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The Politics of Being a Cyborg

Anne Dalke's picture

According to Kameron Klauber, in the MIT course on Gender and Technology,

After reading Donna Haraway's 1985 piece "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century" I've learned to appreciate the identity of a cyborg as much more than physical.  According to Haraway a cyborg is more in the political realm ... because of their relationship to society as well as their rejection or acceptance of societal norms.  In this respect the monster is still not fully a cyborg.  Although he is created by Victor, who then abandons him, the Monster seeks acceptance from society but never succeeds because of his terrifying physical appearance.  He then proceeds to learn to read and speak in order to overcome the barriers that society has built for him.  The monster hopes to transcend his appearance, to conform, to learn the language, and eventually create the nuclear family by asking Victor to create for him a bride. 

By attempting to fit into the box society has deemed the "norm" the Monster is really a rejection of modern cyborgism.  According to Haraway a "cyborg does not dream of community on the model of the organic family".... From Haraway's standpoint, 'women of colour' are much more cyborgian than Frankenstein's creature ... a "potent subjectivity synthesized from fusions of outsider identities" in a society where often women of colour are the "preferred labour force for the science-based industry" (174). The women themselves are in some ways the technology based on their role in the labor force.  Because they encompass multiple outsider persona's they are also capable of accomplishing the strongest sense of unity.

As a political entity the cyborg is something that represents a different more radical way of thinking.... The Monster of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein on the other hand is an outsider but does not have radical aspects to his character outside of his gruesome appearance.




fawei's picture


I have a bit of trouble with the cyborg's 'need for community' too. I think Haraway uses the example of 'women of color' because of the double pressures of gender and race on them. We saw in the Dull/West/Banales articles that these are social factors on an individual that actually makes communities less easily constructed/cohesive than groups of white women or men. I'm guessing it is a modern concrete example Haraway was using to illustrate cyborgs in 'reality,' maybe difficult to compare to the fictional 'Frankenstein.' Women of color are not completely immune to social pressures when they construct their communities, so how is it different from Frankenstein's monster's desire to have his companion? It's assumed he wanted a female companion to establish the 'model of the organic family,' but the the reproductive possibilities only seems to come (explicitly) from the head of his creator.

I also have trouble with the definition of what a 'full' cyborg might be. There might be an issue of time (on 151 Haraway places her tools, both technological and ideological, in 'the late twentieth century long after 'Frankenstein' was written) or place ('optimization' for conditions over universal 'perfection' on 161). And with the monster/women comparison, is the type of community desired the chief defining feature of a modern cyborg? If the physical aspect has any say, the monster might be at least a partial example rather than a counterexample...

spreston's picture

While I agree that Haraway

While I agree that Haraway might say that 'women of colour' are much more cyborgian than Frankenstein's creature, there is one difference between 'women of colour' and Frankenstein's creature that complicates things in my mind: Frankenstein's creature is completely alone; he has NO community.  'Women of colour' may not try to fit in with society as a whole, but they already have a community with one another.  If Frankenstein's creature had a community, a female creature like the one he asked for, he says that we would have stopped trying to assimilate with mainstream culture.  He would have completely removed himself and embraced his own community (even if it were a community with only one other creature).  Does this difference, perhaps, make Frankenstein's creature uncomparable to the 'women of colour'?

aybala50's picture


The presence or absence of a community is a difference between women of colour and Frankenstein's creature. However, does this difference influence the relationship these two groups have with being a cyborg? The creature, in my mind, is a part of a community, yet, he is an outsider. He lives on a planet full of humans who have rejected him for his appearance. He does ask for a companion and offer to leave and never be seen again, but why? He wants acceptance? He hopes that a creature, created out of who knows what, will be more accepting of him? In this way he is playing into societies conception of everything. He is accepting his isolation for his physical appearance and he is hoping that someone as "hideous" as himself will accept him because they are the 'same'. So, it all comes back to being similar, or normal again?  

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