The cyborg is a familiar character in science fiction, anyone familiar with the Terminator series in film or the literary work of Phillip K. Dick has already been exposed to the questions about personhood that arise when the line between organism and machine becomes blurred. Donna Haraway takes the concept of the cyborg to suggest a new way of looking at identity construction, one that embraces contradiction and offers “a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves” (181). Emphasis on oppositions like natural vs. unnatural, organic vs. mechanical have failed to describe “lived social relations” and in fact served as tools for the continued marginalization of women by limiting their ability to describe and thereby take charge of themselves and their relationship to the rest of the world. The cyborg is an entity that may not seem “natural” in the sense of being inevitable, authentic and consistent; it has not arisen from nature. But at this point in history, the argument that people are any of those things has become strained. “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). She is speaking as much about our relationship to technology as our historical contingency. In our pluralistic cultural environment one finds that identity is a more complex proposition than it was in a (possibly nonexistent) pre-modern world of stable identities based on kinship and social groups. The cyborg is not a unified theory, it is not inured with Platonic essence and is resistant to those that would have it justify itself in those terms. Instead, it is “a powerful infidel heteroglossia. It is an imagination of a feminist speaking in tongues to strike fear into the circuits of the supersavers of the new right” (181). The effect this all comes to is that exercising subjective agency in identity construction, integrating contradictory parts, redrawing arbitrary boundaries between the self and the world are all viable options for a cyborg. This theory has gained more currency in the years since it was written with the ever-increasing integration of technology into our daily routine and social relations. Online avatars and video game characters have become common projections of imaginative selves (Second Life), smart phones free our internet life from our computers and bring it out into our off-internet lives, even enhancing the way we literally look at the world (http://www.iphoneness.com/iphone-apps/best-augmented-reality-iphone-applications/).
Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), pp. 149-181