Donna Haraway: Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (1991)

"Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature" was published in 1991 by Donna J. Haraway, now Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness Department, and Feminist Studies Department, at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Haraway has written a number of books and essays on human-machine and human-animal relations, and particularly on questions concerning science and feminism. Haraway’s scholarly work is grounded in the history of science and biology.

Simians, Cyborgs and Women is a collection of ten previously published essays, written from 1978 through 1989. “It is a book about the invention and reinvention of nature,” Haraway states in the introduction, “perhaps the most central arena of hope, oppression, and contestation for inhabitants of the planet earth in our times” (p. 1).

The book is organized in three parts. In Part One, entitled “Nature as a System of Production and Reproduction”, Haraway problematizes what she calls the “biopolitical narratives” of the sciences of primates, including human beings. She describes the narratives as stories about power, in which, for a privileged cultural group, nature became a story of the hierarchical division of labour, thus naturalizing the inequities of race, sex, and class.

In Part Two, “Contested Readings: Narrative Natures”, Haraway analyzes the emergence of contesting viewpoints and power struggles within modern feminism, and she demonstrates how these processes result in diverse narrative forms and strategies.

The title of Part Three is “Different Politics for Inappropriate/d Others”. Here Haraway discusses “how our ‘natural’ bodies can be reimagined and relived in ways that transform the relations of self and other” (p. 4). This part includes one of her most well-known essays: “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century”. The essay, first published in 1985, is considered pivotal in the development of post-humanist theory. A cyborg is a human being with implanted technology that replaces or improves organic functions. Using the term ‘cyborg’ as a metaphor, Haraway claims that it implies a rejection of rigid boundaries, notably those separating ‘human’ from ‘animal’ and ‘human’ from ‘machine’. She stresses that cyborgs do not require a stable Identity.

Based on this, the Manifesto questions traditional notions of feminism, particularly the feminist focus on identity politics. Thus, Haraway calls for a revision of the concept of gender. In a post-gender world, we all are fabricated hybrids of machine and organism, and Haraway states that “The cyborg is our ontology” (p. 150). She points out three boundary breakdowns that can be observed by the late 20th century: the breakdown between human and animal, the permeable boundary between animal-human (organism) and machine, and the imprecise distinction between physical and non-physical. Consequently, “nature and culture are reworked; the one can no longer be the resource for appropriation or incorporation by the other” (p. 151). In this way, Haraway’s cyborg metaphor challenges the anthropocentric paradigm, and thus influencing both post-humanist and environmental discourse.

Ture Schwebs 15.02.2017