Intersectionality, Assemblage, and the “Cyborg-Goddess”

This weeks articles on cyborgs brought us three inter-connected critiques of feminist theory, each breaking down the ontological meanings and implications behind “intersectionality,” “assemblage,” and the mix of the two in Joshua Scannell’s idea on the “cyborg-goddess.” The three articles offer an intense, extensive analysis of the progression of feminist theory in regards to unity, affinity, and appropriation in oppositional consciousness ranging from the early 90s to 2016. Donna Haraway begins the discussion by introducing the idea of a “cyborg” as a creature of social reality and fiction, living in a post-gender world in which the hetero-capitalist binaries that organize identity are increasingly blurred. The three major breakdowns Haraway cites as contributing to this blurring of boundaries include:

1.) the breakdown between human and animal and our ideas regrading consciousness

2.) the rise of artificially intelligent machines that question dominant power dynamics

3.) the breakdown of the physical/non-physical in regards to the growing invisibility and ubiquity techno-interactivity

The blurring of these boundaries opens up the possibility for Haraway of the cyborg in post-modern society; a creature that is able to “see from both perspectives at once,” with each revealing “dominations and possibilities unimaginable from the other vantage point.” By living in this in between state, Haraway argues that affinity can supersede identity through oppositional consciousness, rejecting the reliance on a logic of appropriation, incorporation or taxonomic identification. By accepting mutation, the monstrous appearance, and complex configuration that produce cyborgs, we can begin to deconstruct dualisms of capitalist violence and masculine domination. A quote I really liked from Haraway’s piece draws on some of the ideas we’ve raised thus far in our Fem Tech class..

“Cyborg writing is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other.”(175).

Jasbir Puar on the other hand, contends that the model of intersectionality Haraway proposes reaffirms the binaries she claims to deconstruct. Puar claims because cyborgs are explained as inhabiting the intersection between body and technology, they reinscribe dualisms which in turn form “Others.” Furthermore, she see’s intersectionality as based on nation-centered categorization in which the “US is reproduced as the dominant site of feminist inquiry through the use intersectionality as a heuristic to teach difference.” Again, this re-establishes hierarchies within the feminist community, often singling out Women of Color through the “mainstreaming” of the term. Instead, Puar describes assemblages as unstable and an object that “cannot be seamlessly disaggregated into identity formations,” like intersectionality.

However, I found Joshua Scannell’s idea on the “cyborg-goddess” as most interesting in it’s relevance and specificity to today. If Haraway had written her “Cyborg Manifesto” in 2017, I imagine it would’ve looked dramatically different. Scannell suggests feminist theory should now synthesize Haraway’s ideas on intersectionality with Puar’s assemblage, to create a “cyborg-goddess,” in which the mystification of big data and proliferation of bio-politics has created a paradigmatic change in the ontological object of governance, from human to the datalogical. Today’s shift towards “governance by algorithm,” targets the “social object,” focusing on the patterning of capacities and possibilities, not the human, as the most important for control. So in this sense, objects are only as real as their capacity to be made computational. This raises important questions regrading control, differentiation, and identity in our contemporary society.

On a personal level, I think it’s frightening to know that these systems, like the NYPD’s DAS, are running on a circular system, like that of AI, and operating on “deep managerial time.” I keep thinking of the long term implications, but the long term implications of this aren’t even log term. Because of how rich data can be, how quickly it can be stored and distributed, and how actively it is mined, privacy in the future will be non-existent. Furthermore, the cooperation between corporation and state-government is ominous, revealing a potentially dark future in which our lives will only register as consumer data. I mean, we talk about the callousness with which policing takes place today, think about it in the future… Also, I can’t help but think of the neo-noir style film by Spielberg, “Minority Report.”

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