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IEET > Rights > PostGender > Vision > Bioculture > Technoprogressivism > Contributors > Kyle Munkittrick

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On the Importance of Being a Cyborg Feminist

Kyle Munkittrick
By Kyle Munkittrick
h+ Magazine

Posted: Jul 23, 2009

Transhumanism’s relationship with postmodern philosophy and critical theory is a strange one. For example, Nick Bostrom’s influential “A History of Transhumanist Thought” spans centuries, covering the gamut from Utnapishtim to the President’s Council on Bioethics, but makes little mention of those who radically challenge the core Enlightenment narrative upon which he builds his history. Figures like Nietzsche, Marx, and Donna Haraway do all receive a nod in Bostrom’s essay, including Haraway’s cyberfeminist motto, “I’d rather be a cyborg than a goddess,” but their ideas go unanalyzed. Of course, the context for these thinkers is often ignored and their works simply mined for epigraphs and potent, argument-punctuating lines such as Haraway’s.

Make no mistake: Bostrom’s essay (indeed, his entire corpus of work) is essential reading for any serious transhumanist. But there are gaps in his history that are reflective of a larger dismissal of certain philosophers by transhumanist intellectuals. Among those neglected, I would list Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and Jurgan Habermas. Clearly there is insufficient time and space to even begin to discuss all of these figures properly, so I would like to draw your attention to just one in particular, Donna Haraway, and her work with cyberfeminism.

Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” is the locus classicus of cyberfeminism. Published as an essay in 1985 and then redrafted as a chapter in Haraway’s Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature in 1991, the manifesto has aged particularly well, remaining relevant within feminism and cultural studies, and it is often quoted in transhumanist works. The manifesto was written as a rebuttal of eco-feminism, a philosophy that views technology as inherently patriarchal and advocates communism and deep ecology as a counterpoint to what they see as the Western capitalist patriarchy. Drawing partially upon Foucault (whom she also mocks), Haraway argues instead that the very forms of power used by hegemonic forces can be used for resistance and liberation.

Haraway co-opts hegemonic power through her figure of the cyborg. She begins by defining the cyborg as a blasphemous, ironic, rebellious, and incomplete entity that undermines the categories we so cherish in Western society: animal-human, organic-machine, and physical-nonphysical. Though a product of Western capitalist patriarchy, like all good science-fiction heroes the cyborg is disloyal and insurrectionary. Thanks to its heritage, Haraway sees the cyborg as capable of taking the West’s concept of historical and intellectual progress, the capitalist drive for communication and cooption, and the patriarchal hierarchy and transmute all three into a postmodern socialist-feminist counter-force. Haraway’s cyborg is a rhetorical refutation of both eco-feminism and Western capitalist patriarchy, acting as a kind of guerilla postmodern subject, able to take the potent qualities of its enemies and utilize them for its own purposes. In short, Donna Haraway’s cyborg is rebellion embodied in a single techno-organic subject.

Cyborg feminism - woman with face mask and goggles“A Cyborg Manifesto” helped to found cyberfeminism and cyborgology, the latter of which was expanded upon by Chris Hable Gray. The former, cyberfeminism, focuses on the ways in which science and technology interact with gender roles and their mutual constructions in society. In addition to Haraway’s continuing work with companion species, technologically mediated communities and critical science studies, theorists like Judy Wajcman, N. Katherine Hayles, and Nina Lykke have all contributed significantly to cyberfeminism. The corpus of cyberfeminist literature reads like transhumanism through the looking-glass: an odd counter-perspective that parallels, contrasts, undermines and buttresses simultaneously. When Haraway says, “Monsters have always defined the limits of community in Western imaginations,” she captures this counter-position perfectly. Transhumanists point to the pinnacle of what it believes humanity could become; where it might be going, and asks, “why not?” and “how do we get there?” Cyberfeminists (and postmodernists in general) look at the abject, the debased, the grotesque and the marginalized and ask “why is it so? How did this become the fringe?” Transhumanism needs cyberfeminism because it functions to expose the way in which defining the “human,” and in turn, the “transhuman,” can repress, reject, and otherize those it claims to help.

Read the rest here.

Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.
Nicole Sallak Anderson is a Computer Science graduate from Purdue University. She developed encryption and network security software, which inspired the eHuman Trilogy—both eHuman Dawn and eHuman Deception are available at Amazon, the third installment is expected in early 2016. She is a member of the advisory board for the Lifeboat Foundation and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.
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Wow talk about timing!

Our counter piece on this subject!

Lets tango

Woah…......yet another colonization of my life is what I am reading here.  I was born that rarest of rare, a “true hermaphrodite” (tetragametic chimera) and was surgically assigned male as an infant.  I had to correct that as an adult as my “identity” is completely female.  Born intersexed, I was forced to “transsex” my own body to correct the “techo” “improvements” some arrogant SOB of a doctor imposed on it because he could.

Transgenders do not pursue surgery.  Transgender’s trans their gender, not their sex.  Transsexuals are the ones who transform their bodies to conform with the internal sense of gender and their gender is consistent by definition, from the earliest self-knowledge.  That’s the first of my objections. Do not presume to colonize the lives of others

According to the jargon you are using, I’m an eco-feminist but suppose you could also say I am a trans-humanist except from a religious/spiritual focus rather than a techno one.  I’m also a historian and theologian of the Pagan variety.

I do find those who appropriate my life experiences to support their own agendas offensive and feel that is exactly what you have done here.  Despite the claims of transgender activists, transgender is NOT an “inclusive” term but a forced categorization on a class that has no desire to be part of that group.  As someone actually born intersexed, I object to being dehumanized by your scholarly ramblings as well.  If you are actually studying identity politics, add some bio-ethics and a dash of respect of individuals rights to self identify and self determination before engaging in flights of intellectual fancy next time.

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