Do Cyborgs Have Politics?

This question of the politics of technological artifacts has perhaps never been more salient than now, when we walk around with computing technologies on our person at all times. Chief among these are the politics of becoming cyborg.

Feminist technology theorist Donna Haraway argued for using cyborgs as a resource for rethinking politics in her 1981 essay, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century”. For Haraway, the cyborg’s politics are based upon dismantling the mythical origin stories we tell about ourselves, our societies, our technologies, and the divisions we draw amongst us along the lines of race, class, and gender, and between colonized and colonizer, laborer and elite. By changing how we tell these stories – including amplifying the voices and stories of women and people of color in particular – she saw new possibilities for freedom and justice. Haraway’s cyborg politics was also a politics that incorporated cutting-edge technologies as part of the liberatory apparatus, rather than blaming technology for all of society’s defects or unilaterally celebrating technological progress as the solution to our ills. Understanding the power and danger of becoming cyborg means, according to Haraway, learning to tell more equivocal stories about the entanglements between modern technoscience and social life than we may be accustomed to.

Thirty-five years later, real-world questions persist about the politics of human bodies and the apparent compulsion to perfect them using technology. While Western society has long been concerned with the perfection and optimization of human bodies, technologists and physicians now have the ability to permanently modify it with technological devices to create new capacities and to make up for both inborn and acquired deviations from the norm. Yet the ability to expand the capacities of the human body also introduces new ways for individuals and groups to be left out, especially in places like the United States and, much more acutely, the global south, where access to health care is highly unequal.

Read the full essay at Pax Solaria.

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