Cyborg: Some Definitions, Descriptions, and Exemplications

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

Haraway on the Cyborg

A cyborg is a cybernetic mechanism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. Social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction. The international women's movements have constructed 'women's experience', as well as uncovered or discovered this crucial collective object. This experience is a fiction and fact of the most crucial, political kind. [Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Routledge, 1991, 149]

The cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a fusion of the organic and the technical forged in particular, historical, cultural practices. Cyborgs are not about the Machine and the Human, as if such Things and Subjects universally existed. Instead, cyborgs are about specific historical machines and people in interaction that often turns out to be painfully counterintuitive for the analyst of technoscience. [Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium. FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouse™: Feminism and Technoscience. New York and London: Routledge, 1997. 51]

Cyborgs Are Already Here!

1. Cyborgs actually do exist; about 10% of the current U.S. population are estimated to be cyborgs in the technical sense, including people with electronic pacemakers, artificial joints, drug implant systems, implanted corneal lenses, and artificial skin. A much higher percentage participates in occupations that make them into metaphoric cyborgs, including the computer keyboarder joined in a cybernetic circuit with the screen, the neurosurgeon guided by fiber optic microscopy during an operation, and the teen gameplayer in the local videogame arcarde. "Terminal identity" Scott Bukatman has named this condition, calling it an "unmistakably doubled articulation" that signals the end of traditional concepts of identity even as it points toward the cybernetic loop that generates a new kind of subjectivity. [Katherine Hayles, "The Life of Cyborgs: Writing the Posthuman."Cyborg Handbook, 322]

2. This merging of the evolved and the developed, this integration of the constructor and the constructed, these systems of dying flesh and undead circuits, and of living and artificial cells. have been called many things: bionic systems, vital machines, cyborgs. They are a central figure of the late Twentieth Century. . . . But the story of cyborgs is not just a tale told around the glow of the televised fire. There are many actual cyborgs among us in society. Anyone with an artificial organ, limb or supplement (like a pacemaker), anyone reprogrammed to resist disease (immunized) or drugged to think/behave/feel better (psychopharmacology) is technically a cyborg. The range of these intimate human-machine relationships is mind-boggling. It's not just Robocop, it is our grandmother with a pacemaker. [Chris Hables Gray, Steven Mentor, and Jennifer Figueroa-Sarriera, "Cyborgology: Constructing the Knowledge of Cybernetic Organisms."Cyborg Handbook, 322]

[Follow for a classification of cyborg entities.]


Last modified 14 April 2005