Friday, May 11, 2012

Donna Haraway: Humans and Cyborgs: A Necessary Relationship

          In her 2000 lecture entitled “Birth of the Kennel: Cyborgs, Dogs and Companion Species” Donna Haraway discusses the significance of “dogs emerging out of cyborg materialization and figuration”[1] to the human existence.  This lecture introduces a different way to discuss the relationship between man and machine.  Whereas previous discourse has focused on this relationship as man creating machine, Haraway suggests that in some respects, machine has helped to create man.  She traces how the human relationship with machines evolved into one consisting of man and cyborg and eventually man and companion species. 
Haraway defines the cyborg in many ways but for the purpose of her lecture, she surmises that a cyborg is a hybrid of machine and organism.  She describes this relationship between man and cyborg as deriving from the usage of organisms as meat and lab animals and other practices consistent with informatics and biologics.  Haraway states that this “cross species relationship is mediated by entire cultural apparatus including enterprised-up relationships to biomedicine, veterinary practice, reproductive technologies, and pedagogical doctrines.”[2]  It can be said that humans must create life in an artificial way and in this construction, humans use other organisms as tools.  However, Haraway maintains that this human-cyborg relationship does not end here but continues to transform as indicated by the relationship between humans and companion species.
According to Haraway, humans and domesticated animals are coevolved significant others to each other in complex and asymmetrical ways.  To illustrate her point Haraway tells her listeners that human did not create the domesticated dog.  Haraway instead suggests that “dogs created themselves and adopted humans as part of their reproduction strategy.”[3]  In fact, dogs allowed themselves to be domesticated in an effort to procreate in a more efficient and safe environment.  Haraway asserts that “technology [has] not invade[d] nature but dogs have… appropriated higher reproduction for their own breeding [purposes].”[4]  An analysis of this relationship between humans and companion species necessitates a definition of this phrase.  Haraway states that she “uses the term[inology] ‘companion species’ as an interrogative term[inology] about [the] historical emergent with other animals who are not meat, lab, or wilderness animals or vermin.”[5] 
After establishing the evolution of this relationship between human and companion species, Haraway notes the importance of discerning its qualities between those of a relationship between animal and human or human and cyborg:  “The particular cross species relationship… is about the specific historical circumstances of contemporary companion animal culture in the cyborg-ized and heavily informatics and biologic saturated world.”[6]  In an effort to describe how this cross species relationship has established both participants out of the kind of relationality in question, Haraway introduces an idea of choreography and its actors. 
Borrowing from a contemporary of hers, Haraway equates this cross species relationship to choreography between different actors.  Not only are the actors participating in the choreography or relationality, but she states that “actors are the product of the relationality.”[7]  It is significant to note here that to Haraway, life is a verb and its actors are not always human.  She asserts that actors do not enter into a relationship with pre-determined ideas or with intentions of forming boundaries.  These actors are essentially created out of their relationships with each other.  Their positions and functions in the environment are defined by their relationality to each other.  Haraway connects this idea back to her human-machine relationship: “The kind of sociality that joins humans and machines is a sociality that constitutes both. [Thus] who humans are ontologically is constituted out of that relationality.”[8]
 Haraway believes that humans must create life in artificial ways.  She argues that not only are humans using other organisms as tools to artificially construct life, but in addition, humans are influencing the lives of organisms and vice versa.  As evidence of this theory, Haraway draws on the relationship between human and cyborg and illustrates how it has morphed to create a relationship between humans and companion species.  The progression and trajectory of these relationships has allowed Haraway to analyze their nature.  She concludes that the relationality between actors in a relationship (be it between humans, organisms, cyborgs, or companion species) actually constitutes their existence.  The need for relationships between actors and the subsequent influence on each other proves the necessity of the existence of the actors themselves. 
Haraway, Donna. Birth of the Kennel: Cyborgs, Dogs and Companion Species, 2000, [Video] Retrieved September 27, 2010 from

[1] Donna Haraway, Birth of the Kennel: Cyborgs, Dogs and Companion Species 2000 7/9, [Video] Retrieved September 27, 2010, from
[2]  Haraway, Birth of the Kennel 4/9, [Video] Retrieved September 27, 2010, from
[3]  Haraway, Birth of the Kennel 3/9, [Video] Retrieved September 27, 2010, from
[4] Ibid.
[5] Haraway, Birth of the Kennel 4/9, [Video] Retrieved September 27, 2010, from
[6] Haraway, Birth of the Kennel 3/9, [Video] Retrieved September 27, 2010, from
[7] Haraway, Birth of the Kennel 4/9, [Video] Retrieved September 27, 2010, from
[8] Haraway, Birth of the Kennel 7/9, [Video] Retrieved September 27, 2010 from

1 comment:

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