[From the Archives]: An Interview with Donna Haraway

Today’s post is an excerpt of an interview with Donna Haraway, from Issue 73/74 (Fall 2009-Spring 2010). This interview took place at Donna Haraway’s house in Santa Cruz, CA, on 6 July 2009. It was conducted by Williams, then editor of the minnesota review, and transcribed by Heather Steffen, then the managing editor of the review while a PhD student at Carnegie Mellon.

With her concept of the “cyborg,” Donna Haraway provided a new way to think about the relation between modern technology and organisms, showing how they are not opposed or foreign to one another but interwoven. Drawing on feminism and radical thought, she also argued that the new science of information was not neutral but worked in the service of domination. Over her career, Haraway has explored a range of fields, including embryology, primatology, genetics, technoscience, and animal studies, demonstrating that many of the default oppositions we have, like genetics and environment or human and animal, interact and connect. As she stresses in her recent work, we are not lords who have dominion over animals, but companion species.

Haraway’s first book, Crystals, Fabrics, and Fields: Metaphors of Organicism in Twentieth-Century Developmental Biology (Yale UP, 1976; rpt. North Atlantic P, 2004), is a study of the ways metaphors shape experimental and theoretical practices. “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” (later revised to “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century”) first appeared in Socialist Review 80 (1985); the revised version has been reprinted many times, among them in her major collection, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (Routledge, 1991), which includes other important essays. Turning her focus from the contact zone between humans and machines, in the past decade Haraway has focused on the hinge between humans and animals in The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness (Prickly Paradigm, 2003) and When Species Meet (U of Minnesota P, 2008).

Williams The first question I want to ask is about the “Cyborg Manifesto,” because that’s how many people know your work, and also because this year is its twenty-fifth anniversary. It was a different moment to be doing theory in the eighties. Could you tell me about the situation then and how you reflect back on it?

Haraway The “Cyborg Manifesto” grew out of a number of political connections and deep intellectual interests. The immediate occasion for the “Cyborg Manifesto” was that I was asked by the Socialist Review collective in Berkeley to be a representative at a conference in Yugoslavia. The Yugoslavian left was no longer quite as radical as the immediately preceding generation because of repression, but still a very vibrant political intellectual formation of international Marxists, and the Socialist Review collective sent representatives. I came out of the Baltimore Marxist-feminist union when I was teaching at Johns Hopkins, and had just moved to Santa Cruz and to the History of Consciousness department. The kind of Marxist- feminist that I was, was very latitudinarian, but that’s true of most of us of that period. And it was also the early years of the Reagan presidency.

So I went to Cavtat, now in Croatia, but then Yugoslavia, and I had a little paper that I was going to read on reproductive technologies and reproductive freedom. And there I met an extraordinary group of people. The women in particular were very alert to the kinds of sexism that were practiced in the international Marxist scene in those years, partly by younger men but mainly by an older generation of men, from North Korea and East Germany and the rest. Feminism had no cultural purchase in their practice.

Williams Even by the eighties?

Haraway Absolutely. This was not true across the board, but it was visible and palpable. We ended up making all these alliances with the women who were running the copiers and setting out the water, and there was straightforward, old-fashioned feminist organizing of the people who were actually making the conference work. So the “Cyborg Manifesto” came out of that sense of how these kinds of internationalism or globalism work and the gendered quality of it, and also the tie with reproductive technology issues and molecular biology. Molecular genetics was beginning to be a big player then— already by 1980 the patent decisions were in place, and there was a proprietary regime around the molecular body that was of great interest to me, since I was coming out of biology.

You can read the rest of the interview via our online archive, available through Duke University Press, here.

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