Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto” (Part II)



The Informatics of Domination


In this attempt at an epistemological and political position, I would like to sketch a picture of possible unity, a picture indebted to socialist and feminist principles of design. The frame for my sketch is set by the extent and importance of rearrangements in world-wide social relations tied to science and technology. I argue for a politics rooted in claims about fundamental changes in the nature of class, race, and gender in an emerging system of world order analogous in its novelty and scope to that created by industrial capitalism; we are living through a movement from an organic, industrial society to a polymorphous, information system--from all work to all play, a deadly game. Simultaneously material and ideological, the dichotomies may be expressed in the following chart of transitions from the comfortable old hierarchical dominations to the scary new networks I have called the informatics of domination:  




Bourgeois novel, realism

Science fiction, postmodernism


Biotic Component

Depth, integrity

Surface, boundary



Biology as clinical practice

Biology as inscription


Communications engineering

Small group





Population Control

Decadence, Magic Mountain

Obsolescence, Future Shock


Stress Management

Microbiology, tuberculosis

Immunology, AIDS

Organic division of labour

Ergonomics/cybernetics of labour

Functional specialization

Modular construction



Organic sex role specialization

Optimal genetic strategies

Biological determinism

Evolutionary inertia, constraints

Community ecology


Racial chain of being

Neo-imperialism, United Nations humanism

Scientific management in home/factory

Global factory/Electronic cottage


Women in the Integrated Circuit

Family wage

Comparable worth


Cyborg citizenship


Fields of difference


Communications enhancement




Genetic engineering




Artificial Intelligence

Second World War

Star Wars

White Capitalist Patriarchy

Informatics of Domination




This list suggests several interesting things. First, the objects on the right-hand side cannot be coded as “natural,” a realization that subverts naturalistic coding for the left-hand side as well. We cannot go back ideologically or materially. It’s not just that “god” is dead; so is the ”goddess.” Or both are revivified in the worlds charged with microelectronic and biotechnological politics. In relation to objects like biotic components, one must not think in terms of essential properties, but in terms of design, boundary constraints, rates of flows, systems logics, costs of lowering constraints. Sexual reproduction is one kind of reproductive strategy among many, with costs and benefits as a function of the system environment. Ideologies of sexual reproduction can no longer reasonably call on notions of sex and sex role as organic aspects in natural objects like organisms and families. Such reasoning will be unmasked as irrational, and ironically corporate executives reading Playboy and anti-porn radical feminists will make strange bedfellows in jointly unmasking the irrationalism.


Likewise for race, ideologies about human diversity have to be formulated in terms of frequencies of parameters, like blood groups or intelligence scores. It is “irrational” to invoke concepts like primitive and civilized. For liberals and radicals, the search for integrated social systems gives way to a new practice called “experimental ethnography” in which an organic object dissipates in attention to the play of writing. At the level of ideology, we see translations of racism and colonialism into languages of development and under-development, rates and constraints of modernization. Any objects or persons can be reasonably thought of in terms of disassembly and reassembly; no ”natural” architectures constrain system design. The financial districts in all the world’s cities, as well as the export-processing and free-trade zones, proclaim this elementary fact of “late capitalism.” The entire universe of objects that can be known scientifically must be formulated as problems in {163} communications engineering (for the managers) or theories of the text (for those who would resist). Both are cyborg semiologies.


One should expect control strategies to concentrate on boundary conditions and interfaces, on rates of flow across boundaries -- and not on the integrity of natural objects. “Integrity” or “sincerity” of the Western self gives way to decision procedures and expert systems. For example, control strategies applied to women’s capacities to give birth to new human beings will be developed in the languages of population control and maximization of goal achievement for individual decision-makers. Control strategies will be formulated in terms of rates, costs of constraints, degrees of freedom. Human beings, like any other component or subsystem, must be localized in a system architecture whose basic modes of operation are probabilistic, statistical. No objects, spaces, or bodies are sacred in themselves; any component can be interfaced with any other if the proper standard, the proper code, can be constructed for processing signals in a common language. Exchange in this world transcends the universal translation effected by capitalist markets that Marx analysed so well. The privileged pathology affecting all kinds of components in this universe is stress - communications breakdown. The cyborg is not subject to Foucault’s biopolitics; the cyborg simulates politics, a much more potent field of operations.


This kind of analysis of scientific and cultural objects of knowledge which have appeared historically since the Second World War prepares us to notice some important inadequacies in feminist analysis which has proceeded as if the organic, hierarchical dualisms ordering discourse in “the West” since Aristotle still ruled. They have been cannibalized, or as Zoe Sofia (Sofoulis) might put it, they have been “techno-digested.” The dichotomies between mind and body, animal and human, organism and machine, public and private, nature and culture, men and women, primitive and civilized are all in question ideologically. The actual situation of women is their integration/ exploitation into a world system of production/reproduction and communication called the informatics of domination. The home, workplace, market, public arena, the body itself- all can be dispersed and interfaced in nearly infinite, polymorphous ways, with large consequences for women and others - consequences that themselves are very different for different people and which make potent oppositional international movements difficult to imagine and essential for survival. One important route for reconstructing socialist-feminist politics is through theory and practice addressed to the social relations of science and technology, including crucially the systems of myth and meanings structuring our imaginations. The cyborg is a kind of disassembled and reassembled, postmodern collective and personal self. This is the self feminists must code. {164}


Communications technologies and biotechnologies are the crucial tools recrafting our bodies. These tools embody and enforce new social relations for women world-wide. Technologies and scientific discourses can be partially understood as formalizations, i.e., as frozen moments, of the fluid social interactions constituting them, but they should also be viewed as instruments for enforcing meanings. The boundary is permeable between tool and myth, instrument and concept, historical systems of social relations and historical anatomies of possible bodies, including objects of knowledge. Indeed, myth and tool mutually constitute each other. Furthermore, communications sciences and modern biologies are constructed by a common move - the translation of the world into a problem of coding, a search for a common language in which all resistance to instrumental control disappears and all heterogeneity can be submitted to disassembly, reassembly, investment, and exchange.


In communications sciences, the translation of the world into a problem in coding can be illustrated by looking at cybernetic (feedback-controlled) systems theories applied to telephone technology, computer design, weapons deployment, or data base construction and maintenance. In each case, solution to the key questions rests on a theory of language and control; the key operation is determining the rates, directions, and probabilities of flow of a quantity called information. The world is subdivided by boundaries differentially permeable to information. Information is just that kind of quantifiable element (unit, basis of unity) which allows universal translation, and so unhindered instrumental power (called effective communication). The biggest threat to such power is interruption of communication. Any system breakdown is a function of stress. The fundamentals of this technology can be condensed into the metaphor C31, command-control-communication-intelligence, the military’s symbol for its operations theory.


In modern biologies, the translation of the world into a problem in coding can be illustrated by molecular genetics, ecology, sociobiological evolutionary theory, and immunobiology. The organism has been translated into problems of genetic coding and read-out. Biotechnology, a writing technology, informs research broadly. In a sense, organisms have ceased to exist as objects of knowledge, giving way to biotic components, i.e., special kinds of information-processing devices. The analogous moves in ecology could be examined by probing the history and utility of the concept of the ecosystem. Immunobiology and associated medical practices are rich exemplars of the privilege of coding and recognition systems as objects of knowledge, as constructions of bodily reality for us. Biology here is a kind of cryptography. Research is necessarily a kind of intelligence activity. Ironies abound. A stressed system goes awry; its communication processes break down; it fails to recognize the difference between self and other. Human babies with {165} baboon hearts evoke national ethical perplexity -- for animal rights activists at least as much as for the guardians of human purity. In the US gay men and intravenous drug users are the “privileged” victims of an awful immune system disease that marks (inscribes on the body) confusion of boundaries and moral pollution (Treichler, 1987).


But these excursions into communications sciences and biology have been at a rarefied level; there is a mundane, largely economic reality to support my claim that these sciences and technologies indicate fundamental transformations in the structure of the world for us. Communications technologies depend on electronics. Modern states, multinational corporations, military power, welfare state apparatuses, satellite systems, political processes, fabrication of our imaginations, labour-control systems, medical constructions of our bodies, commercial pornography, the international division of labour, and religious evangelism depend intimately upon electronics. Microelectronics is the technical basis of simulacra; that is, of copies without originals.


Microelectronics mediates the translations of labour into robotics and word processing, sex into genetic engineering and reproductive technologies, and mind into artificial intelligence and decision procedures. The new biotechnologies concern more than human reproduction. Biology as a powerful engineering science for redesigning materials and processes has revolutionary implications for industry, perhaps most obvious today in areas of fermentation, agriculture, and energy. Communications sciences and biology are constructions of natural-technical objects of knowledge in which the difference between machine and organism is thoroughly blurred; mind, body, and tool are on very intimate terms. The “multinational” material organization of the production and reproduction of daily life and the symbolic organization of the production and reproduction of culture and imagination seem equally implicated. The boundary-maintaining images of base and superstructure, public and private, or material and ideal never seemed more feeble.


I have used Rachel Grossman’s (1980) image of women in the integrated circuit to name the situation of women in a world so intimately restructured through the social relations of science and technology. I used the odd circumlocution, ”the social relations of science and technology,” to indicate that we are not dealing with a technological determinism, but with a historical system depending upon structured relations among people. But the phrase should also indicate that science and technology provide fresh sources of power, that we need fresh sources of analysis and political action (Latour, 1984). Some of the rearrangements of race, sex, and class rooted in high-tech-facilitated social relations can make socialist-feminism more relevant to effective progressive politics.  {166}


Women in the Integrated Circuit


Let me summarize the picture of women’s historical locations in advanced industrial societies, as these positions have been restructured partly through the social relations of science and technology. If it was ever possible ideologically to characterize women’s lives by the distinction of public and private domains -- suggested by images of the division of working-class life into factory and home, of bourgeois life into market and home, and of gender existence into personal and political realms --it is now a totally misleading ideology, even to show how both terms of these dichotomies construct each other in practice and in theory. I prefer a network ideological image, suggesting the profusion of spaces and identities and the permeability of boundaries in the personal body and in the body politic. “Networking” is both a feminist practice and a multinational corporate strategy -- weaving is for oppositional cyborgs.


So let me return to the earlier image of the informatics of domination and trace one vision of women’s “place” in the integrated circuit, touching only a few idealized social locations seen primarily from the point of view of advanced capitalist societies: Home, Market, Paid Work Place, State, School, Clinic-Hospital, and Church. Each of these idealized spaces is logically and practically implied in every other locus, perhaps analogous to a holographic photograph.


I want to suggest the impact of the social relations mediated and enforced by the new technologies in order to help formulate needed analysis and practical work. However, there is no “place” for women in these networks, only geometries of difference and contradiction crucial to women’s cyborg identities. If we learn how to read these webs of power and social life, we might learn new couplings, new coalitions. There is no way to read the following list from a standpoint of “identification,” of a unitary self. The issue is dispersion. The task is to survive in the diaspora.


Home: Women-headed households, serial monogamy, flight of men, old women alone, technology of domestic work, paid homework, re-emergence of home sweat-shops, home-based businesses and telecommuting, electronic cottage, urban homelessness, migration, module architecture, reinforced (simulated) nuclear family, intense domestic violence.


Market: Women’s continuing consumption work, newly targeted to buy the profusion of new production from the new technologies (especially as the competitive race among industrialized and industrializing nations to avoid dangerous mass unemployment necessitates finding ever bigger new markets for ever less clearly needed commodities); bimodal buying power, coupled with advertising targeting of the numerous affluent groups and neglect of the previous mass markets; growing importance of {171} informal markets in labour and commodities parallel to high-tech, affluent market structures; surveillance systems through electronic funds transfer; intensified market abstraction (commodification) of experience, resulting in ineffective utopian or equivalent cynical theories of community; extreme mobility (abstraction) of marketing/financing systems; inter-penetration of sexual and labour markets; intensified sexualization of abstracted and alienated consumption.


Paid Work Place: Continued intense sexual and racial division of labour, but considerable growth of membership in privileged occupational categories for many white women and people of colour; impact of new technologies on women’s work in clerical, service, manufacturing (especially textiles), agriculture, electronics; international restructuring of the working classes; development of new time arrangements to facilitate the homework economy (flex time, part time, over time, no time); homework and out work; increased pressures for two-tiered wage structures; significant numbers of people in cash-dependent populations world-wide with no experience or no further hope of stable employment; most labour “marginal” or “feminized.”


State: Continued erosion of the welfare state; decentralizations with increased surveillance and control; citizenship by telematics; imperialism and political power broadly in the form of information rich/information poor differentiation; increased high-tech militarization increasingly opposed by many social groups; reduction of civil service jobs as a result of the growing capital intensification of office work, with implications for occupational mobility for women of colour; growing privatization of material and ideological life and culture; close integration of privatization and militarization, the high-tech forms of bourgeois capitalist personal and public life; invisibility of different social groups to each other, linked to psychological mechanisms of belief in abstract enemies.


School: Deepening coupling of high-tech capital needs and public education at all levels, differentiated by race, class, and gender; managerial classes involved in educational reform and refunding at the cost of remaining progressive educational democratic structures for children and teachers; education for mass ignorance and repression in technocratic and militarized culture; growing science mystery cults in dissenting and radical political movements; continued relative scientific illiteracy among white women and people of colour; growing industrial direction of education (especially higher education) by science-based multinationals (particularly in electronics- and biotechnology-dependent companies); highly educated, numerous elites in a progressively bimodal society.


Clinic-hospital: Intensified machine-body relations; renegotiations of {172} public metaphors which channel personal experience of the body, particularly in relation to reproduction, immune system functions, and “stress phenomena”; intensification of reproductive politics in response to world historical implications of women’s unrealized, potential control of their relation to reproduction; emergence of new, historically specific diseases; struggles over meanings and means of health in environments pervaded by high technology products and processes; continuing feminization of health work; intensified struggle over state responsibility for health; continued ideological role of popular health movements as a major form of American politics.


Church: Electronic fundamentalist “super-saver” preachers solemnizing the union of electronic capital and automated fetish gods; intensified importance of churches in resisting the militarized state; central struggle over women’s meanings and authority in religion; continued relevance of spirituality, intertwined with sex and health, in political struggle.


The only way to characterize the informatics of domination is as a massive intensification of insecurity and cultural impoverishment, with common failure of subsistence networks for the most vulnerable. Since much of this picture interweaves with the social relations of science and technology, the urgency of a socialist-feminist politics addressed to science and technology is plain. There is much now being done, and the grounds for political work are rich. For example, the efforts to develop forms of collective struggle for women in paid work, like SEIU’s District 925, should be a high priority for all of us. These efforts are profoundly deaf to technical restructuring of labour processes and reformations of working classes. These efforts also are providing understanding of a more comprehensive kind of labour organization, involving community, sexuality, and family issues never privileged in the largely white male industrial unions.


The structural rearrangements related to the social relations of science and technology evoke strong ambivalence. But it is not necessary to be ultimately depressed by the implications of late twentieth-century women’s relation to all aspects of work, culture, production of knowledge, sexuality, and reproduction. For excellent reasons, most Marxisms see domination best and have trouble understanding what can only look like false consciousness and people’s complicity in their own domination in late capitalism. It is crucial to remember that what is lost, perhaps especially from women’s points of view, is often virulent forms of oppression, nostalgically naturalized in the face of current violation. Ambivalence towards the disrupted unities mediated by high-tech culture requires not sorting consciousness into categories of clear-sighted critique “grounding a solid political epistemology” {173} versus “manipulated false consciousness,” but subtle understanding of emerging pleasures, experiences, and powers with serious potential for changing the rules of the game.


There are grounds for hope in the emerging bases for new kinds of unity across race, gender, and class, as these elementary units of socialist-feminist analysis themselves suffer protean transformations. Intensifications of hardship experienced world-wide in connection with the social relations of science and technology are severe. But what people are experiencing is not transparently clear, and we lack authentically subtle connections for collectively building effective theories of experience. Present efforts -- Marxist, psychoanalytic, feminist, anthropological -- to clarify even “our” experience are rudimentary.


I am conscious of the odd perspective provided by my historical position -- a PhD in biology for an Irish Catholic girl was made possible by Sputnik’s impact on US national science-education policy. I have a body and mind as much constructed by the post-Second World War arms race and cold war as by the women’s movements. There are more grounds for hope in focusing on the contradictory effects of politics designed to produce loyal American technocrats, which also produced large numbers of dissidents, than in focusing on the present defeats.


The permanent partiality of feminist points of view has consequences for our expectations of forms of political organization and participation. We do not need a totality in order to work well. The feminist dream of a common language, like all dreams for a perfectly true language, of perfectly faithful naming of experience, is a totalizing and imperialist one. In that sense, dialectics too is a dream language, longing to resolve contradiction. Perhaps, ironically, we can learn from our fusions with animals and machines how not to be Man, the embodiment of Western logos. From the point of view of pleasure in these potent and taboo fusions, made inevitable by the social relations of science and technology, there might indeed be a feminist science.


Continue to Part III


Return to Part I



o  Simulation would be different from representation because the latter purports to authentically reproduce, or re-present, an original object, whereas simulation would acknowledge not only the possible distortion that might result from such a repetition, but also the fact that the original copied may not be “original” at all, only a contrived fantasy constructed retroactively.


o  Eugenics: “outgrowth of the study of human heredity, aimed at ‘improving’ the genetic [racial] quality of the human stock. Although the idea of eugenics is contained in Plato’s Republic, the modern concept became prominent during the second half of the 19th century,” when people wanted to justify the supposed purity of the Caucasian race.  From Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia.


o  The Magic Mountain (1924), a novel by Thomas Mann, set in a tuberculosis colony on the eve of World War I, a colony which symbolizes the decay, sterility, and decadence of European civilization.


o  Future Shock (1975), a mass-market book by Alvin Toffler that analyzes the effect of technology on society, politics, the family, etc. According to an reviewer, it “doubles up as a manual to understanding and interpreting in a general manner the phenomenon of urban, techno-driven American megacities.”


o  Copies without originals”--this is what Haraway means above when she says that “their fathers, after all, are inessential”; in other words, it is not that men or fathers are insignificant, but that the myth that paternity is the only way to infuse a child with “legitimacy” is no longer tenable.


o  This resonates with Walter Benjamin’s comparison between the film camera and a surgeon in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”: “The artistic performance of a stage actor is definitely presented to the public by the actor in person; that of the screen actor, however, is presented by a camera ... Guided by the cameraman, the camera continually changes its position with respect to the performance. The sequence of positional views which the editor composes from the material supplied him constitutes the completed film. It comprises certain factors of movement which are in reality those of the camera ... Hence, the performance of the actor is subjected to a series of optical tests. Also, the film actor lacks the opportunity of the stage actor to adjust to the audience during the performance ... This permits the audience to take the position of a critic, without experiencing any personal contact with the actor. The audience’s identification with the actor is really an identification with the camera. Consequently the audience takes the position of the camera; its approach is that of testing,” in Illuminations, trans. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), p. 228-9.


o  Holography: “method of obtaining three-dimensional photographic images … without a lens … (Greek holos, ‘whole’; gram, ‘message’).” From Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia.  See example below:




o  Service Employees International Union, a large office workers’ organization in the U. S.


o  Sputnik is the name of the first of several satellites launched by the Soviet Union from 1957 to 1961. The U. S. launched its first in 1958. The Sputnik program inspired our government to invest massively in science and technology education so as to keep competitive with the Soviets.