A feminism critique of science and technology springs out from the Foucauldian insights of the intimate relations between knowledge and power. Knowing the world is, through naming it, a way to control it, and it has real effects of oppression and control. Representations work on the represented, and thus, epistemology not only to an extent determines ontology, but by the same token it is a tool to change a world of inequalities.
A feminist critique seeks both to unveil actual structures of inequality, such as underrepresentation of women in important and world-shaping discourses of science and technology, and to criticise the culture of it, or the ideology, that invests it with meaning and hides power relationships. It is a project of criticising both the underrepresentation of women in science and technology, and the more or less dubious rationalisations and naturalisations of science and of womens place in it (see Kember 1996). Science and technology are extremely central areas for the production and use of contemporary knowledge. Both being matters of knowledge, they are social, cultural and historical entities, and not neutral or separate spheres from the rest of society.
Feminist critics have called for a new and better “successor science” (Stanley & Wise 1990), to replace what is seen as an essentially old, masculine, logo- and phallocentric one, and they have tried to say something about what this science should be. However, traps of essentialising the feminine have been lurking, in effect continuing the older preconceptions of essential qualities of woman.
Alternative and non-essentialistic conceptualisations of the relations across boundaries of machine and body, human and animal were in the beginning not very sophisticatedly explored by feminists of the 70’s and 80’s. Via an increasing awareness to unpack problematic categories of `women’ and `technology’, a more recent (80’s and 90’s ) direction of a postmodern bending of boundaries and shifting subject positions was explored by radical, post-modern scientists or feminists. Theorists such as Donna Haraway and Rosi Braidotti have tried to open up for a nomadic and embodied – localised and contextualised – definition of women and female experience, nevertheless keeping a political agenda for social change. I will reflect on their contributions to feminist criticism of science and technology after an outline of some criticisms that preceeded them.
Feminism critique of science and technology
Women have been underrepresented in what is criticised as being an masculine endavour, a dominating and totalising science. Western epistemology and its oppositions between mind / body, rational thought / emotion, culture / nature, man / woman, modern / traditional are hierarchically structured to evaluate the terms to the left as superior and there to control the ones on the right. Judy Wajcman (1991) delineates a history of feminist critiques of science and technology, and notes that since science, technology and medicine provide us with our “icons of progress”, we revere the rational over the emotional and judge scientific and technological development as an index of society’s advancement. However, this century has ruptured our securities as to whether science endowes society with solutions or is itself the reason for destruction and crisis. A concern about gender, science and technology continues the scepticism, but is fairly recent.
Early critique from the 60’s and 70’s questioned the meagre access of women to scientific institutions and revealed structural barriers that hindered their participation. They also turned their attention to questions of how science had been abused by men to suppress women, for instance by providing scientific support for biological sex roles. In this view, science produced knowledge consistently smothered in male bias, but could quite possibly be put to better uses in the right hands. In these case, the motive was getting more women into science and the unfulfilment were seen to lie in women themselves and how their motivations were wrongfully shaped by expectations to feminine `natural’ interests. Science itself was not the problem. A similar essentially value-free science was seen as a possibility for radicals in the 60’s and 70’s, but continuing Marxist analysis revealed how the neutral ideal of science was itself a piece of ideology shaped by history and power, being as much a figment of ideology as were the essentialisms that placed women as `unfit’ to do sober, scientific work. In the 80’s, seeing science as patriarchal rose from problematisations of science within feminism itself. Whether science and technology was inherently masculine, or essentially neutral but male biased, it resulted in an inherent patriarchality and made feminists ask the question of “how a science apparetly so deeply involved in distinctively masculine projects can possibly be used for emancipatory ends” (Harding, ref. in Wajcman 1991:5).
In each case, what followed were attempts to find out what a better science would be – either an entirely new and feminist one or one cleansed of its male bias. In order not to just put more biological women into a masculine, power-driven and authoritiative science, science itself had got to be changed. Re-examining the scientific revolution and arguing that the emerging science wsa fundamentally based on the masculine projects of reason and objectivity, the dichotomies between culture and nature, mind and body, objectivity and subjectivity and public and private were seen as hierarchically evaluated – and gendered in that the latter part were systematically associated with the feminine. (Wajcman 1991:5) Feminists have argued for a feminisation of science, for a new “successor science” to replace the old masculinist one. The problem comes when one argues against dominating, oppressive and exclusive ideologies of women-not-in-technology, and at the same time tries to ground a new and better science on perceived `feminist’ values, as opposed to the `bad’ masculine ones. The pitfalls of a continuation of dichotomies and essentialism are still there. Eco-feminists celebrated conventional qualities of the feminine – of holism, care, empathy and being in tune with nature, and a psychoanalytically informed critique would posit that childhood separation put in men essential cognitive characteristics of establishing masculine power and identity through rigid control and separation between self and other – thus shaping science into an objectifying power game.
Haraway’s critique of feminism – against origin stories
Donna Haraway (1991) criticises feminism for continuing a just as totalising project of taxonomy of its own history and of women, as the ones conventionally conducted by Western science.
She identifies “traditions of `Western’ science and politics” as being “the tradition of racist, male-dominant capitalism; the tradition of progress; the tradition of the appropriation of nature as resource for the productions of culture”, and writes that her Cyborg Manifesto is an “effort to contribute to socialist-feminist culture and theory in a postmodernist, non-naturalist mode […] imagining a world without gender.” (1991:150) She is deconstructive and radical in her criticisms of Western capitalism as well as of certain versions of feminism put forward by some feminists. They are both caught up in a dualistic world-view, where one either is or isn’t, for instance, `woman’, `black’, or `human’, and she points out that feminists have constituted themselves as totalities; “how else could the `Western’ author incorporate its others?” (160) A polyvocality, of feminisms and of women, disappeared into attempts to establish genealogies of essences. All such quests for essence are articuations of Western humanism’s inclination to origin myths, where an original state of balance, fullness and unity was disrupted. A project of changing the world would in this vein be to search to reestablish the unity and posit essential shared – but subject to evolution or disruption – features between people. Haraway blames both Marxism and psychoanalysis of positing such stories of initial bliss and following rupture. We can draw the parallel further to colonial and anthropological divisions between the West and the Rest, or modern and traditional society, where the project was ordering a messy world of the First Encounter through representation of the other. Walter Benjamin’s concerns with mimesis, alterity and modernity is, writes Michael Taussig, “fully congruent with […] the (Euroamerican) culture of modernity as a sudden rejuxtaposition of the very old with the very new.” (Taussig 1993:20). A dualistic world-view, where `traditional society’ – sometimes seen as a lost Arcadia, sometimes as a savage earlier stage of evolution – is in opposition to modernity, as staticness is opposed to change.Destroying the other simultaneously with conquering them is the colonialist legacy and goes together with the anthropology’s world of a withering mosaic of tribes. Whether one sees modernity and Western science and technology as disrupting the world – as breach of a unity between nature and humans – or as the pinnacle of knowledge and the appliance of rational thought to lift the world from savagery and magic into Enlightenment and well-being for all – what is common is a dualistic world view positing origin stories and which through hierarchy, control and difference subjugates nature and other Others.
Feminist criticism have deconstructed the museums of scientific knowledge and the veils of naturalisations of women’s subordination.The structures of what meaning is given to `feminine’ and `masculine’ change through time, history and discourse, and science and technology cannot be seen to be in any way set apart from sociological power structures and semiotic meaning processes. It is not so that power or economic structures determine meaning processes – they influence one another, yet frequently cooperate to create ideology and underwrite hegemony. Getting out of ideology, of dichotomies that have shaped knowledge of the world and thus the world itself, doesn’t happen quickly or painlessly. Difficulties with getting away from essentialising a feminine identity, thus continuing connotations – real and symbolic – to subjugation, illustrates this general point. However, there is still a feminist project. Defining femininity based on hierarchy or one shared experience of being `woman’ spurring a pan-global identity is out of place, but further unwrapping of the concepts of `man’, `woman’ and `technology’ entails a beginning and a need for relativisation and localisation of definition and experience. The next step, reconstruction of a common feminine identity on which to base political struggle, have often stranded. Because in these attempts to recasts epistemology, they are out of touch with an ontological reality of different experiences, of a multiplicity of subjects who as a rule don’t subscribe to just one identity and one identity fully. As Wajcman concludes (with Harding) “there is no `woman’ to whose social experience the feminist empiricist and standpoint approaches can appeal; there are instead the `fractured identities of women'” (1991:11). The fractured identities come from social experience of gender as well as of class, race and culture.
That the Western / humanist / Enlightenment ways of viewing, dividing and ruling the world now should be well out of place, is illustrated in a delineation of the ontology of our contemporary world system, what Donna Haraway terms “the informatics of domination” (1991:161). A movement from an organic, industrial society – or the “White Capitalist Patriarchy” – to a polymorphous information system entails fundamental changes. Boundary-keeping absolute dualisms have been replaced by boundary-transgressing, relative positions in information systems. Science and technology lie behind blurrings of boundaries; biology and evolutionary theory questions the rigid division between human and animal. Information processing and reproductive technologies brings organism and machine, the physical and non-physical closer. These are deadly machines, because they are about the simulation of consciuosness. A crucial feature of biologics and communications sciences in the informatics of domination is their “translation of the world into a problem of coding” (164), parallel to the general trends of world economic systems who depend on uninterrupted circulation of information.
This radical rearrangement in world-wide social relations tied to science and technology entails that if it ever was possible to define the world and gain knowledge about it in dualistic and positive terms before, it certainly isn’t now. In this system, connections and affinity takes over the roles of belonging and identity, and are both necessary and possible; The consequences of the informatics of domination on “the home, workplace, market, public arena, the body itself” – dispersing and interfaced in myriad ways – makes potent oppositional movements “difficult to imagine and essential for survival” (163) As a fresh, clean slate unmarred by culture and history is not available, how can existing cultural signifiers of femininity, of technology be put to use, not essentialising, but still focus on women’s subjectivity and feminist politics? For Haraway, the figure of the cyborg provides a fiction to illustrate and put to strategic use in this process of survival. Cyborgs are “wary of holism but needy for connection” (151).
An ironic political myth
Donna Haraways cyborg, the figuration set up in A Cyborg Manifesto is first of all ontologically grounded: “By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs.” (150) A cyborg being a cybernetic organism, an interface of machine and organism, and we cannot separate ourselves from technology or science that produces it. Moreover, our ontological cyborg-ness “gives us our politics”.
The cyborg is a fiction, an image, of humanness in a world where boundaries are broken, and the metaphor for a world of non-bounded entities, where shifting identities rise from positions in the matrices of economies, biologies and epistemologies. It is a fiction which is both imaginary and materially real. The “informatics of domination” is the life-world of the cyborg, and this world system is frighteningly feminising (making extremely vulnerable) work and people. Haraway sees the cybernetic system of informatics of domination as a massive intensificaion of social and cultural insecurity and impoverishment (172), without positing Marxist dualisms of base and superstructure. She thereby escapes a rigid understanding of domination and false consciuosness and can go on to look for subtler connections, emerging pleasures and experiences. The dualistic world-view mentioned before, incorporating Enlightenment science as well as Marxism, focus on modernity as loss or break from an earlier stage of harmony, or savagery. It has serious problems saying anything about postmodernist experience other as further fragmentation, and is not the theoretical framework to articulate emerging meanings of contemporary practices. Haraway spots the lack of “sufficiently subtle connections for collectively building effective theories of experience” (173), but still sees hope if we are able to learn from our fusions and boundary-transgressions instead of just being made vulnerable by them. Western capitalism, science and technology have produced an illigitemate offspring, the cyborg. Being the typical entity of the “informatics of domination”, it embodies difference and transgressions and inhabits a possibility f or strategic, political use. Communications technologies and biotechnologies are crucial tools defining our bodies (164) – and they hover somewhere between tools to embody new social relations for women and as myths enforcing essentialised meanings. Haraway, being a scientist herself, does not see science in itself as inherently or essentially masculine. The boundaries are permeable, the knowledge is constructed and technology are really social relations, and therein lies the possibility to navigate structures of knowledge to “seize the tools that marked women as other” (175).
Bricolage – seizing the tools
Cyborgs were created in a complex scientific-technological industry of military and medical science, serving as interfaces to enhance control, vision and violence. Seizing these tools, using the image of cyborgs, means working against the science that conceives itself of making objective tools to work on the world to create disembodied knowledge and instrumental technology. Structures and idioms of oppression and dominance have produced the elements of cyborg imagery, but they can be put to alternative use. I would like to parallel this with the opposition between Claude Levi-Strauss’ ideal types Ingenieur and the Bricoleur. Levi-Strauss (1972) treated science and bricolage as being two different but parallel modes of acquiring knowledge, that is, epistemologies.
The ingenieur is the one who makes new knowledge out of `nothing’. His tools and concepts are transparent means to an end, removed from the concrete world, and they are not bound up in previous practice or attached with meaning. Of course, contrary to what western science would like to think of itself, the bricoleur can be spotted as well. He builds on old meanings and of structures of power – he is creating knowledge out of fragments of meaning already found in the world. Bricolage was identified with magic and myth, and the bricoleur is adept in a large number of diverse tasks, even though the repertoire of tools is limited to “whatever is at hand”. They are finite and heterogenous and bears no relation to the current project. In discussing Haraway’s cyborg, it should be clear that meanings are given to gender, work and difference through the praxis of the social relations of technology in the informatics of domination. Mythical thought is a kind of intellectual `bricolage’, writes Levi-Strauss, and Haraway’s cyborg is a myth about identity and boundaries made up of the remnants of industrial society and the continued capitalism of the informatics of domination.
Levi-Strauss pinned the difference down to being compliant with literate societies versus pre-literate ones. The literate, scientific – Western – side is reflected in Haraway’s discussion of the writing and the name as being masculine and phallocentric. (175) Origin stories are phallocentric, but the cyborg writing is different. In a world where the boundary between the `primitive’ and the `civilized’ no longer holds, cyborg writing is not about searching for the perfect “name” of the singular work. To seize the tools that marked women as other to gain back a power to survival is the basis for cyborg writing, not original innocence. (175)
Western science has been based on the ideology of the rational ingenieur who creates anew, while overlooking the continuities, the guesswork, the axioms of mathematical rules and discriminatory gender differences, – overlooking the bricoleur in it who thrives on connotation, ideology and culture. Feminism critique of science and technology has helped revealing and debunking these structures, because they are dubious in their foundation and have excluded women from production of knowledge and technology. Assessing western science as cultural bricolage has been deconstructing its knowledge, in feminist and other critiques. However, stating that bricolage takes place, is not necessary to call for an abandonment of science altogether on the reason that it fails to live up to its objectivist claims. A bricolage does not result in pure relativism or subjectivity from lack of being objective, – it is objective in its being intersubjective. In using the cyborg imagery in order to construct a new feminist science, we are not trying to search out a new monistically objective science, but using `whatever is at hand’ politically, ironically and pragmatically to create a new epistemology that values different experiences.
If science has produced disembodied knowledge, or at least certainly told the story of objectivity and neutrality to itself, a new and feminist science is still possible according to Haraway. This is, as I have tried to show, grounded in old tools as well as contemporary experiences of fluid identities and contingencies. The cyborg is ironic and produces no monistic truth. Because it is a hybrid, it embodies difference, and the notion of partial perspectives provides a new basis of scientific objectivity, and this objectivity is enhanced, not weakened, by multiple standpoints and partial views.
Sarah Kember (1996) points out that embodied knowledge incorporates experience, desires and politics of the self, and therefore “cannot make universalist truth claims”. It can tell of others standpoints as well as one’s own, and recognise a multiplicity of equally valid feminist standpoints . They are put to the task of undermining existing epistemological structures and scientific hierarchical separations. Experiences of whom are named as `black’, `lesbians’, `old’ are embodied and can be told. Even though we try to avoid essentialising categories and names for people’s identities – or differences – it is quite possible to take these categories and names (`black’, `woman’) as a starting point, with the connotations they already have. They will include their own transgressions and contestations around labelling, escaping, meaning, identity and lack of identity, and become stories others can hear and share, and accept as some of many possible and equally valid feminisms and femininities. “There is no drive in cyborgs to produce total theory” (181) – but experience of boundaries, their construction and deconstruction. Donna Haraway argues against origin myths, dreams of original wholeness and future oneness. Cyborg politics is about revelling in boundary stories and transgressions, thus reversing and displacing the hierarchical dualisms of naturalised identities.
Haraway stresses the cyborg subject position as partial, ironic and faithful to blasphemy. Cyborgs are always on the move, always embodying difference differently, and the only thing it takes for granted is irony. Irony mocks power and the “dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves.” (1991:181) Science and technology have pushed their projects to the limits, revealing the blurred boundaries of mind and machine. She takes inspiration from the anthropologist Mary Douglas, who explores the connections between bodily boundaries and social boundaries. Body imagery provides idioms for a world view, and is thus a political language and a narration of society itself. She is Durkheimian in that the rituals and boundary-myths are all, really, about society and its perpetuation and wholeness. Bodily inscribed notions of pollution, purity and danger is at stake in the maintenance of social boundaries, and in ‘primitive’ society as well as in our own, bodily functions are socially treated; women are separated in menstrual huts, or they are being subjected to controlled choices surrounding conception and childbirth.
The cyborg embraces the possibilities inherent in the breakdown of clean distinctions between organism and machine, and finds pleasure in these potent and taboo fusions. Science and technology needs to be positively recast – not written off – and the boundary-transgression involves being (in) the machine – in opposition to what earth mothers and technophobic feminists think; “machines can be prosthetic devices, intimate components, friendly selves. We don’t need organic holism…” (Haraway 1991:178). The imagery of implants and oneness with the machine is motivated by a political need to reconcile women with science. Science is not going to go away, and it is useful in that it still can provide objective views of the world – “they give accounts of the world that can check arbitrary power” (Penley & Ross 1991:2).
About longing for enchantment and unity
Why introduce the image of the cyborg? As Judith Squires (1996) has pointed out, Haraway’s feminist critique is really sufficient without it; “one can reject the homogenising strategies of grand narratvies and challenge the universal pretensions of modernist thought […] one can explore the possibilities of flexible, transitory identities … without ever making recourse to cyborg imagery.” (Squires 1996:206) She identifies the lure of the cyborg image as feeding the old will “to transcend the bodily nature of the female and exist purely in the cerebral realm of individual autonomy”. If Haraway herself never lost sight of “the nitty-gritty of lived social relations” (Squires 1996:207), her ungendered unconsciuos-less cyborg may be, as a myth and an image, too ephemeral to separate itself from an interpretation of a bodyless mind. The cyborgian transgression of boundaries entails both both “pleasure” and “responsibility in their constructions”, but it may seem that the construction that takes place next to deconstruction, and the political responsibility following affinities by choice could be overlooked.
Separating good and bad cyborgs is essential to Haraways political project; cyborgs that mock and check power are good, and the military-medical ones are bad. But these boundaries are, ironically, themselves blurred. The cyborg as it is found in medicine and military technology and in popular culture (e.g personalities of science fiction such as Terminator, Robocop and the like) are quite different from Haraways ideals, and give rise to speculation. One is the fetishistic use of body- or vision-enhancing technology, reinforcing a hierarchical relationship between self and other (Kember 1996:240), and intensifying the old opposition between mind and matter. For cyberpunks, it is a matter of “getting out of the meat”, the complete opposite to embodiment of female experience. The breakdown of boundaries is at issue here as well, but results in a pleasurable reinforcement of them instead of transgressing them to redefine difference. That “[the simultaneity of] the breakdown of clean distinctions between organism and machine and similar distinctions structure in the Western self […] cracks the matrices of domination and opens geometric possibilities” (Haraway 1991:174), that is somewhat inherent contradictions and paradoxes in the informatics of domination, give rise to speculations of a feminine revenge of technology on human patriarchy. Associations of the female to the technological matrix (which is the word for the webs of interconnected pieces of information technology as well as having the etymologies of `mother’ and `womb’ (Springer 1991:306)) and a natural force is known from ecofeminism as well as industrialisms linking of women to machines capable of vast, uncontrollable destruction (Springer 1991). `Old’, industrial age paradoxes of fear and love for technology are analogue to the paradoxical status of the image of the cyborg in the information age, and the object of the thrill and the fears has shifted from “huge, thrusting machines” to sleek microchips and “the thrill of control over information [and] the thrill of escape from the confines of the body”. As such, cyborg imagery serves to reinforce patriarchy, and as Claudia Springer goes on to note in an essay critical of the masculinist phantasies and “the pleasure of the interface”, “uncertainty is a central characteristic of postmodernism and the essence of the cyborg. But […] patriarchy continues to uphold gender difference.” (Springer 1991:310) Haraway’s political myth is apparently still waiting to become reality.
There is a danger in the production of myths and ideals, navigating in popular and scientific culture to put existing signifiers in new relations. That problem is of course that the project fails, in that old meanings that structures old social relations persist. The evoking of an elusive concept, urging it to be employed without giving any strict recipies is of course a great asset, and provides “goods to think with”. Being a Manifesto, Haraway’s article throws out new idea(l)s, and avoiding gendering her cyborg, or providing it with an unconscious, she escapes a couple of essentialisms of `women’ and identity. The paradoxical nature of the cyborg is, as Constance Penley puts it “a suggestive and productive one”, but she and Andrew Ross, in an interview with Donna Haraway (1991) wonder how a philosophy of partialism can become beat mainstream sciences promise for completion and become popular for “people who want to resolve a sense of loss or absence in their lives”. Popular culture seems to be more about looking for identity and wholeness than what vanguard theorists see as contingencies. Haraway still rejects holisms as “denying mortality” and a “deadly fantasy” (Penley&Ross 1991:16), but considers the question perhaps to be related to ones of psychoanalysis – which she in her Manifesto excluded from the image of the cyborg. However, in retrospective, she reconsiders the limitations of both the ungenderedness and the absence of an unconscious from her cyborg. She admits that a resistance towards psychoanalysis perhaps made the unconscious disappear when it was really the Oedipal stories about split subjects she wanted to avoid. An unconscious may account for a lived “subjectivity” and would add to the genderless cyborg a differentiation on the basis of sexuality, which could add a bit more `meat’, as it were, on the ideal cyborg. As Jaqueline Rose points out, the feminine unconscious is not a given original harmonious state then ruptured and split – it is a constant “`failure’ … endlessly repeated and relived moment by moment throughout our individual histories”. Coupling feminism and psychoanalysis, she holds that “feminism’s affinity with psychoanalysis rests above all … with this recognition that there is a resistance to identity at the very heart of psychic life” (Rose 1986:91). While Haraway resists the Oedipal stories because their persuasive power and their stories are all to familiar – and the narratives of the unconscious “much too conservative, muych too heterosexual, much to familial, much too exclusive” (Penley&Ross 1991:9), she would be open for more localised and alternative Oedipal stories.
Braidotti the nomad
Rosi Braidotti takes inspiration from Haraway’s cyborg in developing her own `nomadic subject’ as another feminist figuration, but in contrast to Haraway’s cyborg, the nomad is equipped with gender and an unconscious. Her nomadic consciousness is one feminists should cultivate, and it “develops the notion of a corporeal materiality by emphasizing the embodied and therefore sexually differentiated structure of the speaking subject.” (Braidotti 1994:3) Braidotti thus adds body and sexuality to the cyborg, and in stressing that the nomadic project “allows for internal contradicyiton and attempts to negotiate between unconscious structures of desire and consciuos political choices”, she equips it with a psychoanalytic unconsious, which consequently lets the nomadic thinking take in consideration of “the pain involved in processes of change and transformation” (1994:31). Change is desired, and to slowly transform representations, her method is to repeat them, to mime them. She evokes Levi-Strauss’ bricolage as an ideal method, also providing a way to transdisciplinarity – crossing the borders of phallocentric, monistic sciences. Her bricolage steals notions and concepts lying around from earlier contexts, and deliberately uses them outside those contexts. The mimesis involved in the reworking of established representation will expose them and consume them from within. The mimesis is a praxis of “as if”, based on “the subversive potential of repetitions”.
Michael Taussig evokes the mimesis as a kind of sympathetic magic – defined in the late 19th century by James Frazer in his huge ethnological synthesis The Golden Bough – and captured in the notion that “In some way or another one can protect oneself from the spirits by portraying them” (Taussig 1993:1). A need to set up a discontinuity, grab and hold, and then to scrutinise and reactivate a strange culture in ones own terms is the anthropological Western mimetic project. As explained by Michael Taussig, mimesis is a double process of reification-and-fetishization (Taussig 1993:13), of copying a unique existence and bring it in contact with one’s own body, and “[t]he ability to mime, and mime well […] is the capacity to Other” (1993:19). For Braidotti, the project is to “Other back” – because the copy is not just a copy, but reveals and displays connections and details never seen before, as in the photograph, it is a power tool. It is also a project of positive mimesis, of recreation and new construction of positive feminist nomadic figurations. The knowledge / power relation is still at work in Braidottis mimetic ventures; in the chapter Mothers, Monsters and Machines (1994), she states her nomadic style is best suited to make adequate representations of female experience. To mime representations without regard for disciplinary boundaries, she conjures up a history of intersecting historic conceptualisations of women, and treats them as discourses, not definite objects. The normative and controlling association of female difference with negative, monstrous, deviant distance is analysed, and Braidotti thus uncovers ideologies of essentialism, the ascriptions of womens monstrosity out of “lack”, “displacement; as sign of the in between areas, of the indefinite, the ambiguous” (1994:83). Evoking machines, Braidotti shows that the conceptualisations of negative female otherness were embedded in “scientific, political and discursive field of technology”, and adding biotechnology, todays links between the mother, the monster and the machine becomes obvious. Thus, she has traced historical roots to contemporary manipulation of life and mechanizing of the matenal function and images of the feminine in relation to reproductive and bio-technology.
Feminist critiques of science and technology have struggled with old essentialist concepts of womanhood. References to nature and sexuality are never unproblematic as they are always embedded and made by social relations of power and work. The task has been shown to be to go to work on epistemology, through deconstructing ideologies of gender and technology. Hopes for a feminist successor science have been problematic, in that science itself has been held by many to embody patriarchial ideas of power and monolithic knowledge. Even though a common experience of woman has not been defined, a common sense of marginalisation and of not being happy about the ascribed categories of identity lies behind any attempt to reconstruct feminism and science. Haraway’s cyborg is a good tool to think with, in that it stresses radical irony and faithlessness in established scientific projects that can be seen to threaten the survival of humans (as well as animals). It is grounded on a hope for a better science, not one that produces more knowledge, more data, but one which uncovers power structures awaiting a genderless society. As such, it is problematic and Utopian. Genderless cyborgs are not real cyborgs, but ideals. Braidottis additions of sexuality and the unconscious can in addition to writing similar revealing stories as the cyborg ones, account for lived experiences of subjectivity, of sexuality, of bodies and of the double desire and fear of change. Both represent blueprints for more stories – situated, `thick’, speculative, ethnographic or autobiographic accounts – that ironically and non-essentially can rework representations of women.
The figurations of cyborgs and nomadic subjects are often vague and cannot be discovered without a context of cultural discourse of technology and womanhood. Some, such as Haraway and Braidotti excel on mapping them out, but finding concrete embodiments of a sort of ideal cyborg is rather hard. The issue is not about making perfect heroes, but illuminating aspects of subjective experience of being a woman (or something differently gendered or othered) in a technological society. Social relations of science and technology form knowledge about the world and they also provide metaphors and reference points for drawing out a postmodern map of categories, sex and difference. Laurie Anderson is mentioned both by Kember as “a nomad who is perhaps as close to being a cyborg as anyone” and by Braidotti as “a great example of effective parodic nomadic style, in the “as-if” mode”. Her incorporation of high technology into subjective stories about attempts to gain control and backfiring, being a humorous prankster reversing situations and people as well as telling stories of loss, her deceptively simple performances and texts embodies one way of telling cyborg stories.