What Is To Be Done? – Provocation

The question of “what is to be done?” is aptly used in the title of this published interview with Donna Haraway about her seminal feminist work A Cyborg Manifesto. Published in 1985, Manifesto brought together radical and socialist feminist theories to address the impact of technology and information systems on labor, race, and gender among other topics. The work was primarily a call to action, beckoning readers to abstain from pessimism regarding communications technologies and biotechnologies and a fetishizing of the organic, as well as to avoid what she calls the “blissed-out” futurist notions of human-machine hybridization that attempt to destroy humanity as an organic species. Instead, Haraway insists that humans are capable of reworlding the structures that comprise the various relationalities defining humanity while maintaining the histories and mythologies that preceded the rise of the cyborg.

Haraway uses this interview (published in 2006) to reflect on Manifesto in numerous ways including how her metaphoric cyborg allowed for a creation of the companion species – a more practical representation of personhood after the boundaries between man, animals, machines, and metaphysical qualities have been resolved. The issue of practicality – of instances where cyborg feminism has played out “on the ground” – becomes an important aspect of Manifesto after having read this interview because the latter emphasized that which can be realized through the unified theory as it is presented in the former. The work of reconfiguring gender outside the masculine/feminine binary without attempting to dissolve gender politics altogether and the creation of object-oriented ontology are possible products of Haraway’s Manifesto. But, I see few other repercussions in how humanity defines itself in relation to its hybridized composition (not to mention how personhood relates to technology and information) because individual agency has a limited reach and a social movement that acknowledges the diffusion of boundaries requires that the movement be through a collective, not a fragmented collection. Just as Haraway herself points out, the cyborg is frequently the offspring of the military complex, the commodified deconstruction of life, and of scientific culture. Thus, can the cyborg truly be free of origin and, therefore, free to participate in the production and reproduction of themselves and their societies?