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Cyborg Anthropology

Author(s): Gary Lee Downey, Joseph Dumit and Sarah Williams
Source: Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 10, No. 2, Anthropologies of the Body (May, 1995), pp.
264-269
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/656336 .
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Rather. As a theorizing activity. and medicine. In other words. it takes the relations among knowledge production. American AnthropologicalAssociation. 30 Jan 2015 13:13:12 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . We are publishing this statement because we think it provokes important discussions. It represents a first attempt at positioning cyborg anthropology in a late capitalist world that situates academic theorizing alongside popular theorizing.Occasional Essay Cyborg Anthropology Gary Lee Downey Centerfor the Study of Science in Society Virginia Tech Joseph Dumit Program in the History of Consciousness University of California at Santa Cruz Sarah Williams Women's Studies Otago University The following is the text of a paper we presented at the 1992 Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association in San Francisco. technological production. Copyright ? 1995. Cyborg anthropologybrings the culturalanthropologyof science and technology into conversationwith established activities in science and technology studies (STS) and feminist studies of science. Although we cite broad social and intellectual movements. We view cyborg anthropologyboth as an activity of theorizingand as a vehicle for enhancing the participationof cultural anthropologistsin contemporarysocieties. it is by no means confined to the world of high technology. cyborg anthropology is not just for anthropologists or other professional intellectuals. 264 This content downloaded from 200. technology.Although the cyborg image originatedin space researchand science fiction to refer to forms of life that are parthumanand partmachine. We view cyborg anthropology as a descriptive label that marks a cultural project rather than an elite academic practice.cyborg anthropology calls attentionmore generally to the cultural productionof human disCulturalAnthropology 10(2):264-269.149.179 on Fri.and subject production to be a crucial area of anthropological research. we do not detail specific relations of affinity through references.3.

assessing the political implications of biological notions of race. scientific knowledge that is objective and neutral.CYBORG ANTHROPOLOGY 265 tinctiveness by examining ethnographically the boundaries between humans and machines and our visions of the differences thatconstitute these boundaries. cultural studies has provided both conceptual and political practices for legitimizing those academic activities that seek to articulate more explicitly their knowledge and political contents. Cyborg anthropology offers new metaphorsto both academic and populartheorizing for comprehendingthe different ways that sciences and technologies work in our lives-metaphors that start with our complicity in many of the processes we wish were otherwise. resist. American cultural studies provided the nonactivist humanities and social sciences with intellectual resources to resist the New Right as it rose rapidly to power duringthe 1980s. anthropologybecame a source of insight for popular theorizing precisely because it described alternativeworlds and informed the imagination of radical difference. 30 Jan 2015 13:13:12 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Cyborg anthropology articulates in productive and insightful ways with culturalstudies. in contrast with cultural action in other social arenas. Throughoutits history. As a participatoryactivity. class. First is the study of contemporary science and technology as cultural activities.3. Cyborg anthropology is interestedin the construction of science and technology as cultural phenomena.149.for example. it empowers anthropologyto be culturallyreflective regardingits presence in the practices of science and technology and to imagine how these practices might be otherwise. Also. Three Areas of Study and Critique We see cyborg anthropology as exploring three related areas of study and critique that anthropologyhas been reluctantand ill equipped to pursue. British culturalstudies. Demonstratingthat academic theorizing always has political dimensions. as it evolved within and emerged from the Birmingham Centre for ContemporaryCulturalStudies. Cyborg anthropologytakes up this challenge by exploring the production of humannessthroughmachines. anthropologicaldiscourse has taken for granteda sharp distinction between the activities of society and the development of science and technology. Cyborg anthropology invests in alternativeworld-makingby critically examining the powers of the imaginationinvested in the sciences and technologies of contemporarysocieties. It explores the heterogeneous strategies and mechanisms through which members of technical communities produce these culturalforms thatappearto lack culture. and linking analyses of domination by race. That is. and participate within structuresof knowledge and power.179 on Fri. sometimes moved beyond a humanist centrism in critiquinghow institutionalforms produce subject forms. In the past. the product of only empirical observation and logical This content downloaded from 200. It looks for ways to critique. by importing and expanding dramatically an activity of academic theorizing that linked accounts of knowledge and power. and gender. science and technology appear to develop according to their own internal logics within specialized technical communities whose deliberations are essentially opaque and presumably free of culturalcontent.

region.production. an This content downloaded from 200. alternateaccounts of history and subjectivity are also possible. It is increasingly clear that human agency serves in the world today as but one contributorto activities that are growing in scope. race.telegraphs. How the positioning of technologies has defined the boundariesof "thefield" as well as the positioning of anthropologistswithin it has been a notable silence in ethnographicwriting.From this perspective. and information transfersas they are machine producers and operators. Thus. Cyborg anthropology explores a new alternativeby examining the argumentthathumansubjects and subjectivity are crucially as much a function of machines. whetheras purveyorsof hegemonic control. and so on. class. cyborg anthropology poses a serious challenge to the human-centeredfoundationsof anthropological discourse. Since the practice of "doing science" is no longer reserved for scientists. the establishmentof anthropologicalsubjects and subjectivities has depended upon boats. The autonomyof individuals has alreadybeen called into question by poststructuralistand posthumanistcritiques. If global activities are not systemic but diverse (for example. That is. cyborg anthropologyhelps us to realize that we are all scientists. or as even more complex contributorsto cross-national and cross-cultural calculations. if capitalismis not singularbut plural. autonomous bearer of identity and agency. we all do science. 30 Jan 2015 13:13:12 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . the latterthroughthe combined agencies of computerand communications technologies. machine relations. that are complex and diverse. trains. The extent of such interconnectedness has been madeplain both by the decline of challenges to capitalist hegemony and by the empowermentof informationtechnologies. cameras. theoretically without gender. including across national and cultural boundaries. and yet are interconnected. For example.3.179 on Fri. Exploring how science and technology function. In this respect. science and technology affect society through the fashioning of selves rather than as external forces. The term "cyborganthropology"is an oxymoron that draws attention to the human-centeredpresuppositions of anthropologicaldiscourse by posing the challenge of alternative formulations. has served usefully andproductively as the subject of culture and of cultural accounts. While the skin-bound individual. studying science becomes both more amenable to ethnographicinvestigation and more importantas a topic of research. Cyborg anthropologyis interestedin how people constructdiscourse about science and technology in order to make these meaningful in their lives.149. The second areaof study is a broadcritiqueof the adequacyof "anthropos" as the subject and object of anthropology. as mechanisms of resistance. by reconstructing scientific knowledge in new contexts. and change. planes. or time. cyborg anthropology brings science and technology into anthropologyas legitimate areas of inquiry and critique.266 CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY reasoning. typewriters. As developments seemingly without culture. science and technology routinely constitute power relations without overt discussion and deliberation. Anthropological inquiry in these areas is especially importantsince science and technology have served as both the idiom and the vehicle of much cross-culturalinteraction.

races. technologies participateactively in every existing realm of anthropological interest. rhetoricalstrategies.3. Relations with STS and Feminist Studies Over the past decade. manipulations of power. such as exploring the attributionof "agency"to machines. 30 Jan 2015 13:13:12 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . nationalisms. and normalcies?In short. computer networks concerning treatmentsinternationally. sexualities.149. then it is safe to say thatno one person or framework understandsthem. How does machine agency serve to contrast and maintaindesires. to follow in our writing the ways that human agents routinely produce both themselves and their machines as parthuman and part machine. without using human-centeredlanguage? And if writing is a coproductionof humanand machine. positioning new terms and concepts. and so on? How do machines come to adjudicate boundaries on realms of knowledge and competence. then who is the "we" that writes? Strategies that have already been used include conceptualizing existing concepts in new ways. it must blur its own conceptual presuppositions that exclude machines from anthropos. Instead. the rapid expansion of the constructivist movement in STS has provided numerous theoretical insights and methodological strategies for examining how scientists and technologists construct their knowledge throughheterogeneous combinationsof interests. we must be awarethat attemptingto write culture without humanity as its sole vehicle threatensto reproduce commodity fetishism and to exclude cyborg anthropologyfrom the current disciplinary bounds of anthropology. exploring the variableproductionof such pieces throughdiverse strategies in diverse environments. rationalities. pathologies.the differential capabilities of education worldwide-in order to realize that ignoring the agencies of technologies drastically limits any anthropologicalinquiries into the contemporaryhumancondition.179 on Fri.At the same time. How are we to write. and technological objectives. insanities. genders.from computervisualization to mobile homes to forks. however. Cyborg anthropologyholds that machines and other technologies are attributedagency in the construction of subjectivities and bounded realms of knowledge. for example. One need only reflect on the multiple sites and contests over AIDS-activist struggles to participate in pharmaceutical approval.and refiguring the "objective"world of "fact"in various ways by deconstructingthe neutralobserver. The third area of currentstudy for cyborg anthropology is a recognition of new areas or field sites in which to examine ethnographicallyhow technologies get to participateas agents in producing and reproducingthe diverse featuresof social life. that is. If anthropologywants to offer analytical and critical understandingof current diversities. such as viewing both humans and objects as "actants". understandingmust come in pieces.CYBORG ANTHROPOLOGY 267 interactionof capitalisms). including modalities of subjectivity. militarisms. STS researchersare now also exploring alternativeways of critiquingand participatingin societal deliberations This content downloaded from 200. A crucial first step in blurringthe human-centeredboundariesof anthropological discourse is to grantmembershipto the cyborg image in theorizing.

By acknowledging its positioning within the activities of science and technology. In problematizing the body and foregrounding the politics and pleasures of sexualization. For example.. feminist studies have articulatedjust who and what is reproduced(and by what sorts of technologies) when a "human subject" is recognized. we re-cognize with self-conscious complicity that culture itself contributes to social technology. Thus. feminist analyses that emphasize andcritiquethe power hierarchiesthatare intensified by the possibilities of the new reproductive technologies demonstrate "nontraditional" and unexpected relationshipsbetween women and technology.149. Danger involves the "powerof a lord or master. this kind of dangerholds great promise for theorizing and activism. cyborg anthropology seizes the opportunity to retheorize imagination and resistance from a response to subjection to an act of participation. it is not only the biological reproductionof humanity but the figurative reproductionof humanity that requirescritical examination. to hurtor harm. By blurringthe boundariesbetween humans and machines and between society and science. Alliances not only with the professional discipline of anthropologybut also with culturalstudies. feminist cross-culturalstudies have demonstratedthatunderstandings of human reproduction-ours and Others'-are articulatedby intersecting mappingsof social and biological technologies. For cyborg anthropologists. pleasure. In recognizing that gender is socially constructed. phallic morphology. including governmentaldecision making. This content downloaded from 200.268 CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY that involve science and technology. According to the etymology of the word.meaning lordship or sovereignty.179 on Fri. cyborg anthropology can document in detail the flows of metaphors in both directions between the realms of academic science theorizing and technological production on the one side. but the empowerment of women with technology. The cyborg anthropologywe outline would not be imaginable without the work of feminist studies. Cyborg anthropologycan contributeto these developments by expanding dramatically the purview of STS beyond the formally institutionalized arenas of science and technology andby retheorizingintervention. lesbian explorations of culturalprohibitions and inhibitions regardingintimacy. The Dangers of Cyborg Anthropology Cyborg anthropologyis a dangerous activity.3."Cyborg anthropology is a dangerous activity because it accepts the positions it theorizes for itself as a participantin the constructedrealms of science andtechnology. cyborg anthropology views academic scholarship as no refuge either from the practice of science and technology or from domination.Thatis. 30 Jan 2015 13:13:12 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . andfeminist studies ensure thatcyborg anthropology will stay attunedto the diverse sources and forms of power constitutedthrough science and technology and to alternativemethodological strategiesfor providing analytical understandingand critical intervention. Indeed. As well. STS. danger derives from dominium. and virtualreality suggest that what is new and seductively dangerous is not the new technology per se. andof populartheorizing and technological participationon the other..

DeborahHeath. The dangers and the pleasures of discovering the scientist in all of us and our participationin science and technology whetherwe choose to or not." The dangers of studying "up" and the pleasures of studying "down" are well known. is co-optation. Allucquere Rosanne Stone. Notes We wouldlike to acknowledgethe inspirationandsupportof Acknowledgments. for example. and of critiquing our continued participationin cyborg forms of life now await us. cyborg anthropologymight participatein continued critical translations of "objectivity"and "community.Just as it is implicated in popular theorizing. not to have anthropology? Yet perhapsbecause of cyborg anthropology'scommitment to imagining alternateworlds. particularlySherryTurkle.as well as ouranonymousreviewersandthe editors.3. Paul Rabinow. not to have technology. of understandingourselves in more termsthansimple humanagency. Sharon Traweek. One way of maintaininga critical practice is to use our complicity strategically by remainingaccountableto both academic theorizingandpopulartheorizing. when cyborg anthropologycomes to speculate on whether it might be better not to have science.David Hess. Lucien Taylor.149. A second danger is the development of internalcontradictions. panel participantsat the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting and at the School of American Research. Rayna Rapp. Ratherthandefining itself out of existence. That is. ConstancePenley. so cyborg anthropology must remain accountable to it. 30 Jan 2015 13:13:12 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .and DeborahGordon. even if retheorized.What happens. Emily Martin. accepting participation can shade into the acceptance of presuppositions that constrain the imagination of alternate worlds and underminethe critical edge of ethnographicinvestigations.DonnaHaraway. This content downloaded from 200.CYBORGANTHROPOLOGY269 One danger of participation in institutionalized science and technology. cyborg imagery may also help conceive of strategies for translatingexisting worlds into new terms. Sunera Thobani.179 on Fri.