology analyses all behavior in terms of the ultimate level of explanation, the genetic market place.
(61) Sex is a constraint on the formation of societies because sexually reproducing individuals are not identical genetically. They therefore compete with different investment strategies. . . . the rapid production of new genotypes which can respond to environmental changes or other contingencies. Such diversification maximizes the chances of long-term success. . . . The best to be anticipated is a harmonious management of competing investment strategies, in such a way that the system as a whole (natural evolution) is preserved.


Chapter Eight
A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century

Definition of cyborg.

(149) A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.
(150) Michael Foucault's biopolitics is a flaccid premonition of cyborg politics, a very open field.
(151) By the late twentieth century in United States scientific culture, the boundary between human and animal is thoroughly breached.
(152) The second leaky distinction is between animal-human (organism) and machine.
(153) The third distinction is a subset of the second: the boundary between physical and non-physical is very imprecise for us. . . . Cyborgs are ether, quintessence.
(154) From another perspective, a cyborg world might be about 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.

(163) One important route for reconstructing socialist-feminist politics is through theory and practice addressed to the social relations of science and technology, including crucially the systems of myth and meanings structuring our imaginations. The cyborg is a kind of disassembled and reassembled, postmodern collective and personal self. This is the self feminists must code.
(164) In each case, solution to the key questions rests on a theory of language and control; the key operation is determining rates, directions, and probabilities of flow of a quantity called information. The world is subdivided by boundaries differentially permeable to information. . . . The fundamentals of this technology can be condensed into the metaphor C
3I, command-control-communication-intelligence, the military's symbol for its operations theory.

Agreeing microelectronics is the technical basis of simulacra, the challenge is to reappropriate not the objects of knowledge but the epistemological position to be resisted, theories of language and control, because this approach is the one best suited to comprehend technoscience for heuretics (Ulmer); this really is the same as taking seriously the imagery of cyborgs as other than our enemies, which Haraway will say in a few pages, by applying the same critical, epistemological perspective to cyborgs as human bodies.

(165) Microelectronics is the technical basis of simulacra; that is, of copies without originals.
(165) I have used Rachel Grossman's (1980) image of women in the integrated circuit to name the situation of women in a world so intimately restructured through the social relations of science and technology.

(172-173) Ambivalence towards the disrupted unities mediated by high-tech culture requires not sorting consciousness into categories of 'clear-sighted critique grounding a solid political epistemology' versus 'manipulated false consciousness', but subtle understanding of emerging pleasures, experiences, and powers with serious potential for changing the rules of the game.

(175) Cyborg writing is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other.
(176) Cyborg politics is the struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication, against the one code that translates all meaning perfectly, the central dogma of phallogocentrism.
(178) There is no fundamental, ontological separation in our formal knowledge of machine and organism, of technical and organic. The replicant Rachel in the Ridley Scott film
Blade Runner stands as the image of a cyborg culture's fear, love, and confusion.
(178) For us, in imagination and in other practice, machines can be prosthetic devices, intimate components, friendly selves.

Consequences of viewing cyborgs as other than enemies: intense pleasure in skill as an aspect of embodiment; consider with respect to Zizek notion of utopia.

(180) There are several consequences to taking seriously the imagery of cyborgs as other than our enemies. Our bodies, ourselves; bodies are maps of power and identity. Cyborgs are no exception. A cyborg body is not innocent; it was not born in a garden; it does not seek unitary identity and so generate antagonistic dualisms without end. . . . Intense pleasure in skill, machine skill, ceases to be a sin, but an aspect of embodiment. The machine is not an it to be animated, worshiped, and dominated. The machine is us, our processes, an aspect of our embodiment. . . . Cyborgs might consider more seriously the partial, fluid, sometimes aspect of sex and sexual embodiment. Gender might not be global identity after all, even if it has profound historical breadth and depth.
(181) We require regeneration, not rebirth, and the possibilities for our reconstitution include the utopian dream of the hope for a monstrous world without gender.
(181) Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves.

Chapter Nine
Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective
(183) Academic and activist feminist enquiry has repeatedly tried to come to terms with the question of what we might mean by the curious and inescapable term 'objectivity'.

As patriarchal, biased, colonizing, reductive and decontextualizing, modernist, Cartesian objectivity also interpellates all artifacts of built environments reflect the scientific knowledge enshrined in the cradle to grave design processes causing them, for it is enough that these facile beliefs yielded the productive forces, including engineers and marketers, that produced and continue to produce them; from this totalizing, reductive vantage perspective of ideological doctrines of disembodied scientific objectivity, science is rhetoric serving desire and power.

(184) The only people who end up actually believing and, goddess forbid, acting on the ideological doctrines of disembodied scientific objectivity enshrined in elementary textbooks and technoscience booster literature are non-scientists, including a few very trusting philosophers.
(184) From this point of view, science—the real game in town, the one we must play—is rhetoric, the persuasion of the relevant social actors that one's manufactured knowledge is a route to a desired form of very objective power.

War, again, reached by Benjamin, Kittler, and so many others as implicated if not the driving force of all things; sounds like a repetition of ancient Greek philosophy.

(185) Like all neuroses, mine is rooted in the problem of metaphor, that is, the problem of the relation of bodies and language. . . . Technoscience and science fiction collapse into the sun of their radiant (ir)reality – war.

Must do more than clever applications of the general critical methodology, perhaps beyond insistence, which is ultimately rhetoric trying to motivate others to enact change, operate at the production level of producing change by producing science and technology.

(187) Feminists have to insist on a better account of the world; it is not enough to show radical historical contingency and modes of construction for everything.

Blake Scott thinks this is a great three-part imperative for faithful, real world accounts.

(187) So, I think my problem and 'our' problem is how to have simultaneously an account of radical historical contingency for all knowledge claims and knowing subjects, a critical practice for recognizing our own 'semiotic technologies' for making meanings, and a no-nonsense commitment to faithful accounts of a 'real' world, one that can be partially shared and friendly to earth-wide projects of finite freedom, adequate material abundance, modest meaning in suffering, and limited happiness.


Feminist objectivity as situated knowledge, embodied objectivity, complicates division of vision and marked body; connect to sound studies.

(188) I would like to insist on the embodied nature of all vision, and so reclaim the sensory system that has been used to signify a leap out of the marked body and into a conquering gaze from nowhere. . . . I would like a doctrine of embodied objectivity that accommodates paradoxical and critical feminist science projects: feminist objectivity means quite simply situated knowledge.
(189) And like the god-trick, this eye fucks the world to make techno-monsters. Zoe Sofoulis (1988) calls this the cannibal-eye of masculinist extra-terrestrial projects for excremental second birthing.
(190) We need to learn in our bodies, endowed with primate color and stereoscopic vision, how to attach the objective to our theoretical and political scanners in order to name where we are and are not, in dimensions of mental and physical space we hardly know how to name. . . . All Western cultural narratives about objectivity are allegories of the ideologies of the relations of what we call mind and body, of distance and responsibility, embedded in the science question in feminism. Feminist objectivity is about limited location and situated knowledge, not about transcendence and splitting of subject and object.

Inspired to think about embodiment of vision by wondering how dogs perceive the same physical space: no passive vision, always mediated by ways of life.

(190) These are lessons which I learned in part walking with my dogs and wondering how the world looks without a fovea and very few retinal cells for color vision, but with a huge neural processing and sensory area for smells. . . . The 'eyes' made available in modern technological sciences shatter any idea of passive vision; these prosthetic devices show us that all eyes, including our own organic ones, are active perceptual systems, building in translations and specific ways of seeing, that is, ways of life.
(191) But
how to see from below is a problem requiring at least as much skill with bodies and language, with the mediations of vision, as the 'highest' techno-scientific visualizations.

Generative doubt contemplating what can the master subject not perceive due to the distortions of its unreflective disembodiment.

(192) I prefer to call this generative doubt the opening of non-isomorphic subjects, agents, and territories of stories unimaginable from the vantage point of the cyclopian, self-satiated eye of the master subject.

Positioning as key grounding knowledge organized around visual imagery.

(193) Positioning is, therefore, the key grounding knowledge organized around the imagery of vision, as so much Western scientific and philosophic discourse is organized. Positioning implies responsibility for our enabling practices. It follows that politics and ethics ground struggles for the contests over what may count as rational knowledge.
(194) A dichotomous chart expressing this point might look like this

Universal rationality


Common language


New organon


Unified field theory

Oppositional positioning

World system

Local knowledges

Master theory

Webbed acounts

. . . The primary distortion is the illusion of symmetry in the chart's dichotomy, making any position appear, first, simply alternative and, second, mutually exclusive. A map of tensions and resonances between the fixed ends of a charged dichotomy better represents the potent politics and epistemologies of embodied, therefore accountable, objectivity.
(195) It is in the intricacies of these visualization technologies in which we are embedded that we will find metaphors and means for understanding and intervening in the patterns of objectification in the world, that is, the patterns of reality for which we must be accountable.

Epistemologies of location, positioning, and situating.

(195) I am arguing for politics and epistemologies of location, positioning, and situating, where partiality and not universality is the condition of being heard to make rational knowledge claims.
(195) Feminism loves another science: the sciences and politics of interpretation, translation, stuttering, and the partly understood.
(196) Rational knowledge is power-sensitive conversation (King, 1987a).

(197) And yet, to lose authoritative biological accounts of sex, which set up productive tensions with its binary pair, gender, seems to be to lose too much . . . The same problem of loss attends a radical 'reduction' of the objects of physics or of any other sciences to the ephemera of discursive production and social construction.

Is granting agential status to objects as a consequence of admitting social and cultural determinants of sciences equivalent to actor network theory?

(198) Indeed, coming to terms with the agency of the 'objects' studied is the only way to avoid gross error and false knowledge of many kinds in these sciences. . . . A corollary of the insistence that ethics and politics covertly or overtly provide the bases for objectivity in the sciences as a heterogeneous whole, and not just in the social sciences, is granting the status of agent/actor to the 'objects' of the world.

A statement of the coyote position as knowledge that is knowingly tricked.

(199) Acknowledging the agency of the world in knowledge makes room for some unsettling possibilities, including a sense of the world's independent sense of humor. . . . The Coyote or Trickster, embodied in American Southwest Indian accounts, suggests our situation when we give up mastery but keep searching for fidelity, knowing all the while we will be hoodwinked. I like to see feminist theory as a reinvented coyote discourse obligated to its enabling sources in many kinds of heterogeneous accounts of the world.

Connection to Bogost unit operations in concepts of material-semiotic actor and bodies as objects of knowledge.

(200-201) I wish to translate the ideological dimensions of 'facticity' and 'the organic' into a cumbersome entity called a 'material-semiotic actor'. This unwieldy term is intended to highlight the object of knowledge as an active, meaning-generating axis of the apparatus of bodily production, without ever implying immediate presence of such objects or, what is the same thing, their final or unique determination of what can count as objective knowledge at a particular historical juncture. Like Kant's objects called 'poems', which are sites of literary production where language also is an actor independent of intentions and authors, bodies as objects of knowledge are material-semiotic generative nodes. Their boundaries materialize in social interaction. Boundaries are drawn by mapping practices: 'objects' do not pre-exist as such.
(201) Perhaps the world resists being reduced to mere resource because it is – not mother/matter/mutter – but coyote, a figure for the always problematic, always potent tie of meaning and bodies.

Chapter Ten
The Biopolitics of Postmodern Bodies: Constitutions of Self in Immune System Discourse
(207) Language is no longer an echo of the verbum dei, but a technical construct working on principles of internally generated difference.


Studying simulacra technosciences like electronics, computer programming, and communications could be a good introductory exercise.

Revisioning world as coding trickster, looking for a link in Harraway discovered the coyote thinking quote was not present even though it fits well with a programming style, that is, like Turkle employing computer technology to embody postmodern themes, philosophy reterritorializes itself while territorializing adjunct technical skills involving programming demonstrated in these three projects. Use in first exam question is to lead up to coyote concept.

(209) Perhaps our hopes for accountability in the techno-biopolitics in postmodern frames turn on revisioning the world as coding trickster with whom we must learn to converse. . . . Coyote is not a ghost, merely a protean trickster.

Strong support for the learning exercise of machine communications and phenomenology, for example the pinball machine example yields component subsystems localized within a system architecture whose modes of operation are probabilistic although governed by discoverable design specifications making them epistemologically transparent; in terms of mythmaking, the pinball machine cyborg can be imagined today as the future embodiment of obsolete but valuable technological artifacts.

(212) One should expect control strategies to concentrate on boundary conditions and interfaces, on rates of flow across boundaries, not on the integrity of natural objects. . . . 'Degrees of freedom' becomes a very powerful metaphor for politics. Human beings, like any other component or subsystem, must be localized in a system architecture whose basic modes of operation are probabilistic. . . . In particular, there is no ground for ontologically opposing the organic, the technical, and the textual. But neither is there any ground for opposing the mythical to the organic, textual, and technical. . . . The privileged pathology affecting all kinds of components in this universe is stress - communications breakdown. . . . The cyborg is text, machine, body, and metaphor - all theorized and engaged in practice in terms of communications.


Winograd and Flores doctrine of interdependence and situated preunderstandings.

(213) Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores' (1986) joint work on Understanding Computers and Cognition is particularly suggestive for thinking about the potentials for cultural/scientific/political contestation over the technologies of representation and embodiment of 'difference' within immunological discourse, whose object of knowledge is a kind of 'artificial intelligence/language/communication system of the biological body'.
(213) Drawing on Heidegger, Gadamer, Maturana, and others, Winograd and Flores develop a doctrine of interdependence of interpreter and interpreted, which are not discrete and independent entities. Situated preunderstandings are critical to all communication and action.


Is Haraway detail elaboration of immunology similar to Derrida teaching plant fecundation?

(218) The hierarchical body of old has given way to a network-body of truly amazing complexity and specificity.
(218) The notion of the
internal image is the key to the theory, and it entails the premise that every member of the immune system is capable of interacting with every other member.
(220) The individual is a constrained accident, not the highest fruit of earth, history's labors.

(230) From this field of differences, replete with the promises and terrors of cyborg embodiments and situated knowledges, there is no exit. Anthropologists of possible selves, we are technicians of realizable futures. Science is culture.

Haraway, Donna J. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print.