By: Brian Gialketsis
By: Brian Gialketsis
In A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s, Donna Haraway uses the concept of the cyborg, an organism distinct from that of human, animal or machine, to create an imaginative vision for overcoming a fractured and ineffectual socialist feminist movement. She claims that rather than identity politics, critics should focus instead on encouraging a feminist vision that forms coalitions through “affinity” (8-10), and the central metaphor of the cyborg allows her to transcend the limitations and critique the assumptions of traditional notions of boundaries, namely surrounding race, gender, feminism and politics in the transition to the Information Age. Basic tenets of the emerging field of environmental justice include considering aspects of identity, specifically race and class, in the disproportionate burden of negative environmental risks, disparities and outcomes. In an ecofeminist fashion, Haraway’s ironic cyborg imagery connects the female body with nature, therefore functioning as an empowering image for the environmental justice movement by providing a new “common language for women” (1). Since both Haraway’s Manifesto for Cyborgs and the contemporary environmental justice movement are concerned with identity and identity politics, Haraway’s cyborg imagery can be used as a means to advance and strengthen environmental justice theory to include Haraway’s principles of deconstruction and socialist feminism from the 1980s.
Before connecting the vision of the cyborg to environmental justice, Haraway’s vision of the cyborg must first be elucidated. She writes, “A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (1) and states that she is “making an argument for the cyborg as a fiction of mapping our social and bodily reality and as an imaginative resource” (2). These quotes show both the literal definition of the cyborg and foundations of Haraway’s imaginative version of it, drawing special attention to the fact that her version consists of “social reality,” defined as “the attitudes, beliefs and opinions that are held by the members of a society or a group” (“Social Reality”). Thus, this definition of the cyborg gives society the agency to construct a vision of the cyborg, in a call for a paradigm shift, that benefits the most people or groups suffering from marginalization or oppression—in context of Haraway’s piece, women. The concept of social reality also evokes notions of lived experience that parallels Haraway’s desire for the cyborg to “change what counts as women’s experience in the late twentieth century” (2).
Even Haraway’s subtitle, “An Ironic Dream of a Common Language for Women in the Integrated Circuit,” provides much insight into what she intends to and does accomplish in her essay: write about her cyborg vision in an attempt to convince the reader that this vision can aid the socialist feminist movement. While Haraway ironically writes that there is and should be no “common language for women,” she argues instead for an “infidel heteroglossia” (Haraway 37), referring to a rogue version of Mikhail Bakhtin’s “close conceptualization of that locus where centripetal and centrifugal forces [of language] collide” (Bakhtin 428). In Dialogic Imagination, Bakhtin describes centripetal forces as the forces that draw language to standardization, unification and centralization (270), while he describes centrifugal forces as stratifying and decentralizing (or decentering) language (425). Bakhtin explains “heteroglossia of language” as the way one language can consist of distinct “dialects” or varieties, and extrapolating from his idea of heteroglossia in language, he applies heteroglossia to the social, calling it “social heteroglossia” (278), which refers to the fact that language and narratives contain multiple voices that express different world-views.
Haraway evokes Bakhtin’s notions of heteroglossia, or multiplicity of social voices, in place of the all-too-often-called-for “common language for women” from feminists. She deliberately uses irony to undermine the assumption that a common language is appropriate for a movement comprised of people from various identities other than “woman.” For example, Haraway evokes Chela Sandoval’s work regarding “women of color” and how “the definition of the group has been by conscious appropriation of negation” (9), thus unfairly homogenizing and totalizing the women’s movement and women’s experience. Here she draws attention to the need for a new kind of feminism, enabled by “cyborg heteroglossia” (6), that subverts the militaristic (5), “White Capitalist Patriarchy” (16). However, Haraway claims that the “comfortable old hierarchical dominations” of woman and nature are in the midst of transitioning to what she calls the “informatics of domination” (16), a new oppressive force that she sees as made possible by the “social relations of science and technology” (26). Haraway’s connection between science, technology and the socialist feminist movement displays her need for cyborg heteroglossia.
While Haraway criticizes “traditions of ‘Western’ science and politics” including “racist, male-dominant capitalism; the tradition of the appropriation of nature as resource for the production of culture; [and] the tradition of reproduction of the self from the reflections of the other” (2), she remedies some of these problems by creating a “post-gender” (3), cyborg world that excludes gender by deconstructing all binaries and boundaries mythically. The context in which she wrote her manifesto certainly shaped this cyborg vision, as science, technology and Norbert Wiener’s term “cybernetics” were popularly discussed during the 1980s (Wiener). Haraway draws special attention to the lack of femininity in this post-gender cyborg world, thus focusing on the lack of notions of genesis, the inability of the cyborg to “recognize the Garden of Eden” and the fact that cyborgs “do not re-member the cosmos” (4). This shows that Haraway doesn’t want the cyborg associated with the restoration of Eden but instead moves away from the repressive vision of our origins, our origins that dictate ends and where we return (Zakariya). Departing from, or deconstructing, our origins allows us to look critically at environmental justice and question how gender and the body also factor into the complex disparities of environmental burdens.
Haraway cites this ironically ignorant trait of cyborgs, created by “assembly” rather than birth as humans know it, as fundamental to “why [she] want[s] to see if cyborgs can subvert the apocalypse of returning to nuclear dust in the manic compulsion to name the Enemy” (4). This ignorance of, or lack of connection to, gender and genesis allows the cyborg myth to transcend notions of accepted norms regarding the topic of socialist feminism. The cyborg vision notes problems of the “whole,” as historically no society has ever captured the whole population’s opinion or everybody’s full identity. This is in part due to political dissensus; thus, everyone who disagrees with the whole becomes wrong and the whole becomes repressive (Zakariya). She describes the cyborg as “a kind of disassembled and reassembled, post-modern collective and personal self” (18). In a footnote, Haraway writes, “My position is that feminists (and others) need continuous cultural reinvention, post-modernist critique, and historical materialism; only a cyborg would have a chance” (6). This quote evinces that Haraway uses the post-modernist cyborg vision to advance feminism in the face of social re-creation.
Haraway cites three “boundary breakdowns” of the late twentieth century that make her “cyborg political fictional (political scientific) analysis possible” (4). In her first breakdown, she writes, “the boundary between human and animal is thoroughly breached” (4). Noting the similarities between and sameness of human and animal, she connects feminism to animal rights, demonstrating her way of thinking about womanhood and nature as indissociable. She argues that the cyborg “appears in myth precisely where the boundary between human and animal is transgressed” (4-5). In her second breakdown, Haraway remarks that the distinction between “animal-human (organism) and machine” constitutes a “leaky distinction” (5). When discussing how machines and technology have changed in this leaky distinction to include more self-movement, self-design and autonomy, Haraway writes “now we are not so sure” regarding the disconnectedness between how man views himself and pursues his dreams and how machines have always been thought of as only able to “mock man’s dream” (5). She writes, “Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert” (5). This quote shows that she hopes her cyborg vision will spur action and empowerment in socialist feminism beyond what has been possible thus far. In her third boundary breakdown, a “subset of the second,” Haraway writes, “the boundary between physical and non-physical is very imprecise for us” (6). In the wake of miniaturization to the point that machines have become “invisible,” she brings up this boundary to reveal the “fluidity” and applicability of her cyborg myth (6-7). She ends this section with, “Cyborgs are ether, quintessence” (7), showing that cyborg imagery provides fluid embodiment to socialist feminism that allows the reader to imagine a new socialist feminism in this new age.
This new vision of socialist feminism relates to modern environmental justice by providing a paradoxically unifying yet heteroglossic voice to those people who do not have one. Haraway’s breakdown of boundaries and totalizing identity politics highlights the fact that many sociologists consider race, class and gender as social constructs (“Social Constructs”). After reviewing two decades of scholars’ claims about environmental justice, Mohai, Pellow and Roberts conclude, “hundreds of studies have now documented unequal [environmental risk] exposures by race, ethnicity and economic class” (“Environmental Justice”). In his “Conclusions and Implications” section, Lawrence Bobo states: “America is not a color-blind society. We stand uncomfortably at a point of defeating Jim Crow racism, but unsure whether, through benign neglect, to allow the current inequalities and polarization to take deeper root, or to face directly and proactively the challenges of bias, miscommunication and racism that remain” (Bobo 295). With charts demonstrating a widening racial wealth gap after the Civil Rights era, a large disparity in wealth and negative perceptions of people of color, evidence from Goyette and Sheller depicts quite apparently America’s distance from post-raciality (Goyette). Class, according to O’Rourke, is comprised of socioeconomic status, social status, and political factors, including income, wealth, occupation, education, prestige and connections to power and influence (O’Rourke “Class & Inequality”; Gialketsis “Environmental Justice”).
Haraway’s deep connection between socialism and feminism links class, especially O’Rourke’s definition regarding power and influence, to gender and womanhood. As she draws attention to the socially constructed aspects of identity, Haraway exposes race, class and gender as parts of a whole identity, of a cyborg identity. Linking race, gender and class doesn’t seem so ridiculous in Haraway’s post-modernist critique, as they collectively contribute to a person’s total identity. When discussing the poetry of Katie King in relation to the work of Chela Sandoval, Haraway writes, “The politics of race and culture in the U.S. women’s movements are intimately interwoven. The common achievement of King and Sandoval is learning how to craft a poetic/political unity without relying on a logic of appropriation, incorporation, and taxonomic identification” (10). This is one of Haraway’s goals, too.
Furthermore, a common method for determining environmental injustices uses zoning laws and siting of Locally Unwanted Land Uses, known as LULUs in environmental justice theory and discourse. Proximity to LULUs, such as a landfill, freeway or industrial polluting facility like a coal power plant, determine the quality of life of the people living there. Environmental justice researchers consider race and class the two main contributors to environmental health disparities in the United States, but Haraway’s argument can be applied such that gender also plays a crucial role in determining environmental health outcomes when thinking about environmental justice globally. Both environmental justice and Haraway’s purpose for writing highlight the act of discrimination based on the body. Evidence such as employer interviews, audit studies, survey experiments and voting records all demonstrate unequal treatment for people of color in the United States (O’Rourke “Race & Racism”). Drivers of income trends include tax policies that favor the rich, bank deregulation, jobs disappearing from the middle class, effects of technology on employment and the decline of the manufacturing sector in the United States (O’Rourke “Class & Inequality”). Additionally, institutional processes like planning and zoning of cities for certain purposes contribute to the determination of environmental hazard distribution. For example, if a LULU resides in an area, oftentimes it is because it is one of several sites zoned for that particular use (O’Rourke “Environmental Injustice”; Gialketsis “Environmental Justice”).
According to Mohai et al., “Almost one third of the weighted sample [he studied] lived within 1 mile of a polluting industrial facility; 38.1% of Black and 28.4% of White respondents lived within a mile of such a facility, a statistically significant disparity” (“Racial and Socioeconomic”). These data display that, largely due to socioeconomic status, Blacks live in a greater percentage than Whites near polluting industrial facilities. They continue by stating: “Racial disparities in proximity were explained partially but not fully by socioeconomic differences” (“Racial and Socioeconomic”). Additionally, “Those with incomes of less than $15,000 or between $15,000 and $39,999 were significantly more likely than were those with incomes of $40,000 or more to live within a mile of a polluting facility” (“Racial and Socioeconomic”). Pastor et al. describe facility-housing neighborhoods as having higher proportion of residents of color and as being poorer, with blue-collar jobs and lower initial home values and rents, stating, “our analysis did show that there were significant indications of disproportionate siting in communities of color, even after we had controlled for income and other measures” (Pastor at al. 2005). They note that Whites live “primarily in less urban areas, where risks are lower” (Pastor et al. 2005). Haraway demonstrates her opinion of these issues when she writes, “At the level of ideology, we see translations of racism and colonialism into languages of development and underdevelopment, rates and constraints of modernization” (17).
We can use a contemporary environmental justice issue, climate change, as a case study of how race, class and gender influence disproportionate burdens by the environment. According to the United Nations News Center, climate change disproportionately affects women due to a higher proportion of females living in developing or “poor” countries, which are often struck with extreme climate patterns like droughts, storms or floods (“WomenWatch”), and a disproportionately small influence over “decision making,” with little representation (“Gender Perspectives on Climate Change”). The UN’s website frames climate change as a “sustainable development challenge” (“WomenWatch”), and a report published by the UN claims, “Women are not only victims of climate change, but also effective agents of change in relation to both mitigation and adaptation” (“Gender Perspectives on Climate Change”). The report continues by declaring, “Women have a strong body of knowledge and expertise that can be used in climate change mitigation, disaster reduction and adaptation strategies. Women’s responsibilities in households and communities as stewards of natural resources has positioned them well for livelihood strategies adapted to changing environmental realities” (“Gender Perspectives on Climate Change”). This report demonstrates, along with Haraway’s vision of a cyborg socialist feminist identity, that women can play a key role in combatting environmental and social injustice. According to the NAACP’s website, “Global climate change has a disproportionate impact on communities of color in the United States and around the world” (“Environmental and Climate Justice Program”). From these two sources, we can conclude that Haraway’s cyborg myth functions as an empowering way of breaking down boundaries of identity and proposing a new approach to discussing identity in environmental justice.
Researchers’ accumulated evidence for wide environmental health disparities in gender, race and class provide a factual foundation for Haraway’s cyborg model of socialist feminism. Linking science and technology to her argument, Haraway notes “the ethnic and racial diversity of women in Silicon Valley,” often thought of as the hub of technology, and that “women in third-world countries are the preferred labor force for science-based multinationals” (21). These facts demonstrate Haraway’s point that women construct a large, and increasing, portion of the backbone of modern science and technology. Conversely, Haraway notes how the aforementioned informatics of domination “interweave with the social relations of science and technology” (26). Haraway argues for a tool to “subvert command and control” using “feminist cyborg stories” to “recode communication and intelligence” (30). She writes, “Cyborg politics is the struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication, against the one code that translates all meaning perfectly” (31).
As has been demonstrated, Haraway’s cyborg myth functions as a powerful tool to augment the environmental justice movement in the twenty-first century. Science and technology, particularly the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to analyze demographic data and determine which groups live by more environmentally risk-prone areas, significantly contribute to the environmental justice movement (“Measuring Environmental Injustices”). Haraway calls for a heteroglossic movement in socialist feminism, writing, “One is too few, and two is only one possibility” (35). By this she means that a single, totalizing, whole does not fully capture the multiplicity of voices necessary for a just socialist feminist movement, yet two or more voices are just the beginning of possibilities for what could flourish into a formidable and effective feminist cyborg heteroglossia. I call for a cyborg heteroglossia in environmental justice: a deconstructing of identity assumptions and boundaries to strengthen feminism, environmentalism and justice; a method of using the full embodiment of individuals to speak out on behalf of what is best environmentally and socially for the community, where possible within the matrices of hierarchical domination; and an ironically unifying force in the age of science and technology. Womanhood and nature are analogous to Haraway in their cultural domination— socialist feminism provides the ability to protect nature not from science and technology but from “us.”
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By: Stella Park
Kimberlé Crenshaw, in Demarginalising the Intersection of Race and Sex, introduces the concept of intersectionality, a multifaceted form of analysis, as a superior theoretical tool through which society should evaluate minority groups. Intersectionality, as defined by Crenshaw, seeks to understand the social identities of subgroups not as a separate evaluation of individual parts, but as the peculiar interaction between these same components; i.e. understanding black women as not just black and female, but as black females. The phenomenon of police brutality, described by such theorists as Angela Harris as a form of compensatory masculine performance, is better understood by acknowledging the interplay of race and sex, as well as sex and class. Harris’s piece, titled “Gender, Violence, Race, and Criminal Justice” is enhanced with an understanding of how women are subject to a different kind of violence, exemplified in #BlackLivesMatter’s “If it wasn’t for the women,” in which the specific plight of black women as victims of racialized violence is examined. An understanding of each subcategory of sex, race, and class, and how these factors interact to create multiple subgroups of people is integral to understanding the complex dynamics of police brutality enveloped in discourses of subjugation, hypermasculinity, and power first discussed in Bartky’s Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power. Despite what predominates in the media, an analysis of police violence must account for the intersectionality of race, sex, and class, especially in regards to the specific institutionalized subjugation of blacks in contrast to whites, of the poor in relation to the rich, and of women in regards to men.
In Gender, Violence, Race, and Criminal Justice, Harris argues that the preservation of a greater masculinity, especially relative to that of other men, is what explains the systemic predominance of violence among men. Integral to this notion is the assumption that men are divided by race, ethnicity, religion, class, and sexual orientation means that there is not just one kind of masculinity. In making this assertion, Harris promotes an intersectional understanding of masculinity supported by Crenshaw, and links these different types of masculinities to the institution of police brutality. In regard to white males, Bartky claims that their hegemonic control is a product of their institutionally legitimated political and economic advantages. On the other hand, Harris argues that the deprivation of such traditional male privileges for black men leads to an alternate, compensatory masculinity which instead emphasizes the most primitive sort of dominance available to the physically dominant male: violence. In this compensatory performance of masculinity as a result of a lower class and historically subjugated racial identity, there is a presumption of “black superiority and white impotence”. This subversion of traditional power dynamics of masculinity results in a curious mutual tension and resentment between both black and white men; black men envy “white men’s greater control over political, economic, and social resources” while white men also envy black men, but for their “sexual potency, athleticism, and sensual physicality”. This tension between opposing and mutually demeaning masculinities is reified in the dynamic between predominantly white policemen, and predominantly black members of urban, economically struggling groups. For understanding this dynamic, intersectionality, in this case in regards to the different masculinities produced by both sex and race, provides an especially effective explanatory framework. White policemen, exposed to the conflicting and threatening force of an alternate black masculinity, consequently overcompensate with a greater tendency to perform institutionally legitimized acts of police brutality.
Harris additionally addresses another manifestation of male violence – class-based violence propagated on behalf of the hegemony. Here, an intersectional analysis of both race and class is necessary. The police force, constituted mainly by lower class men, is subjected to a subjugation similar to that of black men in the hands of the masculine hegemony of socially and economically privileged men. Thus, they are also similarly subject to the ills of hypermasculinity as compensation for a suppressed manhood. According to Harris, both class and a predominant military background inherent in the hierarchy of police departments further prompts this adherence and subscription to, [t]he hypermasculinity of policing [that] leads to a culture in which violence is always just below the surface. Problematically, police brutality additionally follows the confines of the institutional hierarchies as an instrument of the hegemony by particularly disciplining those who are traditionally dispossessed of power, such as racial minorities and those of lower classes. As exemplified by the brutal police killings of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin among others, police not only conduct violence toward those already deficient in power by merit of class and/or race, but also possess certain biases against these groups as a result of institutional conditioning, as addressed by Bartky’s conception of “docile bodies” indoctrinated into believing the rhetoric of the hegemony. One can further extrapolate Bartky’s claims of, [that which] is done in obedience to the requirements of femininity, to include actions done for the purposes of adhering to and establishing the fulfillment of a proper masculinity. As part of the group dynamic of police forces, as addressed by Harris, some police officers additionally see themselves as defenders of white and wealthy neighborhoods against the intrusions of minorities, which propagates the perpetration of hate violence with the hypermasculine rationalization of protecting the nation against the “others.” When considering all of these factors in analyzing the phenomenon of targeted police brutality, one cannot simply attribute this behavior to overperformed and overcompensated masculinity, but rather should consider that the institution of masculinity is always associated with power dynamics – which have deep roots in such factors as race and class.
In utilizing an intersectional analysis of police brutality, one must also address the other socially recognized side of the binary – women. According to BlackLivesMatter’s “If It Wasn’t For The Women…,” black women are also subject to selective police violence – albeit in a different form than are black men. Though also discriminated upon on the basis of their race, black women are additionally subject to different types of subjugation as a result of the intersecting factors of their race and sex. Not only do black women “often experience double-discrimination – the combined effects of practices which discriminate on the basis of race, and on the basis of sex”, but also “they experience discrimination as black women”. In particular, “black women and girls’ vulnerability to physical and sexual exploitation”, results in a particular manifestation of police violence toward black women that differs in nature and motivation from the violence committed against black men. Without paying special regard to the intersectionality of race and sex, specifically the state of being black and female, the voices of oppressed black women are obscured by black men who claim to be representative of the plight of the entirety of the black population. “Black patriarchal heroicism,” as described by the Combahee River Collective, should not constitute the center of black activism in the fight against police violence, as an understanding of the peculiar state of black femininity, a femininity plagued by the assumptions of black masculinity, is equal parts an aspect of specialized police brutality toward minorities. Adding to an understanding of experienced police oppression is the analogous instance of employer oppression demonstrated in DeGraffenreid v General Motors as mentioned by Crenshaw. In DeGraffenreid, the court evaluated black women by their separate components – whether it was solely on their status as a black individual, or solely on their role as a woman. Such an analysis ultimately proved reductive and insufficient in properly characterizing the abuse suffered by workers who occupied both of these identities inextricably and concurrently – an analogy that can be extended to explain the distinct acts of police oppression that contribute to the specific subjugation of black women.
In addition to this paper’s prior endorsements of an intersectional analysis of police brutality through the coexisting realms of race, class, and sex is a qualifying statement that recognizes and accepts that some aspects of racial and class-based oppression are inextricably co-associated. In regards to police biases toward black individuals, one sees that black individuals in America are statistically more likely to be members of a lower socioeconomic class. Even if a black individual is not part of a lower class, existing racial biases assume that she/he is, and in this way, the quality of being black, and the state of being of a poorer class, are interwoven in complicated ways not easily discernable in a purely intersectional analysis. In addition, when one examines three possible categorical distinctions of sex, race, and gender together as one, discourse on rich black men and poor black men reveal startling similarities on account of the shared racial category, which often supersedes any nuanced considerations of class. In the end, even wealthy black men subscribe to the wealthy white hegemony, just as African American police officers [can be] just as brutal and abusive toward African American citizens as white police officers, as such capitulations to hegemonic expectations offer individuals a chance at all the privileges of hegemonic masculinity. Police violence, viewed through this lens, is predominantly systemic and can be practiced by those who are not a part of the hegemonic class as a means to achieve a comparable level of dominance, and is also indicative of the “docile bodies” discussed by Bartky. Just as women engage in “self-surveillance” as a “form of obedience to patriarchy”, men police themselves in order to affirm their masculinity, heterosexuality, and separation from the dreaded status of “woman.” To the men preoccupied with societal expectations of their masculinity, racial and class-based distinctions are inherently similar in that despite their different manifestations, both alternate categories provide for an individual solution to the continual problem of affirming their masculinities – whether it be through violence, hypermasculinity, or general brutality.
As related by both Harris and #BlackLivesMatter, and understood through the film of Crenshaw’s intersectionality, and Bartky’s Foucauldian model of institutional hegemonic domination, police brutality is best understood through a multitude of interpretations with deep roots in the interplay of sex, race, and class. As the masculine ideal, perpetuated by the patriarchy, explains the origins and motivations behind the actual act of police violence, the experiences of such brutality are subject to the different sexes, racial identities, and economic classes of both the victims and the perpetrators. A black woman’s experience with police violence and oppression cannot be understood separately as solely her experience as a black individual or a female. In the same way, black men, as the main victims of police brutality, possess a special breed of masculinity created as a result of their combined identities as both males, and members of a socially unprivileged and historically persecuted group. For all these reasons, one must, through an intersectional analysis, consider distinct forms of masculinity as they relate to class and race, the existence of oppressed females, and the established institutional hegemony when evaluating the true dynamics of police brutality as it is manifested in the modern United States.
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