Cyborg Manifesto author and philosopher who explores the nature of reality discusses the science wars and climate activism
The history of philosophy is also a story about real estate.
Driving into Santa Cruz to visit Donna Haraway, I cant help feeling that I was born too late. The metal sculpture of a donkey standing on Haraways front porch, the dogs that scramble to her front door barking when we ring the bell, and the big black rooster strutting in the coop out back the entire setting evokes an era of freedom and creativity that postwar wealth made possible in northern California.
Here was a counterculture whose language and sensibility the tech industry sometimes adopts, but whose practitioners it has mostly priced out. Haraway, who came to the University of Santa Cruz in 1980 to take up the first tenured professorship in feminist theory in the US, still conveys the sense of a wide-open world.
Haraway was part of an influential cohort of feminist scholars who trained as scientists before turning to the philosophy of science in order to investigate how beliefs about gender shaped the production of knowledge about nature. Her most famous text remains The Cyborg Manifesto, published in 1985. It began with an assignment on feminist strategy for the Socialist Review after the election of Ronald Reagan and grew into an oracular meditation on how cybernetics and digitization had changed what it meant to be male or female or, really, any kind of person. It gained such a cult following that Hari Kunzru, profiling her for Wired magazine years later, wrote: To boho twentysomethings, her name has the kind of cachet usually reserved for techno acts or new phenethylamines.
The cyborg vision of gender as changing and changeable was radically new. Her map of how information technology linked people around the world into new chains of affiliation, exploitation and solidarity feels prescient at a time when an Instagram influencer in Berlin can line the pockets of Silicon Valley executives by using a phone assembled in China that contains cobalt mined in Congo to access a platform moderated by Filipinas.
Haraways other most influential text may be an essay that appeared a few years later, on what she called situated knowledges. The idea, developed in conversation with feminist philosophers and activists such as Nancy Hartsock, concerns how truth is made. Concrete practices of particular people make truth, Haraway argued. The scientists in a laboratory dont simply observe or conduct experiments on a cell, for instance, but co-create what a cell is by seeing, measuring, naming and manipulating it. Ideas like these have a long history in American pragmatism. But they became politically explosive during the so-called science wars of the 1990s a series of public debates among scientific realists and postmodernists with echoes in controversies about bias and objectivity in academia today.