A Cyborg Manifesto

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A Cyborg Manifesto is an essay written by Donna Haraway. Haraway began writing the Manifesto in 1983 to address the Socialist Review request of American socialist feminists to ponder over the future of socialist feminism in the context of the early Reagan era and the decline of leftist politics. The first versions of the essay had a strong socialist and European connection that the Socialist Review East Coast Collective found too controversial to publish. The Berkeley Socialist Review Collective published the essay in 1985 under the editor Jeff Escoffier.[1] The essay is most well known for being published in Donna Haraway's 1991 book Simians, Cyborgs and Women.

Donna Haraway's essay is an attempt to break away from Oedipal narratives and Christian origin doctrines like Genesis; the concept of the cyborg is a rejection of rigid boundaries, notably those separating "human" from "animal" and "human" from "machine." In A Cyborg Manifesto, she writes: "The cyborg does not dream of community on the model of the organic family, this time without the oedipal project. The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust."[2]

The Manifesto criticizes traditional notions of feminism, particularly feminist focuses on identity politics, and encouraging instead coalition through affinity. She uses the metaphor of a cyborg to urge feminists to move beyond the limitations of traditional gender, feminism, and politics.[2] Marisa Olson summarized Haraway's thoughts as a belief that there is no distinction between natural life and artificial man-made machines.[3]

Major Points[edit]

Haraway begins the Manifesto by explaining three boundary breakdowns since the 20th Century that have allowed for her hybrid, cyborg myth: the breakdown of boundaries between human and animal, animal-human and machine, and physical and non-physical. Evolution has blurred the lines between human and animal; 20th Century machines have made ambiguous the lines between natural and artificial; and microelectronics and the political invisibility of cyborgs have confused the lines of physicality.[2]

Issues with Western Patriarchal Tenets[edit]

Haraway highlights the problematic use and justification of Western traditions like patriarchy, colonialism, essentialism, and naturalism (among others). These traditions in turn allow for the problematic formations of taxonomies (and identifications of the Other) and what Haraway explains as "antagonistic dualisms" that order Western discourse. These dualisms, Haraway states, "have all been systematic to the logics and practices of domination of women, people of color, nature, workers, animals... all [those] constituted as others." She highlights specific problematic dualisms of self/other, culture/nature, male/female, civilized/primitive, right/wrong, truth/illusion, total/partial, God/man (among others). She explains that these dualisms are in competition with one another, creating paradoxical relations of domination (especially between the One and the Other). However, high-tech culture provides a challenge to these antagonistic dualisms.

The Cyborg Way[edit]

Haraway's cyborg theory rejects the notions of essentialism, proposing instead a chimeric, monstrous world of fusions between animal and machine. Cyborg theory relies on writing as "the technology of cyborgs," as "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." Instead, Haraway’s cyborg calls for a non-essentialized, material-semiotic metaphor capable of uniting diffuse political coalitions along the lines of affinity rather than identity. Following Lacanian feminists such as Luce Irigaray, Haraway’s work addresses the chasm between feminist discourses and the dominant language of Western patriarchy. As Haraway explains, “grammar is politics by other means,” and effective politics require speaking in the language of domination.[2]

As she details in a chart of the paradigmatic shifts from modern to postmodern epistemology within the Manifesto, the unified human subject of identity has shifted to the hybridized posthuman of technoscience, from “representation” to “simulation,” “bourgeois novel” to “science fiction,” “reproduction” to “replication,” and “white capitalist patriarchy” to “informatics of domination.”[2] While Haraway’s “ironic dream of a common language” is inspired by Irigaray’s argument for a discourse other than patriarchy, she rejects Irigaray’s essentializing construction of woman-as-not-male to argue for a linguistic community of situated, partial knowledges in which no one is innocent.

Criticism of traditional Feminism[edit]

Haraway takes issue with some traditional feminists who seek to place women above men, reflected in statements describing how "women more than men somehow sustain daily life, and so have a privileged epistemological position potentially." The views of traditional feminism operate under the totalizing assumptions that all men are one way, and women another, whereas "a cyborg theory of wholes and parts," does not desire to explain things in total theory. Haraway suggests that feminists should move beyond naturalism and essentialism, criticizing feminist tactics as "identity politic" that victimize those excluded, and she proposes that it is better strategically to confuse identities.[2]

To counteract the essentializing and anachronistic rhetoric of spiritual ecofeminists, who were fighting patriarchy with modernist constructions of female-as-nature and earth mothers, Haraway employs the cyborg to refigure feminism into cybernetic code.

Call to Action[edit]

Haraway calls for a revision of the concept of gender, moving away from Western patriarchal essentialism and toward "the utopian dream of the hope for a monstrous world without gender," stating that "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."[2]

Haraway also calls for a reconstruction of identity, no longer dictated by naturalism and taxonomy but instead by affinity, wherein individuals can construct their own groups by choice. In this way, groups may construct a "post-modernist identity out of otherness, difference, and specificity" as a way to counter Western traditions of exclusive identification.

Updates and Revisions[edit]

Although Haraway's metaphor of the cyborg has been labelled as a post-gender statement, Haraway has clarified her stance on post-genderism in recent interviews.[1] She acknowledges that her argument in the Manifesto seeks to challenge the necessity for categorization of gender, but does not correlate this argument to post-genderism. She clarifies this distinction because post-genderism is often associated with the discourse of the utopian concept of being beyond masculinity and femininity. Haraway notes that gender constructs are still prevalent and meaningful, but are troublesome and should therefore be eliminated as categories for identity.[1]

Applications of The Cyborg[edit]

Although Donna Haraway intended her concept of the cyborg to be a feminist critique, she acknowledges that other scholars and popular media have taken her concept and applied it to different contexts. Haraway is aware and receptive of the different uses of her concept of the cyborg, but admits "very few people are taking what I consider all of its parts".[1] Wired Magazine over looked the feminist theory of the cyborg and instead used it to make a more literal commentary about the enmeshment of humans and technology.[4] Despite this, Haraway also recognizes that new feminist scholars "embrace and use the cyborg of the manifesto to do what they want for their own purposes".[1]

Patchwork Girl[edit]

Shelley Jackson, author of Patchwork Girl.

"Patchwork Girl's thematic focus on the connections between monstrosity, subjectivity, and new reproductive technologies is apparent from its very first page, when readers, or users, open the hypertext to find a picture of a scared and naked female body sewn together with a single dotted line...Readers enter the text by clicking on this body and following its 'limbs' or links to different sections of the text."[5] The Patchwork Girl, the aborted female monster created by Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, is an aberrant and monstrous creature that is "part male, part female, part animal, 175 years old, and 'razed' up through hypertext technology."[5] The monster, following her destruction by Victor, is sewn back together by Mary Shelley herself, while simultaneously becoming Mary's lover; she is thus, "a cyborg who is queer, dis-proportioned, and visibly scarred. She both facilitates and undermines preoccupations with the benefits and dangers of reproductive technologies by embracing all of the monstrosities that reproductive/fetal screenings are imagined to 'catch' and one day prevent."[5] The Patchwork Girl embraces Haraway's conception of a cybernetic posthuman being in both her physical multiplicity and her challenge towards "the images and fantasies sustaining reproductive politics."[5]

"Cyborg Goddesses"[edit]

Turkish critical scholar Leman Giresunlu uses Haraway's cyborg as framework to examine current science fiction movies such as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Resident Evil in her essay "Cyborg Goddesses: The Mainframe Revisited".[6] In this essay, she explores how her new concept of the cyborg goddess, a female figure "capable of inflicting pain and pleasure simultaneously", can be used to make sense of how female representation is shifting towards a more multidimensional stance. Giresunlu builds from Haraway's cyborg because the cyborg goddess goes beyond "offering a way out from [the] duality" and instead provides how spirituality and technology work together to form a complex and more accurate representation of women.[6]

"Mind Over Matter"[edit]

In her essay "Mind Over Matter: Mental Evolution and Physical Devolution in The Incredible Shrinking Man", American critical scholar Ruthellen Cunnally uses Haraway's cyborg to help make sense of how Robert Scott Carey, the protagonist of The Incredible Shrinking Man, transforms into a cyborg in the midst of a metaphor of cold war politics in his home. As Robert continues to shrink, the gendered power dynamic between him and his wife Louise shifts from "the realm of husband/wife into the mode of mother/son".[7] When Robert finds himself lost in the feminine space of the basement, an area of the house that was reserved for Louise's domestic duties of sewing and washing, he is forced to fight for his life and reclaim his masculinity. Although he is able to conquer some of his foes and regain his "manhood", the gender lines do not become established again because there is no one to share and implement the gendered power structure with. Robert's transformation presents "an existence in which acceptance and meaning are released from the limitations of patriarchal dualisms", which aligns with Haraway's cyborg.[7]


Traditional feminists have criticized the Manifesto as antifeminist because it refutes any commonalities of the female experience.[1] In the Manifesto, Haraway writes "there is nothing about being 'female' that naturally binds women", which goes against a defining characteristic of traditional feminism that calls women to join together in order to advocate for members of their gender.[2]

Similar to the criticism for her book Primate Vision, her complex and ironic writing style is another characteristic that draws criticism.[8] Haraway acknowledges that her writing style, in particular her use of ironic metaphor, can be difficult to understand. It is a challenging rhetorical device to understand because it resides in privilege and can only be comprehended by people of a privileged background with similar experiences.[1]

Sonographic Fetus as Cyborg[edit]

Scholar Marilyn Maness Mehaffy notes that the "sonographic fetus is in many ways the ultimate cyborg in that it is 'created' in a space of virtuality that straddles the conventional boundary between an organic body and a digital text."[9] Yet it is this cyborg that presents a limit to Haraway's posthuman theory. The sonographic fetus, as posited by scholar Heather Latimer, "is publicly envisioned as both independent of [its mother's] body and as independent of the sonographic equipment used to read this body. We know that fetal images are depictions, yet the sonogram invokes a documentary-like access to fetuses that makes it easy to ignore this, which in turn can limit the authority and agency of pregnant women."[5] In positioning the fetus as independent, and consequently oppositional, to the pregnant mother, these reproductive technologies "reinscribe stable meanings to the human/machine dualism they supposedly disrupt."[5] As Valerie Hartouni argues, "most reproductive technologies have assimilated into the 'order of nature'"[10] making Haraway's vision of a regenerative species, unrestricted by heteronormative conceptions of reproduction, unattainable in the sonographic fetus.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Haraway, Donna (2004). The Haraway Reader. Routledge. pp. 321–341. ISBN 0-415-96688-4. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Full text of the article Cyborg Manifesto (an archived copy, in the Wayback Machine). It is the full text of the article: Haraway, Donna Jeanne (1991). "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century". Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Routledge. ISBN 0415903866. 
  3. ^ Olson, Marisa (November 21, 2008). "Viva Cyborg Theory - Editorial". Rizome. Retrieved 20 March 2013. 
  4. ^ Kunzru, Hari. "You Are Cyborg". Retrieved 25 April 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Latimer, Heather. "Reproductive Technologies, Fetal Icons, and Genetic Freaks: Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl and the Limits and Possibilities of Donna Haraway’s Cyborg." Modern Fiction Studies 57.2 (2011): 318-335.
  6. ^ a b Giresunlu, Leman (2009). "Cyborg Goddesses: The Mainframe Revisited". At the Interface / Probing the Boundaries: 157–187. 
  7. ^ a b Cunnally, Ruthellen (March 2013). "Mind Over Matter: Mental Evolution and Physical Devolution in The Incredible Shrinking Man". Journal of Popular Film and Television. 
  8. ^ Hamner, M. Gail. "The Work of Love: Feminist Politics and the Injunction to Love." Opting for the Margins: Postmodernity and Liberation in Christian Theology. Joerg Rieger, ed. Oxford University Press. 2003.
  9. ^ Mehaffy, Marilyn Maness. "Fetal attractions: the limit of cyborg theory."Women's Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 29.2 (2000): 177-194.
  10. ^ Hartouni, Valerie. Cultural Conceptions: On Reproductive Technologies and the Remaking of Life. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997.

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