Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

'A Family of Displaced Figures': An Overview of Donna Haraway

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

'A Family of Displaced Figures': An Overview of Donna Haraway

Article excerpt

Donna Haraway is a feminist historian of science. Along with Jean Baudrillard, she was highlighted in Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr's influential 1991 essay as one of the figures defining 'The SF of Theory'. Her interest in the genre has extended to analyses of film, although she draws more extensively on literary, usually feminist, sf, including the work of Octavia Butler, Marge Piercy, Joanna Russ and James Tiptree, Jr. Within sf studies, she is perhaps best known for her 'A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century' (1989), which inaugurated the field of 'cyborg studies'.1 Yet Haraway's own work has moved beyond the cyborg, continually seeking out new figures who might serve as equally potent metaphors to explain the ever-shifting terrain of our technological, political, economic and social landscape. As early as 1990, concerned about the reification of her image of the cyborg, she articulated the need to develop

more of a family of displaced figures, of which the cyborg is one, and then to ask how the cyborg makes connections with these other non-original people. ... Could there be a family of figures who would populate our imagination of these post-colonial, postmodern worlds that would not be quite as imperializing in terms of a single figuration of identity? (Penley, Ross and Haraway 17-18)

Haraway is primarily concerned with the relationship between 'nature' and 'culture' (fully recognising that they exist in a discursively constructed and always-changing binary), with the status of science in the contemporary world and with the politics of social justice; all of her writing explores the ways in which metaphors organise, limit and open up our thinking. In one sense, she works in the tradition Foucault defined as an archaeology or genealogy of ideas, tracing epistemic cultures and how they function to produce specific subjects. Her analyses of scientific research (primatology, information technology, genetics) is embedded in a careful consideration of discursive and material contexts, including such materials as introductory textbooks, field notes, contemporary legislation and funding sources. In another sense, her work might also be compared to Derrida's deconstructive methods. Like him, she is interested in etymologies of words and in tracing their implications, but she is equally interested in the 'etymology' of things, of the ways in which material objects must also be understood to have complex, contradictory, polluted and promising histories. Haraway's method itself then might be understood to be similar to that of sf. For her, all entities, including humans and other creatures, are not things but sedimented histories of relations, whose complex interactions she seeks to chart. Like the sf writer who extrapolates a social world from a novum, she is interested in the practice of world-building through technoscience and discourse.

In Primate Visions (1989), Haraway argues that 'Scientific practice may be considered a kind of story-telling practice - a rule-governed, constrained, historically changing craft of narrating the history of nature. Scientific practice and scientific theories produce and are embedded in particular kinds of stories' (4). She frequently describes her own work in similar terms, as a sort of conscious attempt to tell stories in another way so that new epistemic regimes, and hence different subjectivities and ways of life, might become possible. As she explains, 'It's almost like my examples are the theories ... if one were going to characterize my way of theorizing, it would be to redescribe, to redescribe something so that it becomes thicker than it first seems' (Leaf 108). Although committed to revealing the ideological underpinnings of technoscientific discourses and practices, she resists any claim to a 'purer' or 'more innocent' story. Rather than erecting her own Truth, she argues for the value of irony as a political tool: 'Irony is about contradictions that do not resolve into larger wholes, even dialectically, about the tension of holding incompatible things together because both or all are necessary and true' (Simians 149). …

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