Since 1993, Jeffrey J. Williams has conducted over 50 interviews with contemporary critics, philosophers and writers. The Conversant is pleased to republish a selection of these interviews. This interview with Donna Haraway took place on July 6, 2009 at Donna Haraway’s house in Santa Cruz, California. Transcribed by Heather Steffen.
Jeffrey Williams: The first question I want to ask is about the “Cyborg Manifesto,” because that’s how many people know your work, and also because this year is its twenty-fifth anniversary. It was a different moment to be doing theory in the eighties. Could you tell me about the situation then and how you reflect back on it?
Donna Haraway: The “Cyborg Manifesto” grew out of a number of political connections and deep intellectual interests. The immediate occasion for the “Cyborg Manifesto” was that I was asked by the Socialist Review collective in Berkeley to be a representative at a conference in Yugoslavia. The Yugoslavian left was no longer quite as radical as the immediately preceding generation because of repression but still a very vibrant political intellectual formation of international Marxists, and the Socialist Review collective sent representatives. I came out of the Baltimore Marxist-feminist union when I was teaching at Johns Hopkins and had just moved to Santa Cruz and to the History of Consciousness department. The kind of Marxist-feminist that I was, was very latitudinarian, but that was true of most of us of that period. And it was also the early years of the Reagan presidency. So I went to Cavtat, now in Croatia but then Yugoslavia, and I had a little paper that I was going to read on reproductive technologies and reproductive freedom. And there I met an extraordinary group of people. The women in particular were very alert to the kinds of sexism that were practiced in the international Marxist scene in those years, partly by younger men but mainly by an older generation of men, from North Korea and East Germany and the rest. Feminism had no cultural purchase in their practice.
JW: Even by the eighties?
DH: Absolutely. This was not true across the board, but it was visible and palpable. We ended up making all these alliances with the women who were running the copiers and setting out the water, and there was straightforward, old-fashioned feminist organizing of the people who were actually making the conference work. So the “Cyborg Manifesto” came out of that sense of how these kinds of internationalism or globalism work and the gendered quality of it and also the tie with reproductive technology issues and molecular biology. Molecular genetics was beginning to be a big player then—already by 1980 the patent decisions were in place, and there was a proprietary regime around the molecular body that was of great interest to me, since I was coming out of biology.
Then there was also what was already being called science studies. I had read Laboratory Life, Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar’s early book out of a lab in the Salk Institute, which was published in ’79, and reviewed it for Isis. My own sense of science studies came from a very different place: it came from Science for the People in the organizing against the Vietnam War; it came from living with the Pacific Strategic Command. My first job was at the University of Hawai’i from 1970 to 1974, teaching biology in a general science department, and that location in the Pacific Ocean during the Vietnam War was hardly an innocent location. It was a staging center for the Communications, Command, Control, and Intelligence, the C3I McNamara war doctrine. I was deeply interested in and aware of the degree to which what became IT—cybernetics was the popular ideological term through the seventies—was tied to war practice. It was a personal experience and not just an intellectual issue.
For me that all came together in the early eighties in the “Cyborg Manifesto.” I wrote it in response to an invitation from the SR collective. First I went as their representative and had these experiences, and then they invited me and many other Marxist feminists to write a five-page statement during the early Reagan era of what we thought the future of socialist-feminism broadly, and Marxist feminism in particular, was.
JW: How did you loop in with the Socialist Review folks? I know that they had a collective up in the Bay Area and also in the Boston area. In all the things I’ve read, I would have thought that they wouldn’t like the postmodern tenor of the “Cyborg Manifesto.”
DH: There was a real tension, I am told, between the east coast and west coast collectives over the “Cyborg Manifesto.” In a way it was a forerunner of the culture wars; there was a left version of that. I think to quite a number of committed folks it looked not political somehow; it was postmodern, even though the term postmodern always felt like it was imposed on me and never a label that I felt was mine. It’s not that I was against it; it was that I was coming from someplace else, and it didn’t signify anything very interesting in terms of what I felt committed to.
JW: Although I can see why you were called postmodern because of the way that you play with categories and embrace new terms like the cyborg. Also, there’s the list you have that’s like lists in other essays on postmodernism by Ihab Hassan or David Harvey that give before and after terms, like representation and then simulation.
DH: I did that for sure, so I guess it can’t really be true that I wasn’t intrigued by it, but for me it was the informatics of domination that was the super-label, not postmodernism. Postmodern was one little cell in the table; it wasn’t the label. Modern/postmodern was a contrast that made sense when you juxtaposed the era of the body organized by systems of production and reproduction, and the body organized by informatics. They don’t exclude each other either: both are deeply material, both are of the flesh, if you will.
There were also very interesting changes in the nature of the flow of capital, and the question of the generativity of the biological (that comes to be called biocapital years later) is involved in this set of transitions—the emergence of big pharma and its research apparatus. There were all sorts of things going on.
My angle of vision was out of my immersion in literature, especially science fiction, as well as my immersion in biology and my political allegiances on the broad feminist left—anarcho-feminist, Marxist feminism, socialist feminism. The labels were always a problem: people insisted on building taxonomies and figuring out who fit where, but most of us were much more promiscuous than that, especially if we were in small places. If you were in big places like New York or Berkeley, you could have relatively clean groups, but if you were in a little place, like Honolulu, it was much more promiscuous ideologically, and that I loved.
About the playfulness, I’ve never thought of playfulness as especially postmodern. Many of the most interesting postmodernists are playful, and they tend to foreground it and to think about it as a theoretical mode, and I like that. But I think playfulness is very old, phylogenetically speaking. Gregory Bateson probably was more interesting to me than any postmodernist was on the issue of play and playfulness. His book of the period was Steps to an Ecology of Mind . His theories of play and what play does cognitively are closer to my own sense of playfulness. It’s not so much that he was an influence as he was a fellow traveler and somebody who made explicit things that I had not articulated. There’s no question that the way I write makes constant use of all kinds of practices: there are explicit jokes, there are all kinds of juxtapositions that produce the absurd, there are various ways of play-bowing to initiate a play sequence. I don’t know if that’s postmodern or not.
And they’re edgy, they’re anxious. I think they come out of trying to hold incompatible systems together—remaining a committed Roman Catholic, intellectually and in practice, well into my twenties, and trying to work it out intellectually at the same time that I was working on these other things. Holding these things together produces eruptive laughter. That never struck me as particularly postmodern the way people used that term; it came from someplace else.
JW: The essay had an immense amount of influence and is cited all the time, and people have used it in a range of fields. That must be gratifying, but it must be a little strange too. How does that feel?
DH: It’s extremely strange. There’s a great deal of narcissistic satisfaction, one must admit. That said, the readers and the users have been such a surprise—both those who have loved it and hated it have been a surprise. People I thought I was allied with when I wrote it probably were among the most suspicious—some of my Marxist-feminist colleagues, good friends who wanted to like it but didn’t. And then folks would pick it up who were performance artists or kids who read it when they were seventeen and who’d end up doing strange things with it. It has this life of its own. People read it like a Rorschach.
JW: Is there anything, looking back, that you would change about it? That you didn’t get quite right or that you’d clarify?
DH: I’ve refused either to comment on reviews of it or to rewrite it because it was such an important, intense piece of writing for me. There is a way in which I see it as a piece of literature in the sense that it has its own historical moment, because that essay works through all sorts of resonances and layerings and rubbings and trope-work.
I wish that I had been more careful in situating the specific Anglo-European dimension of cyborg tropology and cyborg politics and less quickly globalizing. I think there’s a naïve imperial consciousness in part of the essay. There’s a way in which it isn’t careful about the unevenness of these formations. There’s a certain tendency to universalize the cyborg that I would be much more careful of. And I would be thicker in developing the connections with people like Gloria Anzaldúa’s work. I like what I did, but I would do more with it.
The cyborg is in the same litter with the other critters that I’m still working with, in The Companion Species Manifesto and other places. I always work with critters of some kind. They always compel me. They collect me into their world.
JW: I want to ask you about animal studies, but just to ask a few more things about the “Cyborg Manifesto,” the state of feminist studies is very different now, twenty-five years later. When I reread the last line about the goddess, I realized you were responding to work from the seventies. Was it Mary Daly?
DH: No, Starhawk and the spiral dance. Actually, there were a lot of things in that last sentence. There’s one set of readings of the “Cyborg Manifesto” that has in the past and still makes me very annoyed, and it’s the way that people hive off sections that they like and forget the rest. They’ll hive off the pleasure in technology and forget the informatics of domination, or they’ll hive off the blissed-out technobunny and forget the feminist. They make it some weird utopian myth, for example in Wired. There are ways in which the “Cyborg Manifesto” has been domesticated in a bad sense by cutting out its edginess and its politics—the Marxist politics, the feminist politics, the questions of fear and anxiety, as well as pleasure, about technology.
In that last sentence, if I’m remembering correctly, the spiral dance was a practice in the nonviolent direct action movement led by Starhawk, a local witch who became well known in the movement. We went out to Lawrence Livermore and folks would be scooped up into jail, and Barbara Epstein describes these amazing rituals that Starhawk led in jail in the spiral dance. Barbara’s hardly a postmodernist—she is a Marxist and socialist—and she herself writes with puzzlement and pleasure about the charismatic leader that Starhawk was. The spiral dance was a ritualized practice in the goddess and Wicca communities, and goddess religion was very important in feminism of that period. It’s a lively story that collected up a bunch of people and had its own materiality in a rather thick sense.
I wanted to keep these things as a kin group, but if I were forced to choose—which I refuse to do—I’d rather be a cyborg than a goddess. It was because of the tendency to a kind of kneejerk anti-technology, anti-science position in the left broadly and in the feminist left in particular, that I thought was incredibly wrongheaded.
The problem is how to deal with love and rage. That was Emma Goldman’s problem. The problem is not to figure out what you love and what you’re angry at, but how to deal with the simultaneity of love and rage because almost everything that really matters to you, including actually-existing lovers, brings up the problem of the simultaneity of love and rage. That’s my relation to biology; it’s my relation to feminism; it’s my relation to the United States. I think the anarchists had it right: that’s the affect that we have to live with.
JW: Another thing that occurred to me, going over your stuff, is that you diverge from a certain line of feminism and critical science studies in that you have a real regard for scientific procedure and the future of science.
DH: Absolutely. I love science. My PhD’s in biology. That matters. It means I’ve spent a lot of time in labs, a lot of time with other organisms, not just people, and that I know a lot of people who’ve lived their lives laughing at the notion that the proper study of mankind is man. I’ve never been humanist; we live in a huge nonhuman world. There are a lot of people who think that the most fabulous things about the world are the other critters. It’s that kind of epistemophilia, that kind of relentless curiosity that I think is part of people who do good science.
I was never a good lab scientist. I killed most of my organisms through appalling errors. I moved too fast; I didn’t have the patience; I didn’t have good hands. I wasn’t temperamentally set up for it, and I was always overwhelmingly more interested in the theory.
JW: So part of what you were answering in the “Cyborg Manifesto” was the line of feminist thinking that science is the enemy?
DH: As if all science is determinism and the military-industrial complex and objectivity in the bad sense and the servant of capital. That critique struck me as A) false and B) dogmatic, and false in a destructive way. Those of us who were graduate students in the sciences in the late 1960s during that period of the Vietnam War, many of us were active in Science for the People. The overwhelming leadership of Science for the People were scientists and graduate students. There were lots of people who were formed as scientists in a kind of refusal to let their sciences be used that way, knowing full well where the money came from and what the structural forces were.
Surely in the humanities one is living within the same structure of academic capitalism. It’s hardly like we haven’t been invented to prepare elites. We know the stories, and we resist them in various ways, and we succumb and benefit in various other ways. We’re not naïve about that any more. It doesn’t stop your pleasure in a poem, or at least it shouldn’t, and your desire to make poetry publishing and many other things survive.
There’s another piece of it for me. I went to a Catholic girls’ school, the same one my mother went to, and evolutionary theory was never forbidden in very orthodox Roman Catholicism. Neither was it very comfortable with it. There was some moment of infusion of a soul, and you somehow had to get the origin of humanity down to the first couple, and there was this problem of continuity. There’s a cleavage between the origin of humanity as ensouled and everybody else, who finally are for the use of humanity. There’s a stewardship relationship at best. There was a way in which I felt like, in high school and even more in college, where I was a triple major in zoology and philosophy and English and they all seemed to me the same subject in some not-trivial way, that I had to fight emotionally for my biological curiosity without being afraid of it, embracing it with a kind of joy in the bigness of the biological world that never felt like a world of determinism and reification.
JW: I know you grew up in Denver, where your father was a sportswriter. You’ve written about it, especially in your recent books. And your father had a disability, although he could walk faster than most people.
DH: With crutches.
JW: I’m sorry to pry, but is that a factor in your interest in biology?
DH: It’s actually an interesting question, but I don’t think so. My relationship with my father was very close. He was a terribly important person in my life in a zillion ways. He had an amazing sense of humor and he loved words, but he wasn’t an intellectual and didn’t particularly like to think about deep questions. They bored him, I think. He liked the game; he loved to write the game stories, and he was very good at it. He had a wonderful sense of the story. He was a good writer, but he wasn’t a columnist, which would have been the theorist of the sports department. He didn’t want to write the exposé of the financial scandal when so-and-so buys so-and-so, and he really hated scandal in sports. He knew it was there, but there was a way in which my father decided not to deal with the trouble.
I was always very critical of him for that. I wanted him to look at the trouble too, not just in sports but more broadly, in the family, wherever. I wanted him to let go of some of the commitment to the positive, and he didn’t want to do that. He led a remarkably generative life and had a really amazing world of friends and people who loved him, including his children, which is no small accomplishment. So I think of myself as inheriting my father’s happiness but also inheriting the trouble. It’s been in the foreground of my work.
There’s no question for me that that sensitivity comes from my mother, who was a much more conflicted person, much more aware of things that don’t work. I think in my father’s case, he had lived most of his childhood in rather severe physical pain and he earned the positive. He had tuberculosis in the bones, not in the lungs. He first contracted it when he was about three years old; it became quiescent for a while and then nailed him when he was about five or six, and then when he was eight to eleven he was in bed in a full-length body cast. Then he got a wheelchair. At the end of high school he got crutches. And sports were a tremendously important part of his life.
JW: In a different life, you might have been a critical sports studies writer rather than a critical science studies writer. So how did you make the turn to science? You were saying before that you were interested as a kid?
DH: Well, I loved biology in high school. And when I went to college, I literally took all the philosophy, English and science classes I could because I really liked them all a lot. They seemed to speak to each other—I’m not quite sure explicitly how, except they never seemed opposed to each other. But I never thought philosophy of science was a very interesting branch of philosophy; I was much more interested in Heidegger and Jaspers. I was taught by Glenn Grey, who was a Heideggerian and a translator of Heidegger, at Colorado College. I was interested in Buddhist philosophy taught by Jane Cauvèl and was also taught by Darnell Rucker, who was an American pragmatist.
JW: I read that you had a scholarship to Colorado College. That’s a classic story, especially as higher education expanded in the postwar period.
DH: There was no way my family could pay for college for me. So I did well on tests and I applied for scholarships, and I got a full scholarship. I wanted to go to Marquette with my friend, but I didn’t get a scholarship there, and I was very lucky that I got this Colorado-based scholarship, called the Boettcher Foundation Scholarship, which paid for everything.
I was very deeply Catholic in those years and going to a non- Catholic college was very scary. Marquette, a Jesuit university, was a safer choice. Who knows what would have happened? I could very easily have been a pro-life activist. But I went to Colorado College, and it was just a wonderful place. It was full of good teachers and real intellectuals. I was introduced to philosophy and literature and biology and chemistry and mathematics as real intellectual inquiries from the get-go. I had wonderful literature teachers; I read James Joyce as a freshman and it kind of blows your mind.
JW: So having done biology at Colorado College, how did it turn out you went to Yale?
DH: First, after I graduated, I went to Paris on a Fulbright to the Fondation Teilhard de Chardin, studying the connection between Julian Huxley and Teilhard de Chardin. I was fascinated with their biological humanism. Both of them were evolutionary humanists of the postwar period, emerging in the 1950s. Teilhard de Chardin worked on paleontology; he wrote The Phenomenon of Man and other books. So I spent my Fulbright fellowship time in the small library there that had collected Teilhard de Chardin’s papers. It was a little pocket at the Jardin des Plantes. I spent a lot of time in the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, and I went to some of Georges Canguilhem’s lectures at the Sorbonne as well as lectures in embryology and developmental biology. Embryology, developmental biology, evolution and ecology are the biologies where you can’t forget history. They are relentlessly storied, where narrative is part of the practice and crucial to the theory. Those are my biologies.
JW: I can see how that leads to your first book, which is on embryology.
DH: Which was my dissertation really.
JW: So from the de Chardin center you went to Yale. That’s the period of what I call the welfare state university, when there was a great deal of support for higher education, from foundations as well as government, and it opened to people who otherwise would not have seen inside the Ivy gates. Now we’re experiencing the post-welfare state university, which has moved to privatization.
DH: The detail in my story that meshes with that is my graduate education at Yale was mostly paid for by the National Defense Education Act. The NDEA funded the biology graduate students at Yale significantly. Funding from the NIH was also significant; the war on cancer was declared just after I started as a graduate student. Anyway, we were richly funded by the state, although I also had Woodrow Wilson and Danforth fellowships. The links between the foundations and the state in postwar higher education were thick.
JW: Did you have to teach or was it a full fellowship?
DH: We taught, but it was part of our education. I TAed in two courses, including a Biology and Society class. Skip Gates was one of my students when I was a TA, and he did a paper on race and IQ.
JW: Of course there’s an irony or a juxtaposition that it was all funded by the NDEA.
DH: I was funded by the Cold War, and I was funded by the development of contemporary biomedicine as part of the national state and part of big capital. There’s no question from the get-go that molecular biology as it developed was part of the post-welfare state movement. It’s part of the movement from state to non-state apparatuses for biocapital. My graduate education was at the early stages of that, still very much funded by the state. Susan Wright, in Molecular Politics, details very well the corporatization of biology in the DNA and post-DNA era.
I was great at the theory, but I was appalling in the lab.
JW: What kind of things did you work on? Or tell me a story about one thing that you had a problem with.
DH: I was always interested in organismic phenomena, in cell-to-cell phenomena, that didn’t lend to a reductive molecular explanation. Reductionism, as Bruno Latour argued, turns out to be anything but reductionism but an amazing building up of connections. I was from the get-go against DNA in the sense of it being the master plan. I didn’t like the stories that came down to single-parent self-birthing, whether in the form of God or DNA. There are so many connections that happen in cell-cell phenomena, and I remain committed these days to and avidly read ecological and evolutionary developmental biology. Biological syntheses are now able to develop as experimental sciences in part because of the tools made available by molecular biology. There’s an incredible toolkit available, conceptual and instrumental, for explanatory apparatuses in complex biology that weren’t available until very recently.
But it wasn’t altogether clear what to do in the lab, and I wasn’t very good at it. J. P. Trinkaus was a developmental biologist at Yale who studied cell migrations and cell-cell interactions and development, and he was my mentor. He was a very interesting guy but pretty hands-off in terms of teaching in the lab. And I was trying to work on very complicated phenomena for which I didn’t have the skill. It comes down to that. I was getting blood out of live hamsters through heart punctures with inadequate anesthesia and klutzy, unskilled hands, and I was plating out cultures with complex cell populations that I had very little idea how to purify and get anything meaningful as an experimental system.
I was getting nowhere in terms of developing a dissertation question, and I was a refugee in Trinkhaus’ lab from a molecular genetics lab, both because of the man who was the head of the lab, whom I didn’t like very much and I thought was sexist…
JW: Not an uncommon story in that era.
DH: Not at all. And then it just became clear to me I was interested in biology as a deep cultural phenomenon and historical phenomenon, and not fundamentally committed to doing it. That’s both a strength and a weakness. My friends who are really good at doing it, like Scott Gilbert and Michael Hatfield and Lynn Margolis and others, are also very deep theorists. I’m profoundly respectful and admiring for what they do, but they need me too. There’s a way in which these pleasures and skills remain entangled.
So I got adopted as a dissertation student by Evelyn Hutchinson, who was a limnologist, theoretical ecologist, theoretical population biologist and had been part of the Macy Conferences.
JW: What were they?
DH: They were the cybernetics conferences after World War II, where Gregory Bateson also was. They were held in New York from 1946-53, funded by the Macy Foundation, which connects to what you were saying about the postwar period. Initiated by Warren McCullough, they deliberately brought together nascent information technology sciences, biologies, mental health people, and they were these generative, provoked interdisciplinarities that grew out of the interdisciplinarities of World War II research. They changed the way biology was done. What was clear to me even then, when I was a graduate student with Evelyn Hutchinson, who had an omnivorous intellectual appetite, was the degree to which linguists and mathematicians and biologists and philosophers and literary people were talking to each other. That’s where the interesting interdisciplinarities come from. So in his lab we were as likely in a given week, when we would meet over a paper or a book, to read Kurt Gödel or Virginia Woolf as a paper in molecular biology or ecology. Serious topics or ways of doing theory could come from anywhere, and it was a very intellectual lab. Hutchinson spent his summers studying thirteenth-century illuminated Italian manuscripts for medieval natural history, and he was a mathematician and a theoretical ecologist. He was a really interesting guy and a wonderful mentor, especially for somewhat unorthodox women.
These were very elite worlds; these were worlds that gave people permission, which is what I love about HistCon. That’s what I think HistCon is for. What I experienced in Hawai’i, a colonial university, was a university that always looked to this thing called the mainland. A very large percentage of professors felt exiled from this thing called the mainland. All of us got our PhDs at the same institutions—Yale, Harvard, Michigan, Berkeley, whatever—and got our jobs wherever there were jobs. We were graduate students in extraordinary, privileged places that gave us permission, and many of us became psychologically sick as teachers, enforcing on students a kind of disciplinization that we didn’t have to live by when we were grad students. At least that’s what I thought I saw in Hawai’i. There were plenty of wonderful teachers in Hawai’i, but I saw no small amount of this—psychologically warped people who enforced on their students that they were never quite as good as the students at Yale.
But I’m telling you a story of a kid from an ordinary upbringing in a post-World War II middle-class part of a western city who got scholarships from foundations and the state, and went to very elite places and had worlds opened up to her by really amazing people.
It changed my life. I understand something about privileges nobody ought to have and privileges everybody ought to have.
JW: Which are which? What would be the distinction?
DH: Well, the kinds of privileges everybody ought to have are places that treat you like you’re smart, that give you permission to be curious and to follow it through. And good health insurance as opposed to shitty health insurance. There are some things that just ought to be resolutely equal. It’s very expensive to give everybody permission. And it’s really worth it.
JW: You still hear the mantra of equal opportunity, but with the decline of state funding and the rise of tuition and things like student debt, it seems as if the opposite is happening. If you look at postwar documents, like the Truman Commission Report in 1947, they’re very explicit about creating equal opportunity and diversity, which was for the civic benefit of the country.
DH: People used to believe it. I had an Irish-Catholic girl’s brain, and I become a national resource with Sputnik. You know, I wasn’t a national resource before Sputnik, but then I was.
JW: It’s hard to peg what you do, but in Modest Witness you remark that professionally you are an historian of science, and much of your early work, through Primate Visions, is a cultural history of science. How did you become an historian of science?
DH: I was literally an historian of science as an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins for six years, and in some sense still am. I think, insofar as I am anything, it’s a storyteller. I tell theory stories a lot, and I take them very seriously. I’m extremely interested in the way stories loop through each other and the way attachment sites get built. The continuities are much stronger than the discontinuities, as I think of my own intellectual life.
I just signed up for Medicare last week, so I’m taking this retrospective. It’s a very strange moment, thinking back over forty odd years of adulthood—the time of your life you spent in the university, 18 years old to 65, that’s a long time. The sense of continuity is very strong, but the mutations have probably more to do with finding oneself where one is in an institution, the accident of this job rather than that job. The multiple biographical accidents one lives through seem to me to change one more than any deliberate choices ever do. Choice plays a role, of course, but it’s way overrated. So finding oneself in a major institution, Yale University, in the period of fundamental attention to the chemical and biological warfare of the Vietnam War, and scientists being profoundly engaged with that, shapes your politics in a key way. Also finding oneself a feminist in a deep friendship with a gay man—we married, we tried to figure out what that meant, the implosion of feminism and gay politics that were lived in a very different way in Hawai’i from New Haven. And then reading Capital with David Harvey and Nancy Hartsock and Neil Smith at Johns Hopkins, my first real history of science job. I thought of myself as a leftist a long time before that, but these things are about people and places and entanglements and encounters, and not about planned lives.
JW: In your first book you tell stories about key scientists, and about how they lived their lives as well as their work.
DH: Right. Three large intellectual biographies in a way, and all of them were biologists who refused a kind of molecular reductionism. All of them are biologists who are committed to complex organismic interaction.
JW: We were talking about DNA before, and how it’s not a straightforward blueprint for a creature as in Jurassic Park. How did you find your topic of embryology? Was it because it’s where mutations and context are relevant?
DH: I think embryology came to me from a course I took when I was a sophomore in college. “Morphology and Development” was the name of the course, and we studied the serial sections of a ten-millimeter pig embryo. The development of form through time absolutely captivated me. That’s true in literature, and that’s true in biology. The inseparability of the formal and the temporal and the heterogeneities, of scale, of temporality and spatiality and the flesh—that kind of thing interested me as a thinker from the time I remember myself as a thinker, and embryology’s the obvious place to be if you’re interested in that. You’re looking at the profuse development of topologically ever more complex things through time out of interaction, and what becomes clear is that you never have organism and environment, you always have what Karen Barad, in a really important book, Meeting the Universe Halfway, calls an intra-action. Any entity which has a definite material reality and good enough temporal stability—for me good enough to get through almost 65 years as an identifiable me—can’t have this without present and past concatenated intra-actions with all sorts of other critters. It’s not like individuals aren’t perfectly real and important entities, but no organism develops only out of its own genetic program. The intra-actions that construct the entities are all the way down. No organism is a one.
The distinct entities are the products of the interactions, they don’t precede them. Partners entangle and become something else. Partners become with each other in looped knots of time and space. The partners are fruit of the interaction, or intra-action really, and there’s no single place from which this all starts. It is a kind of worlding. I think of worlding as an sf term, not fundamentally a Heideggerian term, and it’s a very important term for me for thinking about the living world and its mind-bodies. The human ones are interesting, but this is a very bumptious populated world. Human exceptionalism has always seemed bizarre, whether it’s in philosophy or in biology. The depletion of the furniture of the world in order to think is a deep impoverishing of worlding that human exceptionalism requires.
JW: Your thinking about embryology resulted in Crystals, Fabrics, and Fields. Then in Primate Visions you turned to primatology. How did you come upon your topics?
DH: And how not? Primate Visions had a number of different origins that all added up. One of them was that I was always interested in other animals besides just us, and among them monkeys and apes were absolutely fascinating. Also, these were years of extraordinary studies of monkeys and apes. They were part of the popular culture as well as the scientific culture—the National Geographic specials and the Jane Goodall stories—so it was hard not to be interested. Another origin was the biological reductionism that had to be confronted by feminism, the constant stories of the biological being a way of disempowering people of color and women, not to put too fine a point on it. I was trained as a biologist, and I had the interest and the skills and the political obligation to address that stuff. I was deliberately setting out to make it harder to tell biologically-reductionist stories while continuing to love biology. At the same time, I was unhappy with the fear that maybe, if there really are biological sexual differences, if there really are differences in neurobiology or in thresholds for arousal or competitive behavior, if there really are seriously biologically conditioned differences on a statistical basis, then the game’s up. I think that there was fear of that and a huge amount of the left and feminist world was dogmatic out of fear of science. They remain so to some degree, but much less so now. It struck me as important to face that fear and to revel in the bumptiousness of the biological world and not the pin-you-like- a-butterfly part. The left had to get beyond the nature/nurture wars just as much as the right.
JW: In Primate Visions you talk about how primatologists construed the primate world, with alpha males and such, according to their ideas of the human world. Could you give me a specific story about one of the cases that you researched in Primate Visions?
DH: One of the most obvious ones had to do with the early studies of baboon social organization that Irv DeVore and others published, that they were led by alpha males and organized by male- male interaction. Subsequent studies of baboon social organization and socioecology, including by some of the same men who wrote the early stories, looked very different. A number of the women who were primate biologists took different data, asked different questions and were skeptical about different things. It’s not like they set out to do feminist science, but it’s clear that a deep and abiding annoyance with the male dominance stories and the man-the-hunter stories and all the rest motivated a lot of better science by women and by men. More by women than by men, at least in the early period. Those were the years when people were finding females interesting as organisms, and I was tracking a lot of the scientists who were making females interesting as critters. So there’s a chapter in Primate Visions about that.
JW: In terms of a trajectory, one way to think about your work is that you started doing the history of science, then you became more of a theorist.
DH: And I wrote differently. It’s an institutional story: I was hired after graduate school in the general science department at the University of Hawai’i, where I was teaching biology to non-science majors to fill the university distribution requirements and to high school teachers, who were coming back for their masters. I was teaching biology and history of biology, but I’d had no training in history of biology, not really. I was learning as I was teaching it. Then I applied for a job at Johns Hopkins in history of science, and they hired me. I knew no history of science to speak of, although I’d already written Crystals, Fabrics, and Fields by then. They assigned me to teach the incoming graduate students the general literature course in the history of science, so I learned it then, and that’s where I started the Primate Visions book.
I was definitely disciplining myself as an historian of biology. I did a history of the Woods Hole marine lab that never got published. I went to the archive in the American Museum and started the “Teddy Bear Patriarchy” stuff [in Primate Visions] and was always interested in the connections of the safari and American versions of imperialism and the diorama in New York City. The ways of looking at the biological body post-World War II as an ergonomic and cybernetic body, and the tie of that to the inheritance from military research and informatics, were also started at Hopkins.
But it was when I was hired at Santa Cruz as a feminist theorist in 1980 that I got a completely different kind of permission as a writer and as a scholar. In a way, “Situated Knowledges” and the “Cyborg Manifesto” are my figuring out where I was institutionally in History of Consciousness.
JW: And it was also a time when poststructural theoretical discourse became more common.
DH: It’s true. I was trying to use words like signifier and signified in a sentence, although the Humanities Center at Johns Hopkins would have people like Sam Weber there, so it’s not like I’d never heard of this stuff. But it wasn’t mine, and then I retooled myself. I read a lot when I came to History of Consciousness, and I feel like I learned a whole lot more about semiotics and psychoanalysis and many other things than folks ever learned about biology. It was never quite symmetrical. Jim Clifford and I became very good friends and really taught each other a huge amount. He was doing Writing Culture in those years. He’s always been a really deep intellectual friend and colleague.
So Primate Visions became what it became in History of Consciousness, not at Hopkins. It came from that time. It became this wild book that was a tropology. And then Sandra Harding, who’s really important in feminist theory and particularly important in antiracist, anti-sexist feminist approaches to science, writes The Science Question in Feminism , and my “Situated Knowledges” was a conversation with that. So stuff gets written in conversation with real people. And animals are always part of the picture for me; it’s not like they came in later. I was really interested in monkeys and apes.
JW: I can see how there’s a continuity, but it also seems that, if I trace the arc of your career, you were first an historian of science, then you became a theorist, for lack of a better word, and now, with your more recent work on animals, you’ve become more of a cultural commentator.
DH: No, I think the more recent stuff is, if anything, the most developed theory I’ve ever done. But it’s written very differently.
JW: Maybe cultural commentator isn’t the right description, but I think that the idiom or the zone seems different. To put it another way, the topics that took your attention moved from embryos to cyborgs or machines, and then to primates and genetics and now to animals. I can see a consistent thread in how you deal with pairs, organisms and machines or humans and animals. One could say they’re binaries, but you’re interested in how they interact.
DH: They move through each other, and they still do. But they’re a foreground. The Simians, Cyborgs, and Women book pulls it together in a certain way. It starts with genetics because I was in a molecular genetics lab to start with—it was part of my coursework as a graduate student. None of my coursework was history of science, but I ended up writing an historical dissertation, which was a kind of an argument with my training. In other words, I tell a different story where there’s foreground and background. There’s a sequence of topics, but it’s also all there from the get-go.
I never called myself a theorist; other people did. I taught feminist theory, and still do, but it’s a tremendously heterogeneous practice. A Sarah Franklin or a Linda Gordon or a Teresa de Lauretis do a feminist theory, and its materialities are highly heterogeneous and sometimes attached to each other, and other times you can’t see the attachments. If you’re going to teach feminist theory, you better teach it as these situated practices that have to train the ear to learn each other’s idioms and that theory is not this domain that is occupied by the semioticians or the postmoderns or the psychoanalytic theorists. In HistCon there’ve always been mostly productive and generous tensions around this. I think I do theory, but I don’t do a recognizable genre of theory.
JW: A lot of poststructural theory focused on binary oppositions, and in some ways you are concerned with them too, but it struck me going through your work that you are more concerned about the entanglements or contact zones between seemingly opposed entities. Machines are entangled with our lives as are animals.
DH: Or knotted. There are these knots, and you track threads, and they track back to some of the same knots.
I’ve always been interested in animals. In a way I gave myself permission to foreground it after the Modest Witness book. The Primate Visions book also grew out of it. I remember Rusten [her partner] and me sitting in a restaurant in Baltimore—he was a graduate student and I was a baby assistant professor—and saying, “I actually want to keep this job, I like it, but how am I going to keep this job and write about what I really love, which is critters?” Primate Visions is the book that starts there. It’s not just about monkeys and apes as a topic; I am fascinated by being an ape, and an ape among apes. There’s a very real kind of sibling curiosity there, about their ecologies and histories.
And I’ve always also been interested in dogs, but I didn’t write about them until The Companion Species Manifesto. I think there may be a triptych—the “Cyborg Manifesto” and The Companion Species Manifesto, and I’m figuring out what the third piece is. We’ll worry about that later.
There were several reasons that I wrote about dogs. One of them was this weird biographical accident of getting this puppy youngster who’s just a dynamo, an amazingly talented athlete and taking training seriously, and I’m kind of past my prime. I was never a super athlete, but I was good enough, and I’m interested in doing sports at a serious level with a member of another species. I’m interested in questions of evolutionary and cognitive continuities around language, but language is mostly in the way if you’re in a serious performance or play relationship with a member of another species. Semiotics is not in the way.
JW: What year did you get Cayenne?
DH: Cayenne is going to be ten in September, and I got her as a puppy. She was born in September of ’99, and she came home on Thanksgiving of ’99. We got Roland, who is now 15, before, and we played agility with him basically to deal with his dog aggression and to give him a sense of self-confidence around other dogs and to learn to play and to pay attention, and to learn to turn play elements into attention games as a kind of freedom and authority practice. In the context of playing agility with Roland, I got really interested in the sport and started asking around about dogs. Roland is pretty good at it, but it wasn’t his first love in life, and I got a purpose-bred puppy from a family who places their dogs in serious competition homes in herding trials and sports and won’t place their puppies in pet homes if they can help it. This is of course a highly suspect thing to do among a number of animal people—“God, eugenics and the Nazi era, haven’t you read your Boria Sax yet?” And the answer is yes, and I teach Sax and others on this topic, but that’s not the end of the history and discussion. The question of purpose-bred animals starts getting very interesting as a political issue and as a worldly issue, and I decided several things. I was in love with this dog, and as near as I could tell she was in love with me, and we were trying to do something together that was kind of hard and fun. And I was learning a lot. It was socially interesting—it took me into the fairgrounds of central California on weekends, took me into very different worlds, where the NASCAR races are going on up there and the Quinceañera ceremony is going on over there, and the agility fields are over here, and the Sunday picnic club is over there. Fairgrounds are a fascinating institution in American history — the nearby Motel 6s where we’d stay sometimes, the drug scenes in the Motel 6s late at night. Or here’s my little Honda Odyssey with eggshell foam laid out for me and a sleeping crate for Cayenne and an ice crate for food. We either camp at the agility fields or we stay in a Motel 6. It takes you into this scene that isn’t one you’ve inhabited before, and I have a strong ethnographic streak. I hang out with anthropologists all the time, and they’ve given me a green card, as long as I don’t claim too many privileges.
You know, what we do becomes what we write. Most of us start whatever we do from biographical accidents, and then when you take it seriously, there’s a kind of worlding that goes on that makes you bigger, not littler, when you take things seriously and track them. So you track somebody like Cayenne into the history of eugenics, into the history of the breed clubs and the bench shows and improving classes—Harriet Ritvo’s story, which is beautifully told in Animal Estate—you track the Nazi animal rights legislation, you track the ways that animalization is used in racial ideology. You track all of that, and you’re also alert to the limits of analogy.
There’s a move to prohibition and taboo in relationship to the trouble, so that if, let’s say, you’re aware of the problem of genetic disease in purebred dog breeding practices, therefore all purebred dog breeding is an imposition of ill health on purebred dogs. There’s that move to dogmatism that flattens the empirical complexity of these worlds and the problem of kinds of dogs in historically-situated contexts. Should purebred dog breeding exist these days? I come down on the “yes, but…” end of things. The “yes, but…” is often a position that makes you unpopular with your pure brethren and sistren; there are lots of animal rights people who think domestic arrangements between human beings and other animals are always the imposition of human intentionality on the flesh of the other and always domination, that domestication is in some nontrivial sense the original sin of technology, and that it ends essentially in the apocalypse. That story runs in deep ecology, and it runs in some versions of animal rights ideology.
Animal rights is a very complex field, and I don’t want to paint a simple picture. There are ways in which I feel I am an animal rights person, though I prefer to talk in the idiom of animal well-being or the flourishing of other animals and of human-animal cultures and ecologies. I’ll try to avoid the contrast between animal welfare versus animal rights by using other words, preferably an idiomatic word, that isn’t quite so easily assigned to one place or the other.
JW: It’s a similar move to your avoiding the “goddess” in the “Cyborg Manifesto.” It also seems like a pragmatist point, when you talk about flourishing rather than a pure representation that changes the world. You mentioned that you studied pragmatist philosophy when you were an undergraduate.
DH: Exactly like the cyborg. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last ten years in dog worlds, hanging out with health and genetic activists in purebred dog crowds, hanging out with vet researchers, hanging out with dog sports people and pet people and animal rights people and shelter people. I’ve spent a lot of time reading and thinking and trying to come to terms with these sorts of highly overdetermined relationships. There’s no question that the kind of becoming-with that Cayenne and I have done with each other is historically situated in a particular kind of affluence, a particular history of gender, history of sport, history of activism, training disciplines and discourses, the positive training discourses of postbehaviorism. And it simply doesn’t reduce to good or bad. For me it reduces to another question: what am I responsible for? And who lives or dies inside these knots? Tracking with Cayenne leads me to the history of herding dogs, of these United States ranch dogs in the post-gold rush and post-Civil War transformation of California ranching ecologies and on and on. It locates me in the history of the Rocky Mountain West and the history of what happens to the ranchers now, and native sovereignty on these lands. And what about the Navajo sheep dogs? It tracks me into the question not of, Is this all just eugenics? Deliberate breeding is not all bad. The kind of deliberate breeding to fix a particular behavioral probability in a line of dogs who are going to be doing a certain kind of work, that seems to me a skillful kind of thing to do that could very well make flourishing worlds for the dogs. Do that with people? Of course not. Do that with people and you’re in the midst of serious violation.
JW: Violation of what?
DH: Reproductive autonomy for one thing. It seems to me that the deliberate, enforced choosing mates for human beings in order to fix biological traits irrespective of the mate’s preferences is precisely against their own ends and purposes. Does that mean I think that human beings have ends and purposes and dogs are nothing but instruments? Nonsense. But I have to think there are differences. There are differences along many different axes. It’s not like there’s one continuum of difference, and we’re on one side and they’re on the other. Do I think they have a moral economy? Yes, I think they do. I think notions of morality and ethics make sense talking about dogs. Marc Bekoff has this wonderful new book called Wild Justice about this. I think that dogs are alert to and enforce and work out a consequence ecology around questions of fairness. But it’s not language mediated. So I am in a place where I feel like I don’t have good language for it, but that the move from analogy to identity is too easy and it always makes you stupid. So I’m trying to figure out how to inhabit these multispecies and cross-species worlds, and I am paying more attention to them now.
I’m particularly interested in working animals and their people and technologies. I think of Cayenne as a working dog. She’s a household family member and friend, and I’m interested in all of those things, but I’m also interested in our having set ourselves up in relation to a discipline, a performance discipline that requires work from both of us. And I’m interested in lab working animals and trying to figure out how far one can take the concept of labor with working lab animals, the rats and mice and the rest of them, but especially the rats and mice, because they’re in the overwhelming majority.
JW: I can see how it’s similar to what you say about cyborgs, that we shouldn’t be afraid of technology nor should we think it’s wonderful. In a sense, you make the same move with companion species, that we should not see them as totally different, but we shouldn’t idealize them either.
DH: That’s right. We inhabit these worlds, and we had better be responsible and responsive. So I think in ecologies, and the ecologies are always at least tripart—human, critters other than humans and technologies. In the cyborg work I foregrounded the technological dimensions of that triad, and in the current work I’m foregrounding the other organism in the triad. So it’s human beings, animals, and technology still.
Contemporary lab animal research is of course a hugely contentious world, and the little chapter I wrote in When Species Meet called “Sharing Suffering” is just a toe in the water, a completely inadequate effort, to try to sort out my continuing affirmation of the goodness of doing lab experiments with other organisms up to and including killing. How the holy hell can you reach a conclusion like that today when you simultaneously know too much about why these critters are somebodies and not somethings? It is impossible to work off of the fantasies of the animal-machine any more, or that animals are for human use. And I’m not comfortable. I don’t think we should be comfortable. I think the notion that one would find a comfortable resolution to these issues is wrongheaded. It makes us morally stupid to decide to be comfortable with this stuff, because I think that there are these truly incompatible true things, and the more extreme (by my lights) animal rights folks are telling a pretty important truth too. But I think they can’t handle the contradictoriness. I’m not sure I can either, but what I’m trying to do is live in the contradictions that don’t resolve.
To engage in laboratory animal experimentation, first of all, you minimize it. You find other ways: you start developing systems that don’t require whole animals, you minimize suffering, you replace, you refine, you substitute and so on. That said, the engagement of human beings and technologies and other organisms in the projects of knowing I believe to be good, and I don’t mean just because they cure diseases. I think curiosity is precious and fragile and not a very nice virtue. It’s always unequal and asymmetrical. It’s asymmetrical among the people as well as between the people and the other critters. So I’m not affirming the goodness of this on a utilitarian basis, or because it solves important human problems; I’m affirming the goodness of it for non-teleological practices tied to queer love and curiosity.
You can have a cost-benefit moral calculus, where there are two positions: they suffer—who could deny that?—therefore you can’t do anything. That’s one response. Or you relieve suffering best you can, and then you go and do it, and you do anything including the extraordinary industrialization of the lab animals that’s going on in big pharma. At what point do you say “no more”? At what point of the re-crafting of living critters as nothing but production units and machines, as biomass and bioproductivity? The questions of biocapital are all about that. There is a huge amount to say no to here—the scale of it, the relentlessness of it, the absolute disrespect for the someone, not something, you’re working with, but I don’t think these limits can be got at through some line of utilitarianism, that this goal is more important than that one.
JW: If there are poles to animal studies, it seems to me that one is more activist, centered on animal rights of the kind you’ve been talking about. The other takes a more theoretical line, often citing Derrida and Deleuze, and more about the philosophical concept of the animal. There’s a passage in When Species Meet where you talk about Derrida, about the passage where he talks about the cat watching him, and you note that the cat disappears in the essay.
DH: Derrida did some wonderful stuff, but he doesn’t start animal studies. There’s no question that the big name theorists lend a certain cachet to a certain aspect of animal studies these days, which isn’t necessarily the fault of Jacques Derrida or Gilles Deleuze. There’s a shiny cachet that some people run with that makes me vaguely nauseous. That said, I think of, say, Cary Wolfe’s new book, What Is Posthumanism? Cary is trained in comp lit and literary theory, very interested in Niklas Luhmann and well-informed about the history of cybernetics and cybernetic theory, and he is also a very committed, on-the-ground animal person. When he was in graduate school he was taking the lab dogs out for walks. There is an in-the-flesh relationship in Cary’s work to the critters he’s talking about. His current work around animal rights and the law is engaged at a really serious level, in his critique of Vicki Hearne and his deep appreciation and critique of Martha Nussbaum. I think Cary’s positions are shaped in complex ways by what he reads and what he does, and that the other critters are in Cary’s work deeply, and I rankle when folks assume that deep-in-the-flesh relationship isn’t driving a good bit of what’s going on in his work.
JW: How would you respond to the more Derridean line of things?
DH: I am not a deep reader of Derrida because my relationship to theory is different. I work overwhelmingly out of having taught a sorority handshake to a gibbon at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo or having ended up in the fairgrounds with my dog. I work overwhelmingly out of lived figures, and then I start reading. And I have a pretty good education, and I know who to ask for what I should be reading, so I end up reading parts of Deleuze or Derrida, and they become really interesting to me because they help me think about what I’m thinking about. But I’m not a Derridean. I don’t read it in a systematic way. There was some of his writing that I need both because he did some things I never would have done on my own, and because he struck me as seriously wrong about something I think I know. But I think he was a serious person around questions of animals for a long time.
JW: I want to go back to the question of the path your work has taken. It strikes me that When Species Meet is a different mode of writing. Before I said cultural commentary, which isn’t quite right; in the past decade, you’re writing in a more autobiographical mode. This seems similar to a lot of other academic criticism, especially feminist criticism, that turned to memoir and autobiography in the past decade.
DH: It’s true I have done more of that. There’s more of the biographical story in there than in the other work. It’s doing theory more in the vernacular, more deliberately idiomatic.
JW: I guess this is the contestatory part, and this was the charge that was made about the memoir, that there’s a certain kind of indulgence to it.
DH: You get a certain permission. And there’s no question I have a kind of automatic publishing outlet too. There’s also a flat-out aging issue: that book is partly a reflection of being in my sixties. Why anybody else should have to read that is the real question. But the story I told about getting the education I got because of Sputnik, being in the lab of a person who made a practice of giving graduate students permission in a very elite institutionit is not about one period of writing coming out of indulgence and not the other one. I think the politics of this are no less public and multileveled and are fairly fierce. Probably the next piece, assuming I end up writing it—it’s called “Staying with the Trouble”—is going to be more about agricultural animals, the working animals of labs and agriculture and not this kind of thing. But one of the things that drives animal studies that I think When Species Meet is part of is that you can’t touch the issues in the world today without touching the questions of agriculture and the questions of biological research. If you’re worried about global warming, the spread of animal agriculture is a bigger emitter of greenhouse gases than transportation. The questions of the animal-industrial complex are huge: insect research in military miniaturization is a very big deal; food security; and the breaking of the labor unions in the slaughterhouses. The overwhelming workforce now in animal agriculture are parolees, immigrants, and women of color, legal and illegal, and the attack on labor is deeply tied to the industrialization of animals and the production of cheap food. Cheap food has been an imperial strategy since before Rome. Animals are at the heart of what’s going on in the world today. So I think of animal studies as smack dab in the middle of things in the same way that the Pacific Strategic Command and information technologies were smack dab in the middle of things in the Vietnam War.
I didn’t track to the problems of the ecological restoration of the Rocky Mountain West and California accidentally. That and the other stuff that’s in When Species Meet is just as connected and just as worldly as the “Cyborg Manifesto.” But it’s told more out of a personal story. I think part of what makes the book feel so personal is that little soft porn piece between Cayenne and me right in the very first chapter, the little oral intercourse piece.
JW: It’s the idiom of the book too, I think, which is different from the “Cyborg Manifesto,” which seems more in the language of high theory of that era.
DH: I think there are actually several voices and idioms in both writings. When Species Meet doesn’t work by antagonism, but neither does the “Cyborg Manifesto.” It works by attachment sites. The informatics of domination is a huge figure in the “Cyborg Manifesto,” but people talk more about other things from that essay. Is there something equivalent in When Species Meet? Call it the animal holocaust, which is a really-existing phenomenon, and it probably could have gotten more play. People like Lynda Birke and Carol Adams and others have been for thirty years or more doing feminist theory in the mode of animal studies that gets at the levels of violence and destruction visited on working animals.
JW: The vignette about you and Cayenne you mentioned might be construed as indulgent and does fit more in the memoir vein.
DH: I don’t know. I think other readers are going to have to answer that question. It started as an email. I think the indulgent parts of that book are probably the little chapter of emails. I don’t think the other stuff is, in that sense. They were supposed to be little stories that opened up dilemmas of training, but I don’t think they work very well. One of my colleagues came to me shortly after I gave one of the talks that led to The Companion Species Manifesto and some of that first chapter of When Species Meet, and he said, “Well, you know, this was really fun, and I enjoyed the talk, but this won’t catch on the way the cyborg stuff did. This isn’t actually quite theory, is it?” Insofar as the last couple of years are any evidence, that’s not true, and it brings in people from very unexpected places who read and end up thinking with you, and you find yourself thinking with others—the books they’re writing and the stuff they’re doing in the world—and these alliances start building. And then you wake up and what you thought you were doing as some weirdly biographical thing turns out to be a world-historical phenomenon, like everybody worrying about agriculture these days. That was like the cyborg thing: you wake up and realize that whatever it is that you did was hugely overdetermined. It’s personal, but it’s personal in this very impersonal sense too. The idiom is different, but I’m deliberately trying to write so that my dog friends can read it, and I’m also more confident as a writer than I was earlier. So in the critique of Derrida section, for example, I’m less trying out a word in a sentence for the first time. I’m more comfortable with the layerings of philosophical and theoretical discourse than I was thirty years ago.
JW: When we were having lunch, you said that you were retiring soon. I’m surprised to hear that, but I can also understand that there are other things that you want to do. How do you see the next phase?
DH: I’m retiring but I’ll still be hanging out. I work in an all-PhD program, and we take in new students who are going to need you for a certain number of years. I might not be making the same decision if I were in a different ecology, but I don’t think a person can legitimately hold onto a senior position and not take new graduate students. I’ve got twelve PhD students right now whom I need to get through, plus several more on whose committees I serve. It’s quite a few. So retiring doesn’t mean I won’t be here. I suppose I could hold onto the full position the whole time, but in this department, it’s just not a viable strategy. It’s not right.
That’s the structural reason, but I also don’t really want that particular kind of labor-intensive relationship with new students. I want to be working on various other kinds of projects, and some will be in the university and some won’t. There are two parts that are already developing: one of them is about the question, Can one still eat meat in our world? It’s a here and now question about the industrial agricultural system, ecology and multi-species justice; and I’m starting to hang out in my ethnographic self but also my literary and theoretical self, in central California animal agriculture scenes that I think deserve a future. So the pasture-raised chicken scene, the pasture pig scene, the Churro sheep world, the brush-clearing goat world—those kinds of animal-human-technology relationships in agriculture that I think deserve a future. How to do this research with the animals as well as with the people? Part of this comes from a philosophical and historical conclusion that the history of co-domestication is a multispecies phenomenon from the get-go that shapes whoever it is that we and they are. It’s not that we domesticated them and turned them into instruments for our ends but co-evolutions of ourselves and the other organisms we live with, agricultural animals, lab animals, etc. These ways of life have deep, old histories, and I can’t reach a right-to-life conclusion that seems to be partly to be an exterminationist conclusion. Exterminationism is a particular kind of animal rights where the only good working animal is a refugee who is held on a reserve until natural death, where bringing animals into the world through deliberate breeding is always a violation, so these critters might be here as heritage animals or they might be here as refugees or rescue animals, but fundamentally their very existence is a moral and existential violation. I think that’s an exterminationist position that wipes out critters and ways of life that I think have thick presence and complexity and deserve a future. So my main focus is on messy animal-human histories and ongoing or to-be-co-invented possibilities of becoming-with in non-innocent practices, not unlike my approach to cyborg worlds.
From early on I’ve defined politics as trying to figure out what you cast your life with, what ways of life you cast yourself for and what ways of life you cast yourself against. I’m no relativist; whatever it is that you are and have, you cast your lot with some and not others. And I’m trying to figure out, as an animal studies person and as a Marxist feminist too (if you can still call yourself that and it’s not anachronistic), what kinds of animal-human-technology relationships ought to be brought into the future.
JW: So you don’t renounce eating meat?
DH: No, but I’m also not comfortable. I am not comfortable with reaching a position either as a general political position or as a personal life choice position that has built into it the notion that agricultural animals have no right to exist on this planet. And I’m not willing to keep them as museum specimens. I think they deserve more respect than being museum specimens.
JW: But respect would be eating them?
DH: That’s right. This is really no different from the lab story. This is about how you kill without making killable. Companion species is not about companion animals as pets, it’s about being at table together; it’s about cum panis with bread when who’s on the menu is not clear; it’s about eating and being eaten, but not equally. I’m not in the position that says human beings have always been hunters, therefore people’s eating meat is natural and perfectly ordinary, and there’s nothing wrong with it. This doesn’t follow logically or morally. Nor am I in the position that says human beings don’t have to eat meat by and large, therefore they shouldn’t impose that kind of suffering. That tells half the story. What it also says is that all those organisms and their kinds who have co-habited with people were a mistake or that there’s no ongoingness to it. The fact that we don’t have to eat meat doesn’t also mean we shouldn’t. I’m trying to inhabit this impossible place where killing is a necessary part of the practice, killing and eating, and can that be lived not just as a personal choice but as an agricultural practice and a market practice in a way that asks about casting our lot with it? I don’t really know the answer. I know that my vegan friends think that the answer is pretty clear and that whenever I hear them develop their answer I’m even more uncomfortable.
JW: You had said there were two things you were going to do. What’s the second one?
DH: “Gleaning Stories, Gleaning Change,” which connects Rusten, my husband, Susan Harding, a colleague in anthropology and a friend, her son Marco, who’s our photographer and going to be sixteen soon and another colleague, Helene Moglen. We got a little money from the California Council for the Humanities to collect stories of people who go out with Ag Against Hunger or other food and justice organizations regionally to glean in the fields in Salinas Valley and up and down the coast here, which is a heavy-duty agricultural area, and the food goes into the food pantries in a tri-county area. So it’s related to the overall issue of trying to think about food and the multispecies critters involved. It’s a practice of all sorts of ordinary folks—high school kids doing their community service credits to graduate and church youth groups and people such as you and me. And folks whose parents were fieldworkers who do this to think about what their parents’ lives were like. Rusten especially is collecting their stories and putting them on a website and doing short radio programs, and we’re going to do a public event, a kind of harvest event, in November. We actually got started by Agnès Varda’s film, The Gleaners and I, which is really an amazing film set in the French countryside and also in urban and art gleaning practices. So we’re looking at dumpster diving and gleaning in the Ag Against Hunger scene and the industrial organic and the conventional industrial scene in the Salinas Valley. We’ll see what grows out of that.
Donna Haraway is Distinguished Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Her work explores the string figure knots tied by feminist theory, science and technology studies and animal studies. She earned her PhD in Biology at Yale in 1972, and she taught biology at the University of Hawaii and the history of science at Johns Hopkins University. Her books include Crystals, Fabrics, and Fields: Metaphors that Shape Embryos (Yale, 1976; North Atlantic Books, 2004); Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (Routledge, 1989); Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (Routledge, 1991); Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan© Meets OncoMouse™ (Routledge, 1997); The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness (Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003); The Haraway Reader (Routledge, 2004); and When Species Meet (University of Minnesota Press, 2008);