Science and Semiotics

Patrick Nagle, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Fall 2006)

Donna Haraway's treatment of feminist objectivity acknowledges the usefulness of literary semiotic analysis while asserting that bodies, atoms, etc. are not simply called into being semiotically:

So, I think my problem and 'our' problem is how to have simultaneously an account of radical historical contingency for all knowledge claims and knowing subjects, a critical practice for recognizing our own 'semiotic technologies' for making meanings, and a no-nonsense commitment to faithful accounts of a 'real' world. (187)

Her solution to this problem is a feminist standpoint theory of "partial perspective," which she explains through the metaphor of "embodied vision" (contrasted to the all-seeing god-trick of absolute objectivity). By claiming our perspectives and realizing how our accounts of science create semiotically charged meanings, feminist scientists can have objectivity without totalization, semiotics without unchecked relativism.

Haraway also compares nature to a "coding trickster with whom we must learn to converse." (201) By allowing for nature's agency, Haraway does away with humanist conceptions that nature is a resource that can be appropriated endlessly by humans and challenges the concept that scientists innocently "read" nature as though it were an open book. By constructing the scientific encounter as a conversation instead, Haraway makes clear that science must be held accountable for its discursive practices.


Works Cited

Last modified 18 December 2006