Review: Joanna Latimer on ‘Manifestly Haraway’


Donna Haraway. Manifestly Haraway. The Cyborg Manifesto. The Companion Species Manifesto. Companions in Conversation (with Cary Wolfe). Posthumanities 37. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.  2016.

A Cybord Manifesto:Abstract: In this article I review Donna Haraway’s book,’Manifestly Haraway’, that brings together the Cyborg Manifesto, The Companion Species Manifesto and a Companion Conversation with Cary Wolfe. What I want to do is show how Haraway’s work taken together is inspiring and revolutionary, offering us a basis for thinking differently about how we can intervene in dominant power relations in ways that are not simply critical but constructive of new ways of doing and being a social scientist. So like Foucault before her she offers not just exceptional tropes to think with – the cyborg, the companion species – but practices, ways of thinking and writing and relating, through which to make worlds differently. Making kin, becoming-with – not post-humanism but compost – these are the messages of her manifestos for doing our theorising and our researching differently.

Keywords: Haraway, nature cultures , affective relationality , human-animal relations , cyborgs , companion species

While familiar with Haraway’s writing, I’ve been very slow in eating my way through this new collection over the last six months.  I’ve ingested the essays in tiny bites – not only because the prose is so often rich and moving – but mainly because her work is so good to think.  Looking at my annotated copy every other line is underlined or starred and so I realise what a difficult task it is going to be to capture the complexity of her thought alongside conveying the passion and revolution of her work.

Rereading the manifestoes excites me in a way that only Michel Foucault and Marilyn Strathern have done in the past. This is not because I didn’t read the earlier versions carefully enough. Rather it’s because I am now able to read them from a different place.  Specifically, it has taken many years to shed something that has got in my way before – something to do with having been brought up in a particular tradition of argument and empiricism in sociology that circulates the object-subject divide as well as separating (good) epistemology from ethos, ethicality, and matters of care (see also Puig de la Bellacasa, 2012, and Thompson, 2013). Additionally I am now reading Haraway through my having been moved and rewritten by a life that includes having babies and keeping a family of animals as well as taking up opportunities for research that has followed medicine back to biology. So too I am immersed in the politics of a cultural revolution: the enmeshing of life and flesh with digital technology, cyber technoscience and genomic imaginaries, and the acute need to preserve and cherish the stuff of our planet of which we are only one expression.

In all this I have been travelling backwards to retrieve a sense of those matters –affect, care, relationality, and immersion in the mess – which are so crucial to knowledge-making and to reassembling the social. While each of these is so easily excluded by sociology’s three gods of empiricism, functionalism and analytic argument, what is helping me to reverse direction is a growing tradition that brings together what is normally held a part. This is a tradition (for all the irony that such a term implies) that presses natureculture re-members humans as temporary expressions of, and as made-up of, the same stuff of the worlds they study (see for example Chiew’s, 2014, insightful discussion of Cary Wolfe’s and Karen Barad’s work), and that technology and animals are as co-constitutive of the social as humans (see for example Michael, 2000). Putting themselves into

a relation of extraction with the world is not only dangerous for humans as well as for the world (Heidegger 1996), as Stengers (2010) and Latour (2004) point out, scientists cannot and should not do that anyway because it is simply not good science.

In Manifestly Haraway the manifestos – created around two tropes – the ‘cyborg’ and ‘companion species’ – are laid alongside an extended conversation between herself and the critical theorist Cary Wolfe. In this conversation as well as the introduction Wolfe helps explicate how Haraway’s work expresses a feminine vision which is both erudite and razor sharp, but also kind and funny.  He talks of  the swagger of Haraway’s rhetorical performance – her irony and how her writing is in itself so liberatory. While still insisting on the need for community, Haraway says in the Cyborg Manifesto that irony and the politics of blasphemy are protectors from being swayed by the moral majority. Blasphemy is what Haraway calls a ‘category deviance’. Indeed, both cyborgs, the conjoining of flesh and machine that increasingly underpins human life, and companion species, the becomings that humans in affective relations with nonhuman others make, are blasphemous because they undo the categories that hold up the world as we know it.

In rereading these two manifestoes together I think what is so extraordinary is how Haraway’s writing helps us experience what she is trying to help liberate: a new way of working and thinking as social scientists. By this I mean she helps us to pay attention to how all the boundaries in place that hide our connectivity, our interdependency and our relationality are themselves connected. The boundaries her work challenges are between the human and the animal, organism and machine, the virtual and the fleshy, the literary and the scientific, the poetic and the functional, affect and effect. Haraway’s writing makes possible a vision in which every move we make, every step we take, everything we create is underpinned by the historicity of how these divisions are enacted.

Specifically, she helps illuminate how these divisions help support relations of asymmetry, domination and oppression between humans and others, including other humans, because how the way in which these divisions are worked body-forth and manifest asymmetries in power between different classes of being: ‘reasonable’, privileged, powerful, often heterosexual, white and masculine as against unreasonable, disadvantaged, weak, often black and female, sometimes also gay or lesbian. What she asserts is how in the nexus of entanglements between how division is done are possibilities for reproduction of asymmetrical power relations, including capitalism’s worst excesses of war and oppression.  This is what her work – when we read these manifestos and the conversations together – has accomplished – and it is a truly remarkable feat. Yet she is, as she puts it, neither a technobunny nor an all out critic of technology and of science.  Rather she offers us – as part-creators and inextricable users of technology and science – a different way of doing technology and science.  For example, she does not want us to abandon genomic thought but urges us to see genomics differently – that we are made up of, dependent upon and share the same stuff of the world as other creatures.

Donna Haraway gets us out of empiricist and analytical forms of argument – this is what Strathern (1998) also calls us to in the second Chapter of Gender of the Gift.  Haraway does this very differently from Strathern but she does it all the same. Haraway does not work the old divisions in ways that simply try to invert power relations, but finds different ways of thinking, writing and doing as at the same time connecting things up that are usually held apart. Strathern manages through her comparative method working between Melanesian and Euro-American cultures to create conditions of possibility for seeing the destructive modes of thought that underpin modernity as at the same time as generating possibilities for thinking differently. Haraway on the other hand works explicitly on the divisions that support analytical and empirical thought, bodied forth by the specific ways in which technoscience has infiltrated every aspect of life and thought as well as aligned with power structures to dominate and oppress, including making war not love.

Haraway’s work then is aimed at not just breaking down the old divisions but to shift attention and ways of thinking them that re-invents their connectivity.  She calls this an ‘affirmatory biopolitics’ after Esposito (2008), one that stresses kin, not otherness or division, and that produces a vision of compost rather than of the post-human. It is not just that she shows us that we have never been modern.  She does something more than this and it is this ‘more’ that I want to press.  This is because Haraway was doing something in cyborg manifesto that when I first read it I did not quite get. To borrow from Anneliese Ryles, in the Cyborg Manifesto Haraway gives us the means to see the figure of techno-science twice.   She is writing the figure of techno-science at the dawn of a new cyber age-the age of digital culture that is about to envelop us. Her prescience here is extraordinary. By prescience I am pointing to her exhortation in the manifesto to realise how all our techno-scientific invention and creativity can be rolled out to underpin relations of domination, or as ways to undo the categorical work that makes the figure of human exceptionality possible, and instead press relations of kin and connectivity. She recreates the figure of persons as not ever fully human in the sense of the sovereign subject, but as always in extension with otherness, in this case technological otherness.  In so doing she turns the idea of purity (racial, gendered, human) on its head, but she does much more than this. She says in the interview with Wolfe in the second half of the book, that cyborg manifesto was written out of and with rage. Her rage is at how technoscience is entangled with a politics of division and destruction.  A rage born out of her own socio-historical positioning: post two world wars, the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Vietnam and resistance to US imperialist politics, with the US as the personification of the sovereign subject.  A collective rage and protest:

O Superman,

O Judge,

O Mom and Dad.

Mom and Dad…

And I said, OK. Who is this really?

And the voice said, this is the hand, the hand that takes.

This is the hand, the hand that takes.

This is the hand, the hand that takes.

Here come the planes.

They’re American planes.

Made in America, ….

(Laurie Anderson, ‘O Superman’, from the album Big Science, 1982: Warner Bros)

This rage helps her to show how our being, our very fabric, always in extension with technology, are constituted by the relations between capitalism and division. But here Haraway illuminates the figure seen twice – how all our creativity and inventiveness – our entanglement with technology – could be done otherwise: and she unpacks the alternative figure of the cyborg as a metaphor of connection and hybridity, and as against the divisions that underpin human exceptionalism and all that it supports. In so doing Haraway offers us a new politics of inclusion and different possibilities for how technoscience is done.

So this is the figure she turns us towards – cyborg as affirmation of our mixings, of relatedness, of connection and of interdependency. This turning the figure of the human as always cyborg as a metaphor for how humans live in the world as always and forever political is a tour de force in itself. But cyborg manifesto doesn’t just offer that, it also offers possibilities for reimagining and doing relations differently. This difference, this possibility always has to have a focus on the ethics and affects of how our techno-human relations are done. That is she insists on focussing how techno-human relations create affects and worlds of very particular kinds-kinds that support war and division and destruction or worlds of relatedness that hold open care for and connection with otherness.

Haraway tells Wolf in their conversation that the Companion Species manifesto was in contrast written out of and with love. She exhorts us to make kin not babies. So what I think she means here is that our products of conception do not just make the ‘individuals’ that are so central to modern humans’ thought and forms of socio political organisation. But that our conceptions can be understood as both the products of relations and connections, mixings and conjoinings. So Haraway’s huge move here is to show us in companion species how kinship and inheritance is not linear-up and down a chronological tree of life – with each species having a different tree.  But also lateral. The who and what we live with, and the world’s we make together with these who’s and these what’s, make us up as both fleshy and virtual beings. So how does she do this?  The stress for Haraway is to make affective relationality visible and integral. Here she pushes the leading edge of philosophy to the limits. For example she doesn’t just hang with Heidegger’s notion of being in the world, or of Deleuze’s idea of human beings as becomings.  Rather she asserts the perspective through which we can ‘see’ how we are always ‘becoming-with’ others, human and non-human, virtual and fleshy, organic and machinic. And in so doing she doesn’t just with Whitehead press process, but ‘worldings’, as affective relatings of connection, mixing and interdependency.

Even more than this perhaps Haraway’s work suggests that if we don’t make the affective dimension of relations and interdependency visible in our work then our work is always partial in both senses of the word and in ways that reproduce a particular kind of politics: the politics that supports the asymmetry of divisions described earlier, and most particularly the division between the human and the rest of the world – of the human as over and above the world. So that rather than perpetuating the division between nature and culture, the world and the human, with science and technology as her handmaidens, we can think instead in terms of naturecultures: how humans are made up of the same fabric as the world they want to dominate.  This way of doing social science is very different to how we’ve been brought up in the empirical traditions of research and theory that we have inherited, the analytics of sociological argument which always presses somehow, somewhere for objectivity and which performs humans as in command of – as above or detached from – the plane of action from which they think and speak.

Haraway writes about how her thinking is only possible because of her rootedness in places and times – the USA in the sixties, when war and shame where a part of her diet, and then California, in the golden triangle between Berkeley, San Francisco and Santa Cruz – with their radical anthropology and feisty politics of alterity and resistance to mainstream capitalism –  that made possible a liberatory form of politics, and of doing academic work.  She makes it quite clear that these things as well as her reading, her research and making kin with her dogs, are the parts and persons and things with which she thinks and writes.  For example, her work is truly interdisciplinary, bringing together her early immersion in ethnology and the study of animal sociality, including her knowledge of biological and zoological theory and the scientific method, with social philosophy, feminism and feminist epistemology, anthropology and cultural studies. The way she works these different domains – academic, public and personal – helps her keep making openings, that are critical and forever political, but also constitutive.

Haraway’s work as it performs connection and interdependency thus shows us ways to reimagine how our thinking, our methodology and our writing are interventions, that are in themselves ‘worldings’. In this she exhorts us not just to mark out our territory or to colonise or to persuade, nor just to kill off what’s gone before. To truly speak truth to power we need do our intervening differently. She does not just make the personal, the social and political explicit, she makes them crucial to being able to think beyond how we are positioned and entangled: opening up our own existential historicity as well as that of the things we study is crucial to a methodology that helps us to turn dominant world-making over, and open up an alternative vision of how things can be done and can be understood, with profound material and experiential affects and effects.    So we can reimagine how every thought is thought, how every research proposal is constructed and every research project is done, and how every paper, blog or book is written, are the products of the conditions of possibility, the politics, which have made or unmade worlds, the worlds that entangle us and maybe oppress us. But, in making kin, in making connectivity and compost, we can with Haraway also make ways together of doing these things that can turn earlier, more destructive forms of world-making over.

Joanna Latimer

Professor of Sociology, Science & Technology,

Department of Sociology, University of York.


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