Becoming Cyborg: Science and Science Fiction

Brooklyn Institute for Social Research – Jersey City, Fall 2016

Feminist science studies scholar Donna Haraway writes: “By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are all cyborgs.” Haraway goes on to argue in her canonical essay, “A Manifesto For Cyborgs,” that to be a cyborg means to live in a world without tidy origin stories or innocent wholeness. Instead, it is about partial connections, complex kinship with humans, non-humans, and machines, and an acceptance of the messiness that it takes to get along better together. Using this formulation of cyborg theory as a jumping off point, this seminar will explore what it means to live in our modern world where myths of human-machine synthesis prefigure our attitudes toward technology and the future, the responsibility of humans toward non-humans and the environment, capitalist accumulation, and oppression based on gender, race, and class.

Readings in this course will include key historical texts on cybernetics by Norbert Wiener, feminist science studies texts by Donna Haraway, Marxian futurist theory from Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, and William Gibson’s cyberpunk science fiction classic, Neuromancer. Through course readings and discussions, we will confront the ways that utopian futures – both in science and science fiction – tend to remain tainted by the same race-, gender-, and class-linked systems of oppression that they are designed to deliver us from and imagine together new ways of addressing these questions.