Topmenu Calendar Archive Links Faculty and staff Publications Research projects Sitemap Main page

Cyborg Identities

Thursday-Friday October 21-22, 1999
Auditorium 011, byg. 324
Organisers: Randi Markussen og Finn Olesen

In Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto from the mid-80s, the cyborg (cybernetic organism) is described as a hybrid creature with biological and technological components; it is a creature in social reality as well as in fiction: material as well as discursive.

In late modernity's widespread move from essentialism to relationalism, distinct categories and classes have become overshadowed by ambiguous kinship: Electronic doorkeepers, digital spelling checkers, intelligent houses, silicone transplants, sex-change operations and genderless Internet rendezvous all contribute to the challenge to the well defined categories of modern identity. The same goes for shared codes and practices between humans and machines, e.g. in factories and hospitals. The examples are legion. Hence, in practice we move confidently in the cyborg world, but what do we do in theory?

The aim of the conference is to throw some light on the role of the Humanities in understanding technologically mediated human beings in late modernity. Where is the humanistic subject matter in the cyborg world? Does the cyborg symbolise a new era of dehumanisation - or rather a revitalised humanism?

The conference has been made possible by contributions from SHF and the FREJA research project entitled 'Cyberspace and Cyborgs - Between Narrative and Socio-technical Reality', in cooperation with The Department of Philosophy and The Department of Information and Media Science.


Thursday, October 21

9:15-10:00 am Registration and coffee
10:00-10:15 Randi Markussen: Official welcome and introduction
10:15-12:00 Donna Haraway: Birth of the Kennel: Cyborgs, Dogs, and Companion Species Online
12:00-1:00 pm Lunch
1:00-2:30 Mette Bryld: Cyborg Babies and Cybergods
2:30-4:00 Nina Lykke: Are Cyborgs Queer?
4:00-4:30 Coffee break
4:30-6:00 Finn Olesen: All Too Perfect: Human Subjects in Mediated Reality

Friday, October 22

9:15-10:45 am Mark Elam: Visual Liberties and Cartesian Doubts:High-Flown Thoughts on the Cyborg Science of Remote Sensing
10:45-11:00 Coffee break
11:00-12:30 Andy Pickering: Science Studies and the Objects of the Humanities
12:30-2:00 pm Lunch
2:00-3:30 Don Ihde: You can't have it both ways: Situated or Symmetrical
3:30-4:00 Coffee break
4:00-6:00 Final Discussion


Donna J. Haraway
Biologist and science theorist, professor at the Department of History of Consciousness, University of California, Santa Cruz. She is a leading figure in the cross-disciplinary field of 'Science and Technology Studies' (STS) and feminist science criticism. Haraway's publications include Primate Visions :Gender, Race and Nature in the World of Modern Science (1989), Simians, Cyborgs, and Women ? The Reinvention of Nature (1991) and Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouse - (1996).
Don Ihde
Phenomenologist and hermeneutic, professor of philosophy, State University of New York, Stony Brook. Don Ihde is a leading philosopher of technology in North America. His publications include Technics and Praxis (1979), Technology and the Lifeworld: From Garden to Earth (1990), and Expanding Hermeneutics :Visualizing Science (1999).
Andy Pickering
Physicist and sociologist of science, professor at the Department of Sociology and the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Pickering is the author of Constructing Quarks: A Sociological History of Particle Physics (1984) and The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency & Science (1995), and editor of the anthology Science as Practice and Culture (1992).
Mette Bryld
Philologist of slavic languages, associate professor at the Department of Slavic Studies, University of Odense; has focused on cybernetics research, and feminist science criticism for many years. Bryld is co-editor of Bodyscapes: Body and Discourse (1995), and author, with Nina Lykke, of Alien encounters: Feminist Cultural Studies of Technoscience, Spirituality and Animals (forthcoming).
Nina Lykke
Associate professor at the Center of Feminist Studies and Department of Linguistics, University of Odense; has worked with literary and cultural studies, and feminist science criticism for a number of years. Lykke has co-edited, among other publications, Between Monsters, Goddesses and Cyborgs(1996), and is the author, with Mette Bryld, of Alien encounters: Feminist Cultural Studies of Technoscience, Spirituality and Animals(forthcoming).
Mark Elam
Research fellow at the Department of Sociology, Copenhagen University, and part-time lecturer at the Department of Culture, Society and Media Production, Linköping University, he is engaged in cultural studies of science with a focus on the history and politics of remote sensing. Elam's publications include contributions toTheory, Culture and Society and Socialkonstruktivisme: Bidrag til en kritisk diskussion (1998).
Finn Olesen
Philosopher of technology, assistant professor at the Department of Information and Media Science, University of Aarhus; with a focus on human-machine interactions and science and technology studies. Olesen has co-edited Kommunikation og forståelse (1997), and, with Henning Hoegh Laursen, a special edition of the philosophical journal Philosophia, on technoscience and 'Aktørnetværks-teori' (»Verden om tænkningen, Mennesker, ting og natur«).
Donna Haraway: Birth of the Kennel - Cyborgs, Dogs, and Companion Species Online

Cybernetics is at heart a theory of communication and control. Several years ago, I defined cyborgs as historically specific beings emerging in the late 20th century where important boundaries between human and animal, on the one hand, and organism and machine, on the other hand, are simultaneously brought into question. Cyborg weapons systems, genetically engineered laboratory animals, modern patients thinking about their immune systems, the earth constituted as Gaia, and telemetriclly implanted chimpanzees in the space race are all examples of cyborgs. But in this paper, I want to look somewhere quite different to think about the fusions and expulsions of cyborg culture--i.e., to the practices joining humans and dogs in online culture and in other forms of communication among communities of canine practice. I am interested in what constitutes expertise, responsibility, knowledge, activism, and love in these diverse communities where cross-species relations are the focus of attention.

Using material from online discussion groups and from a web-based canine genetics course offered by the Cornell University Veterinary School, as well as interviews and textual sources, I will concentrate on the action in genetics linking scientists and other dog people, especially 'purebred' dog breeders.What happens when the mongrel fields of the biological and cultural anthropology of genetics are approached through the genome of 'man's best friend' instead of 'man'?Dogs emerge as modern naturalcultural subjects who are instantly recognized by anyone who breathes Darwin and Foucault in with each breath. My early excursions into these richly interlinked worlds convince me that here at last is the place to kennel scholarly debates about all the "posts"--post Foucault, post-actor-network theory, post-humanism, post-modern, post-colonial, post-cyborg. Marking all the posts, only feminism remains eternally current.

Mette Bryld: Cyborg Babies and Cybergods

Via a new, quite amazing kind of children's books on origins - the autobiographical "I´m a Little Frostie" told by a 'test-tube' child - I'll trace the 'fetology' discourse identified by a number of feminist researchers (Franklin, Duden, Haraway et al.). Are the thematic clusters such as, for instance, the absence of the maternal body in contrast to the dynamic fetal personhood and individuality present here, and if so, how? My journey through Frostie's Bildungsroman will eventually take me to discussions of the parallels between inner and outer space and, in this connection, to the astonishing performances of the Cybergod who also specialized in artificial reproduction technologies (ART) on a cosmic scale. Finally, I shall discuss the return of the divine, the sacred, in my material.

Nina Lykke: Are Cyborgs Queer?

Powerful biological determinist discourses have defined biological sex, reproductive capacities, the phases of ageing of the body, skin colour etc. as biological factors that could and should (!) perform as stable and "natural" referents for the formation of identities and subjectivities. An indirect testimony of the power of these conservative discourses can be seen in the huge intellectual and political efforts that feminists, queer theorists, anti-racists and social constructionists in general have had to muster in order to counter the biological determinist arguments. However, since the mid-eighties and the publication of Donna Haraway's cyborg manifesto, it has been debated, if cyborgification of identities and the intimate cohabitation with machines to which it refers, displace the very foundation of the discussion, because cyborgs make the notion of and an "authentic, natural, original" bodily anchoring of identities become obviously dubious. Exemplified via a confrontation of queer theory with various discourses on genetics and assisted reproductive technologies, the paper will discuss the eroding effects of cyborgification on biological determinist arguments vis-à-vis the reinvention of biological determinism as genetic essentialism, and ask whether or not a currently popular anti-biologist discourse as queer theory can meet the new challenges.

Finn Olesen: All Too Perfect? Human Subjects in Mediated Reality

The human subject as a category has offered identity to us westerners for the last three hundred years. At the core of the idea of the subejct is a mechanical-cartesian essentialism which entails a separate, autonomous self capable of epistemological, political, moral and religious agency. This 'free-standing' agent is still very much part of theoretical discourses on modern identity. But the subject is not fit for life in late modernity. Our present life is (technologically) mediated in numerous ways, which do not include the subject and its objects. I claim, that the subject, taken to be an ontological category, is tied up with a certain type of human perfection, This idea of perfection, which has been known since Aristotle, stands in the way of a systematic understanding of actual social relations in our increasingly mediated world. We need to develop new descriptive categories to be able to talk about complex social contexts of action, and actors, who are able to engage in heterogeneous practices, and for whom fallibility is less a fault than a premis. The aim of the talk is to to make probable, that the post-perfect human being is much more interesting to explore, than the pure subject.

Mark Elam:
Visual Liberties and Cartesian Doubts: High Flown Thoughts on the Cyborg Science of Remote Sensing

In succinct fashion, Donna Haraway once depicted the eye of the remote sensor as one that "fucks the world to make techno-monsters". In my presentation I shall elaborate further upon the nature and identity of this act; its ups and downs and the variable pleasures and pains it produces in those who engage in it. The background to my talk is the current proliferation of space-based remote sensing activities in the post-Cold War era and the twinned promotion of a new 'revolution in military affairs' based on precision-guided munitions and a new 'earth information industry' flooding the internet with satellite imagery for sale. Recognizing remote sensing for the Cold War cyborg science it is, how can we account for its renewed growth and vitality today? Rather than assigning it any special talent for the production of truth and certainty on earthly matters, I want to connect the continued advance of remote sensing with a dynamic, but variable, interplay between what can be described as the taking of visual liberties and the suffering of cartesian doubts. Seriously out of touch with the realities they bring sublimely into view, remote sensors typically begin by elating their patrons with sights of things they have never seen before, only to leave them fearing that behind what they now can see may yet still lie even more disturbing entities to uncover.

Andy Pickering: Science Studies and the Objects of the Humanities

The field of science and technology studies has been described as the ontological conscience of the humanities and social sciences. It ventures where the classical disciplines fear to tread, into the zones of intersection of the human realm, the traditional preserve of the humanities, and the nonhuman realm of things, the preserve of the hard sciences and engineering. And in these zones science studies finds strange and impure objects, interacting and co-evolving assemblages of the human and the nonhuman. The aim of this paper is to exemplify this claim and to explore some of its implications for the humanities. I want to argue that inasmuch as they cross its terrain, the study of these strange objects can mark a new beginning in the humanities. At the same time, recognition of their existence opens up a space for extended ontological reflection. Perhaps there are many kinds of objects, pure and impure, that the humanities might be interested in, and perhaps we should begin to theorise their multiplicity and interrelations.

Don Ihde: You can't have it both ways: Situated or Symmetrical

A significant group of thinkers engaging in technoscience studies have realized and attempted to deal with both the human and the technological components of the situations in which science and technology occur. I will examine some of these strategies and emphasize that a major problem occurs between the affirmation of 'situated knowledges' and of 'symmetries' between the human and non-human components of technoscience. I argue that you can't have both--but what can you have?

Go to top

Updated 21 November 2000 by smc. Please mail comments to the web editor at Centre for Cultural Research.