Tribute to 20 years of the Cyborg Manifesto by Donna Haraway and 10 years of Cyberfeminism


Donna Haraway's seminal text A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century, published for the first time in 1984, and republished and translated in numerous anthologies* is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Donna Haraway, the socialist feminist Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, U.S.A, who was renamed a 'cyborg feminist', reinvented the paradigm of the cyborg for possible new articulations of new media technology potentials and for the emancipatory political, social and aesthetic actions of women at the end of the previous century. The cyborg discusses new media technologies as means for women's emancipation from patriarchal constraints, but also from one-dimensional technology's adorations, that serve only and solely to improve big corporations' profit. In the age that Steve Mann defined as the 'Age of Wearable Computers' where technological prosthesis and implements become constituent parts of the body, it is of crucial importance to ask how much and in which way new technology opens up space for the political and social emancipation of different class-, race- and gender- constituted people. Haraway also proposed in her manifesto an important re-conceptualisation of reproduction processes, social positions and political views. She argued that for women it is crucially important to liberate themselves from traditional patriarchies and from the constraints of being no more than laboratories for reproduction. Moreover, she pressed us to see technology, gender and politics as artificial processes; for their definition and implementation we have therefore to constantly construct new political and social interpretations.

"Cyborg replication is uncoupled from organic replication", Haraway argues. In this way she urged a constant political re-articulation of all that is considered to be simply naturally embedded in the globalised world: procreation, sex, gender, technology, democracy, and emancipation. The mediation of the cyborg manifesto between the human and the non-human, discourse and materiality, gave an important boost to questions of who the new material-semiotic actors' or actants' or agents' in the world are. Haraway's cyborg-theory, inspired by Bruno Latour's actor network-theory, and further in the 1990's rebuilt with Trinh T. Minh-ha's paradigm of the inappropriate/ed other, re-articulates significantly the problematic of material-semiotic actors, such as literature, language, context, gender, politics, etc. The results are new directions and alternatives within feminism and how to connect them with new media technology that radically and differently determines action, theory, politics and subjectivity in this time of global capitalism.

Haraway argued, "The cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world" (1984), meaning that not only gender, but theory and technology, even cyberspace is just another actor in the constantly re-constructed physiognomy of the world. Therefore, no one and nothing can be dismissed as unimportant, but everything also has to be once again re-articulated: history, the world, outer space, technology, and the political, along with, agents, subjects, objects, abjects, and the relations between First, Second and Third Worlds.

The paradigm of the cyborg opened up a huge field of cyborg-discourses: from theory to practice, from media, computer-mediated-information technology to cyberpunk (William Gibson coined the literary term 'cyberspace' in his 1984 cyberpunk novel Neuromancer to describe immersive data spaces and virtual reality), and it fostered the practice and theory of cyberfeminism (the ISEA 2004 meeting in Helsinki has just celebrated the first 10 years of Cyberfeminist Theory).

If feminism has at its base a way to organise the social (and I will add political) world(s) by/with/out gender, and therefore differs not only according to different theories (Marxist, Liberal, Lesbian, Postmodern, etc.), but also according to different topics and practices (such as race and social location, women's rights, gender roles, or political issues), then cyberfeminism is also one of its branches. What is important is that this fragmentation of feminism is not to be seen as a kind of new democratic women's attitude, but it is a situated, problematic, contested reality that is constantly open to new hegemonic and political processes of interpretations and power inscriptions.**
Marina Grzinic

*Donna J. Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991, pp. 149-81), translation by Valerija Vendramin and Tina Potrato; introduction by Marina Gržinic (Ljubljana: ŠOU Koda, 1999, 241-93).

** The Spectralization of Technology: From Elsewhere to Cyberfeminism and Back. Institutional Models of the Cyberworld, edited by Marina Gržinic in collaboration with Adele Eisenstein, English/Slovene, published by MKC, Maribor 1999.