Simians, Cyborgs and Women is a collection of Haraways essays spanning the period 1978-1989 and demonstrating the development of her thinking and her professional practice as a biologist, science historian and feminist (Marxist) writer. With engaging indignant passion and intellectual elan, Haraway's essays critique the master narratives for primatology, for Nature (capital N), and for the creation of disenfranchised "others." Considered as a whole, the essays are life-as-a-moral Franklinesque: they are about Haraway's being identifiably and inescapably a white, Western, American, female academic as opposed to her earnest, not-really ironic desire to be pleasurably, productively networked, partially identified, partially fragmented, wholly unsubsumed, uncreated, ungendered, and in control of her own products of labor and labored reproductions. For this reader, at least, the end of the Haraway play has little appeal-- life unending as a do-it-yourself cyborg has not got the same kick as the New Jerusalem -- but at least Haraway understands what the stakes are.
In "Sex Mind and Profit," written for the theory-conscious journal Signs,
we read an early expression of Haraway's long-standing concern that scientists
create (and re-create) Nature as a version of their own culture:
It is significant that the culture concept depended on personality in the anthropology of the 1930s. We have moved with Yerkes [an influential primatologist] from instinct, through personality, to culture, to human engineering. Scientists themselves interwove sex, mind and society in a vocation of scientific service establishing a promising new life science of comparative primitive psychobiology, reaching from learning through motivation to experimental sociology. Primatology served as a mediator between life and human sciences in a critical period of reformulation of the doctrines of nature and culture. Yerkes ordered his life in the belief that this science would serve to foster a higher state of individual and social consciousness, the ideological goal of liberal humanism. (55)
She tackles the same theme in "The contest for primate nature: daughters of man the hunter in the field 1960-1980," written for The Future of American Democracy: Views from the Left (1983)
And whatever meanings individual students attached to their own work at the time of their graduate training, it seems very likely that in the 1960s the public meanings of presentations from the University of California, Berkely, were framed by Washburn's interpretations -- and sometimes more active direction -- included: (1) the primacy of the baboon model for a comparative functional understanding of hominid evolution; (2) the crucial role of the social group (and a much lesser role of sexual bonds) as the key behavioral adaptation of primates; and (3) the central drama of a male subsistence innovation -- hunting -- in the human origin story, which included bipedalism, tools, language and social cooperation. Again, male dominance hierarchies were a key mechanism of this promising co-operation." (91)
In both essays Haraway suggests that existing cultural beliefs about gender, and about cooperation, are "read" back onto animals, and then adduced as "proof" of basic human nature. And, somewhat glumly, she concludes that women, as members of the culture creating the construct, were not necessarily able to "see" the story any differently.
As feminist theories in the eighties unfolded, the act of writing itself became suspect. The practice of feminism required that smooth texture of writing itself had to become troubled and troubling; the reader encountered a unified story, a unified passage, as a suspicious act of imperialism. In Haraway's deft hands layers of meanings, implications and allusions take elusive wavering shape: it is dazzling sprezzatura feminism: her rough surfaces are late Micheangelo.
In her 1981 essay "In the beginning was the word: the genesis
of biological theory" (also published in Signs) Haraway says:
Feminists want some theory of representation to avoid the problem of epistemological anarchism. An epistemology that justifies not taking a stand on the nature of things is of little use to women trying to build a shared politics. But feminists also know that the power of naming a thing is the power of objectifying, of totalizing. The other is simultaneously produced and located outside the more real in the twin discourses of life and human sciences, of natural science and humanism. This is the creation of difference that plagues 'Western' knowledge; it is the patriarchal voice in the production of discourse that can name only by subordinating within legitimate lineages. (79-80)
In other words, naming is raw power, domination. But how, then, to build a coalition, or an alternative model for thinking about what science is or might be? Science, naming, knowing, as we practice it, presents a problem not only about culture, but also about the thinking process itself. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Haraway approaches the problem metaphorically, via the cyborg.
In her well-known "Cyborg Manifesto" Haraway offers a radical affirmation of dis-topia:
The cyborg is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity. It is oppositional, utopian, and completely without innocence. No longer structured by the polarity of public and private, the cyborg defines a technological polis based partly on a revolution of social relations in the oikos, the household. Nature and culture are re-worked; the one can no longer be the resource for appropriation or incorporation by the other. The relationships for forming wholes from parts, including those of polarity and hierarchical domination, are at issue in the cyborg world. Unlike the hopes of Frankenstein's monster, the cyborg does not expect its father to save it through a restoration of the garden; that is through the fabrication of a heterosexual mate, through its completion in a finished whole, a city and cosmos. (151)
And how to top that dis-avowal? Partly in response to the death of a friend, Haraway meditates on AIDS, the immune system, and the construction of new social metaphors.
My thesis is that the immune system is an elaborate icon for principal systems of symbolic and material 'difference' in late capitalism. Pre-eminently a twentieth-century object, the immune system is a map drawn to guide recognition and misrecognition of self and other in the dialectics of Western biopolitics....The immune system is a historically specific terrain, where global and local politics; Nobel Prize-winning research; heteroglossic cultural productions, from popular dietary practices, feminist science fiction, religious imagery, and children's games, to photographic techniques and military strategic theory; clinical medical practice; venture capital investment strategies; world-changing developments in business and technology; ad the deepest personal and collective experiences of embodiment, vulnerability, power, and mortality interact with an intensity matched perhaps only in the biopolitics of sex and reproduction. (204-5)
This is a curious and interesting "reading" of immunology, replete with connections, hard to argue with, and in keeping with her earliest suspicions about primate cultural "readings." How do Haraways' readings matter to me? They connect readily with Lakoff's meditation on the nature of knowledge and what one can reasonably know about oneself. They offer examples of how thinking about the cultural stories structuring science might be explored, and by one remove, how the cultural stories structuring business might be explored.