What are the main ideas in Donna Haraway's: A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science , Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s?

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The cyborg icon is liberation from ideology by embracing technology and avoiding categorization.

Haraway is exploring the borders between human and machine, physical and nonphysical; human and animal. Rather than constructing another icon/myth of the scientific/social feminist as something essentially human, Haraway embraces the relevance of technology and invents the cyborg as this new icon for the social feminist since technology is now already a part of what it means to be human. Being “always” on the border between human and machine, the Cyborg is not subjected to the traditional myths and icons of the West. The Cyborg is post-gender, post-essentialist and therefore, not subjected to prescribed roles in gender or any essentialist doctrine; from feminism to Marxism. Therefore, the Cyborg has the privileged position (potential) of avoiding any essential categorization. One the one hand, this is flimsy and perpetually wishy-washy; on the other hand, it is a perception of being totally open to difference. Since Haraway’s Cyborg is an icon of feminism and socialism, this Cyborg does have an agenda; the point is that the Cyborg will not allow itself to be categorized in any essential way. This would be like saying and actually believing/living/doing something like, “I’m a democrat, but I don’t automatically bend to the will of the party and I don’t belong to any essentialist sect of democrats.”

Haraway recognizes the role of technology and writing and the multiplicity of both. So, her feminist cyborg is not just some myth of escape from real material oppression. By integrating her myth with technology, she is acknowledging the way the world works. This is a departure from feminists and other –ists which suppose that there is an absolute (or even fundamental-ist) way for every “-ist” to be. It is also a departure from the romanticized, rural notion of feminist or Marxist, uncorrupted by culture and technology. Although technology has played a role in oppression, Haraway does not retreat from it. She intends to use it. The only way for political action to be effective is to engage in the systems it uses.

Haraway argues that we are already Cyborgs. (Think of how connected to our machines: ipods, phones, PC’s etc. industrialized countries have become. Also, consider the growing comparison between computers and brains and all the apocalyptic tales where computers take over the world). Being non-organically reproductive, the cyborg evades all religious and even some scientific discourses such as biological/genetic determinism. In this sense, the cyborg is a liberation from those histories; and that’s what liberation is: the possibility of creating something new. Since computers are increasingly smaller and the information transferred itself is in the ether, the cyborg is non-physical as well as physical; able to program her/himself.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this article (written in the late twentieth century), Haraway uses the metaphor of a cyborg, a creation that is both human and machine. She explains that "we are cyborgs." In other words, the author rejects the idea that we are firmly one thing or another. Instead, she writes that the article is an "argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries." She calls for an erasure of strict boundaries. Going back to the idea of a cyborg, she writes that the cyborg is a creation of a world that has moved beyond the idea of gender. 

Haraway argues that three distinctions used in the past now longer make sense—the distinction between human and animal, human and machine, and men and women. Though the definitions of "man" and "woman" have traditionally split genders, the author argues for a redefining of gender based on affinity.

Taking on the epistemology of feminism and gender, or the way in which people understand these concepts, the author challenges the idea of essentialism (the idea that people exist as one thing or another). Instead, the author believes that people are like cyborgs and are made of pieces, rather than wholes. She calls for a reimagining of gender in which people can choose to identify with different groups rather than being assigned to one identity or another.