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Donna Haraway - Biography

Donna Haraway, Ph.D., (b. 1944 in Denver) taught as a Professor of Feminism and Technoscience at the European Graduate School EGS. Donna Haraway is an internationally recognized feminist theorist and philosopher of science and technology. Her earliest educational experiences were formed in Catholic school in America. Donna Haraway studied zoology, philosophy and English at The Colorado College on a Boettcher Foundation Scholarship, where she graduated with a BA in 1966. She then studied philosophies of evolution at the University of Paris on a Fulbright Scholarship for a year. Donna Haraway received her Ph.D. at Yale in 1972 from the Department of Biology. Her dissertation, entitled 'The Search for Organizing Relations: An Organismic Paradigm in 20th-Century Developmental Biology', which was written as part of an interdisciplinary arrangement between the Departments of Biology, Philosophy, and History of Science and Medicine, focused on the role of metaphor as a shaping force in twentieth-century developmental biological research. Donna Haraway taught general science and women's studies from 1971–74 at the University of Hawaii, and she taught in the Department of the History of Science at Johns Hopkins University from 1974–80. Since 1984, Donna Haraway has been a professor in the History of Consciousness Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Donna Haraway's seminal work, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, has become the authoritative text in theorizing the politics of the post-human, the cyborg, the techno-mythological ideal and its promised utopia(s). One of the most influential essays in the book is entitled 'A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century'. In this essay, Donna Haraway introduced her metaphor of the 'cyborg', which was to become highly influential in feminist and critical theory since the essay's first publication in Socialist Review in 1985. In the text, which draws its title and theme of a call to action from Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto, Haraway utilizes the metaphor of the cyborg to make an original argument against the presuppositions of essentialist feminism and identity theory:

There is nothing about being female that naturally binds women. There is not even such a state as 'being' female, itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices. (Haraway 155)

Donna Haraway likens the 'cyborg' to the political identity of 'women of color', which 'marks out a self-consciously constructed space that cannot affirm the capacity to act on the basis of natural identification, but only on the basis of conscious coalition, of affinity, of political kinship' (ibid). She positions the 'cyborg' at the contemporary transgression of the barriers separating animal, human, and machine, leaving its indeterminacy as a possible opening for shifts in definitions as a part of radical political action.

Donna Haraway uses the metaphor of the cyborg to discuss the relationships of science, technology, and 'socialist-feminism'. She holds that hi-tech culture challenges and breaks down the old dualisms of Western thinking such as the mind/body split, Self/Other, male/female, reality/appearance, and truth/illusion. She holds that we are no longer able to think of ourselves in these terms, or even, strictly speaking, as biological entities. Instead, we have become cyborgs, mixtures of human and machine, where the biological side and the mechanical/electrical side become so inextricably entwined that they cannot be split.

Focused on the metaphors which science uses and how those metaphors subtly determine the networks of power which control our world, her work ranges from primatology to epistemology, from cancer research to information technology. Donna Haraway has identified a social and cultural movement from an organic, industrial society to a polymorphous information system, which she has charted as a series of transformations that restructure webs of power created by the politics of science and technology. Below is an updated version of the chart, which reveals much of the discourses she engages:


1989 chart


Representation Simulation
Bourgeois novel Science fiction
Realism and modernism Postmodernism
Organism Biotic component, code
Work Text
Mimesis Play of signifiers
Depth, integrity Surface, boundary
Heat Noise
Biology as clinical practice Biology as inscription
Physiology Communications engineering
Microbiology, tuberculosis Immunology, AIDS
Magic bullet Immunomodulation
Small group Subsystem
Perfection Optimization
Eugenics Genetic engineering
Decadence Obsolescence
Hygiene Stress Management
Organic division of labour Ergonomics, cybernetics
Functional specialization Modular construction
Biological determinism System constraints
Reproduction Replication
Individual Replicon
Community ecology Ecosystem
Racial chain of being United Nations Humanism
Colonialism Transnational capitalism
Nature/culture Fields of difference
Co-operation Communications enhancement
Freud Lacan
Labour Robotics
Mind Artificial intelligence
Second World War Star Wars
White capitalist patriarchy Informatics of domination

Donna Haraway's work in the history of science not only references contemporary science fiction writers such as John Varley, Octavia Butler, and Joanna Russ, but also influences writers exploring the interfaces between human / machine / animal / information. Her writings focus an interest in the politics of the Other – whether that other be defined in terms of race, gender, species, or technology. Because she deals explicitly with the theory of the cyborg – the being who is part human and part machine – she has been particularly influential on cyberpunk writers.

Donna Haraway argues that 'one important route for reconstructing socialist-feminist politics is through theory and practice addressed to the social relations of science and technology, including crucially the systems of myth and meanings structuring our imagination' (ibid). The relations between science and technology are 'rearranging' categories of race, sex and class; Donna Haraway insists that feminism needs to take this into account.

Donna Haraway's influence is felt widely in cultural studies, women's studies, political theory, primatology, literature and philosophy. Donna Haraway's prolific publications are required reading across the humanities and social sciences. In Primate Visions: Race and Nature in the World of Modern Science (1990) she combines literary theory, political philosophy, primatology, and American history to explore the world of primatology, which has become a largely woman-dominated field. Two other widely cited and highly influential articles include 'A Cyborg Manifesto' (1985), intially published in Socialist Review, and 'Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspectives' (1988), first published in Feminist Studies. These two essays revolutionized feminist theory and set a tone of playfulness and experimentation that has become a Haraway trademark, as demonstrated in one of her recent books, Modest_Witness @ Second_Millennium.FemaleMan © _Meets_OncoMouse™ : Feminism and Technoscience (1997). This book continues her impious metaphors for a kind of thinking that blurs borders and renders categories permeable: from cyborgs, she moves to vampires and monsters, taking each as an opportunity to put unfamiliar metaphors to productive use.

Donna Haraway is also the author of The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness (2003), and When Species Meet (2008).

Donna Haraway lectured as a professor of feminist theory and technoscience at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where she taught an Intensive Summer Seminar.