Donna Haraway Essay

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Donna Jeanne Haraway is one of the leading contemporary theorists on environment and society. A professor in the History of Human Consciousness Program at the University of California at Santa Cruz, her research contributes to a vigorous discussion of how scientists’ research of the natural environment construct modernist subjectivities and how natural processes are constructed as objects of research. Over her career, Haraway has published six titles that analyzed the international political economy of research into the natural environment, and the image of the world as a “scheming trickster.” In a recent interview, Haraway compared her work with Bruno Latour, Evelyn Keller, and Alison Wiley.

Born in Denver in 1944, Haraway completed her doctorate in biology at Yale University, after which she held teaching posts at Johns Hopkins and the University of Hawaii; she joined the Santa Cruz faculty in 1980. Among her most influential works are the dissertation Crystals, Fabrics, and Fields: Metaphors of Organicism in Twentieth-Century Developmental Biology (1976); Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (1989); and Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (1991).

In a recent interview with Thyrza Nichols Goodeve, Haraway explained that she had written Primate Visions and Simians, Cyborgs, and Women simultaneously, with significant sections completed while she was in residence at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton in 1987. Haraway said about Primate Visions’s leading idea, “So many issues in culture, history, politics come to be narrated as biological and evolutionary stories. And the reverse – in other words, the way biological and evolutionary stories are thickly layered with the tools of political economy.” In a series of chapters that are as empirically based as they are theoretically-sophisticated, Haraway traces primate researchers from the industrial northern nations; because their study of monkeys and apes is located in the formerly colonized parts of the world, primatology becomes deeply enmeshed in sexual, racial, and national myths. In that same interview, Haraway confesses that, even as it has proved influential on how the field poses research questions, a number of primatologists have resisted her assertions.

Simians, Cyborgs, and Women brought together previously published works as a “cautionary tale.” To bring these to closure, Haraway introduces a new metaphor for the natural environment as the object of study, describing nature as a “witty agent and actor,” a “coding trickster with whom we must converse.” Haraway agrees that the trickster “is also there to caution us against anthropomorphism. It’s hard because even a word like conversation conjures up speech as we know it. But the trickster figure is about the world that is also nonhuman, about all that which is not us, with whom we are enmeshed, making articulations all the time.”

Bibliography:

  1. Thyrza Nichols Goodeve, How Like a Leaf: Donna J. Haraway, An Interview with Thyrza Nichols Goodeve (Routledge, 2000);
  2. Donna Haraway, Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness (Prickly Paradigm Press 2003);
  3. Donna Haraway, Crystals, Fabrics, and Fields: Metaphors of Organicism in Twentieth-Century Developmental Biology (Yale, 1976);
  4. Donna Haraway, The Haraway Reader (New York: Routledge, 2004);
  5. Donna Haraway, Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (Routledge, 1989);
  6. Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborg, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (Routledge, 1991).

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