Blog Theorization: A Cyborg Manifesto

While several of Donna Haraway’s sci-fi references eluded me as I trudged my way through her complex, yet humorous “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” she raises several arguments relevant to our readings on and practice of blogging.  Haraway’s main contention is that we can use the cyborg, “a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (149-50), to “take pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction” (150).  She uses her myth of the cyborg to distance herself, and to encourage fellow feminist and postmodern scholars to distance themselves, from the dominant, patriarchal, and capitalistic culture that create and reinforce Oedipal and Biblical structures.  Because her “cyborg myth is about transgressed boundaries, potent fusions, and dangerous possibilities” (154), she attacks ideas about fundamental and essential identity in order to laud the importance of inserting “revolutionary stand-points, epistemologies” into the world that the “fraying of identities” allows.

Haraway invokes the arguments of feminist and Marxist scholars throughout her work and complicates their ideas of oppositional consciousness, women of color, and radical feminism to insert her own assertions and creates her own framework regarding the construction of “the woman” in the family, workplace, school, clinic-hospital, etc.  Through these references, Haraway practices her own philosophy by reinforcing the fluidity of identity and resisting “the one code that translates all meaning perfectly…the central dogma of phallogocentrism” (176), ultimately credentialing herself as a scholar invested in using the cyborg myth to solve problems.

The arguments raised in “A Cyborg Manifesto” relate to Mayer-Schonberger’s contentions in Delete, especially Haraway’s use of the word, “cyborg,” which combines the animal and machine.  Her employment of cyborgs align with the boundaries between the body and the machine that Mayer-Schonberger discusses.  He argues that since the explosion of new media technology and social networking culture, we, meaning our computers/machines, have lost the ability to forget events, experiences, or daily occurrences in our lives, and now possess perfect memory, a change with both advantageous and detrimental consequences.  Haraway’s essay also relates to Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget, as Lanier, who feels skeptical of virtual social networking, as it renders us “humanless” machines, believes that too much information exchange results in a loss of individuality.  Haraway’s cyborg myth abates that skepticism because it encompasses both the human and machine element in ourselves, and she uses these identities that bleed into each other to exert individual identity and insert into the world revolutionary ideas that challenge the ideals of dominant culture in society.

With biting wit and informed sci-fi references that her discursive prose sometimes obscures, Haraway clearly outlines her investment in the cyborg myth to solve problems that marginalized groups face. By arguing that the duality of human and machine can work to our advantage and revolutionize societal constructions of the “woman” and “family,” Haraway takes on a more optimistic view of the constantly changing human identity than Lanier and Mayer-Schonberger, who at least in some ways fear or feel skeptical about this fluidity.


More is Different

Hey folks. Today Shoshana and I are presenting on Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody. As a short preface to our presentation, I just want to share with you guys some questions to think about:

How has social media altered the way in which people organize?

How has the scale of social media structurally altered interpersonal communication?

What sorts of previously unavailable organizing and collaboration has social media enabled?

The book organizes largely around the idea that “More is different,” which is a phrase that recurs several times throughout the first six chapters of the book. Shirky proposes that the mass communication which the internet enables isn’t simply a one-on-one conversation on a much larger scale, but rather a fundamentally different type of communication. Social media has collapsed the way we previously understood organizations to function, both in terms of hierarchy and cost. Shirky is primarily invested in exploring the new types of organizing, communication, and actions which are available when the institutional dilemma (the endless quest to keep your profits higher than your cost) is no longer such a dilemma.

Shirky divides social media-based action into three categories: sharing, collaborative production, and collective action. Sharing is the simplest action, and occurs when people publish material online for others to see (Shirky uses the photo sharing capabilities of Flickr as an example). Collaborative production, not entirely different than a automobile assembly line, happens when people work together on a common product, as in the case of a wikipedia entry. No one person can take credit for the product of the group, but neither is any one person held accountable for its shortcomings. Collective action, the rarest form of social media-based action, occurs when people bind their identities together to work for a common goal. In this case, each individual is bound to the fate of the group and held accountable for its actions, as in the case of unions.

We’re particularly interested in thinking about the (sometimes tenuous) distinction between these three categories, where our own blogging might fit, and what these three categories teach us about blogging. How do we fit blogging and the comparatively small communities of our own blogs into the organizational framework which Shirky provides?

Along these lines, we are also interested in Shirky’s deployment of the word “audience.” He seems to use audience only to refer to a large group of people, and in his fourth chapter, suggests that many smaller blogs don’t have audiences at all, but rather a group of friends that read and discuss them. Is this necessarily a fair assessment of “audience,” and how does such a limited understanding of audience limit Shirky’s argument?

Does Shirky’s argument make any room for accountability on the internet, or does accountability/responsibility dissolve with traditional models of organization?

Finally, we’re interested in several of the dichotomies that Shirky draws (public/private, professional/amateur, audience/writer). Do these distinctions have any use within Shirky’s argument? Does social media dissolve these categories, or does it simply complicate our relationship to them (and also their relationship to each other)?

See you guys in class today!

Will and Shoshana


Edited for a short and deeply embarrassing title mistake.