Cyborg Politics – Cyber-Culture (Donna Haraway)

It’s hard not to see the prescience of Donna Haraway’s account of the political landscape that is our contemporary techno-culture in “A Cyborg Manifesto” (1985) as anything other than truly astonishing.

With its commitments to “partiality, irony, and perversity,” the overblown rhetoric is vintage postmodernism circa 1990. You can take it or leave it.

But there’s no mistaking what she gets right, and that what she gets right is truer today than it was twenty years ago.

She described then our world today in 2012 as one marked by these topoi:

home (the flight of men, old women living alone, migration, technology of domestic work, basic insecurity)

market: surveillance systems through electronic funds transfer, intensified marked abstraction of experience, utopian or cynical theories of communication, extreme mobility of finance systems, interpenetration of sexual and labor markets

State: continued erosion of the welfare state, reduction of civil service labor, integration of privatization and militarization, social invisibility.

School: coupling of high-tech capital needs and public education at all levels, managerial involvement in educational reform, industrial direction of education by science-based multinationals.

Clinic-hospital: intensified machine-body relations, struggle over state responsibility for health, ideological role of popular health movements as a major form of American politics.

Religion:  electronic super-saver preachers, solemnized union of electronic capital and automated fetish gods, church participation in resisting the militarized state, struggle of women’s meaning and authority in religion, continued relevance of spirituality, intertwined with sex and health, in poltical struggle (pp.170-2).

“A Cyborg Manifesto” appeared in 1993 as chapter 8 in  Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (1993). Along with Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands, Haraway was all the rage among certain circles in the 1990s, about which I in Jewish philosophy would have been blithely unaware were it not for my hanging out with a bunch of Anthropology students in graduate school.

I’m not sure I would have understood any of this twenty years ago. What my friends got and what I got from them was just the rhetoric. And yet, looking past the rhetoric, what was truly prophetic and far seeing in this analytic diagnostic from 1985/1993 makes perfect obvious sense of today’s social-political-cultural landscape, including the place of religion on this map in the age of new media.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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2 Responses to Cyborg Politics – Cyber-Culture (Donna Haraway)

  1. hayyim rothman says:

    “Religion: electronic super-saver preachers, solemnized union of electronic capital and automated fetish gods, church participation in resisting the militarized state”

    The second half of the sentence which I did not reproduce seems pretty clear, but can you explain your take on this part? I’m not heckling, I just don’t understand what she meant by “automated fetish gods” or where you see this manifesting today. Also, how is church participating in resisting the militarized state? It seems to me that church is rallying the troops. What was Bush II if not a postmodern “Peter the Hermit?”

    • zjb says:

      hi hayyim! thanks for the heckle. on these two points i’d suggest that [1] automatic fetish gods might refer to how reigions turn God or Tradition or Text into an object thing, ala Buber’s point about turning God into an It. [2] the resistance of religion to militarization is, of course, completely utopian, but perhaps it could refer to those leftwing forms of religion currently on the very far margins of things today, like Rabbis for Human Rights.

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