I was really interested in the feminist ideologies of the Donna Haraway reading for this week, “Situated Knowledges,” especially after last week’s class conversation on the sexism present in Stewart Brand’s book. Coincidentally, I was also assigned Haraway’s “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” for my critical theory class this week, so I couldn’t help but put that essay in conversation with the Digital Humanities, and specifically with Pickering’s The Mangle of Practice. At one point in Haraway’s manifesto, she seems to get at the root of Pickering’s argument regarding the relation of machines to humans and human intervention, as she states:
“The second leaky distinction is between animal-human (organism) and machine . . . But basically machines were not self-moving, self-designing, autonomous. They could not achieve man’s dream, only mock it. They were not man, an author to himself, but only a caricature of that masculinist reproductive dream. To think they were otherwise was paranoid.” (Leitch 2193)
Pickering says something eerily similar when he writes:
“Think of the field of machines that constitute the established material performativity of science at any given time. This machinic field does not exist in a human vacuum. Though the machines and instruments of science often display superhuman capacities, their performativity is nevertheless enveloped by the human realm. It is enveloped by human practices . . . by the gestures skills, and whatever required to set machines in motion and to channel and exploit their power.” (Pickering 16)
Both passages point out the power that exists within machines, but highlight the necessity of human intervention in order to harness that power. It’s incredibly interesting how Haraway interprets this as “mocking,” which brings up the element of frustration that this has the potential to bring out in humans. We can create an advanced machine, but not the perfect machine, since machines still require the “mangle” of a human touch in order to produce results.
This discussion of the distinction between human and machine by Haraway and Pickering harkens back to the notion of technological neutrality that we’ve discussed several times in class. To me, it appears that Pickering would argue that a machine cannot remain totally neutral due to its reliance upon human intervention. Not only do humans create machines, but they participate in the dance of “resistance and accommodation” with the machine that instills a human bias upon that machine.
Leitch, Vincent B. “A Manifesto for Cyborgs.” The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism. New York: Norton, 2001. 2190-2220. Print.
Pickering, Andrew. The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. Print.