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Leaky Distinctions vs. Scaffolding.

leamirella's picture

What is a 'cyborg'? According to the dictionary on my MacBook, a 'cyborg' is a:

'Fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body."

This definition itself is not clear. The phrases "human limitations" and "mechanical elements" strike me as being unclear as they can be interpreted in a multitude of different ways. What are "human limitations" and what makes an element "mechanical". Given the lack of clarity, its virtually impossible to ascribe anything to the category of a "cyborg". And this is true of other terms. For example, the category of 'female'. My dictionary says that the definition of 'female' is:

"a. Of or denoting the sex that produces ova or bears young.
b. Characteristic of or appropriate to this sex; feminine.
c. Consisting of members of this sex. See Usage Note at lady."


Again, certain terms in this definition of 'female' are ambiguous such as "appropriate" and "members". Also, it is possible for "females" to be infertile. Based on the first definition, would this mean that these 'females' could be redefined as not being 'female' because they cannot reproduce? Haraway addresses this in "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century" when she writes "There is nothing about being 'female' that naturally binds women'. To be 'female' is too ambiguous a term and society is to blame for why females are marginalized. There is nothing 'different' about being 'female' and this label serves only to categorize and thus 'bind' women. Since the way in which we categorize things is not clear, it fact that we even attempt to ascribe things to categories seems ubsurd.

By thinking about this from this perspective and realizing that the definitions of certain categories are, themselves, inconsistent and interpretable, Haraway's idea of a world without categories becomes more tangible. I thought about the metaphor that I came up with on Monday: "How like a shoe I am, traveling between different locations, directed by someone or something that is more powerful than I am." I remember how difficult it was to categorize myself into just one thing. (In fact, I only thought about 'shoe' because I looked at the floor and saw my feet.) Also, when I say that I am "directed by someone or something that is more powerful that I am", I think that this "someone or something" is society, attempting to categorize me by race, class and gender and thus, "directing" me to different locations.

While I've attempted to clarify why I think that Haraway's argument about being in a boundary-less world, I have a difficult time thinking of a world without some form of category. On a personal note, I think that this is because of who I am. I'm slightly OCD which means that I organize everything. My planner is colour-coded and my younger brother has observed that upon receiving a deck of shuffled cards, I reorganize them based on suit and number. I can understand where Haraway is coming from and I believe that without distinctions such as race, the world would be a more peaceful place. However, what we do without these distinctions? I cannot being something that has nothing to define me by. However, I think that this is society's fault once again. Practically from birth, every child is taught to be 'special'. In other words, to define themselves as something different and new. And how do we define ourselves? By using the categories that are already in place. Without these categories, we lose our sense of self.

The 'scaffolding' or distinctions are what keep us losing our minds. The boundaries might be blurry (especially in 'cyborgs' - when does the human stop and the machine begin) but as a human race, we hold on to anything and everything that makes us who we are. For example, when someone watches a movie, they try to find the character that they are most like. That character is an extension of the viewer but there is still a distinction between real-life and the images on the screen. To cross this boundary would probably result in a trip to a psychiatric ward. I personally feel that although it is possible to conceptualize a world without categories, it is virtually impossible to practice this because of the way we are conditioned.

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