With Modest_Witness, Donna J. Haraway raises the stakes of feminist histories of science by engaging issues and images emerging in science practice and cultural studies at the end of the twentieth century. As part of the ongoing project of delineating science and technology studies as a distinct area within cultural studies, Haraway argues directly and compellingly in this text for “a practice of situated knowledges in the worlds of technoscience.” Situating Bruno Latour’s term “technoscience” as a “form of life, a practice, a culture, [and] a generative matrix,” Haraway asks for whom and how distinctions are made “between what counts as ‘science’ and as ‘society.’” Throughout this text, her materialist approach to culture tempers her critique of contemporary technologies of observation/representation: mapping the development of “the culture of no culture” in the Enlightenment, Haraway [End Page 501] argues that “the new nature of no nature” derives from a “technoscience foundational narrative which inverts the inherited terms of nature and culture and then displaces them decisively.”
Narrative practice remains the critical link between science practice and cultural theory at the end of the second Christian millennium, as Haraway demonstrates by mapping stories of chips, genes, fetuses, races, ecosystems, databases, brains, bombs, seeds, and stem cells in the technoscientific body. Through historical analyses of the emergence of these terms in scientific discourse, Haraway traces how science takes shape through historically specific syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic developments in cultures. That these figures, as both rhetorical devices and material objects, are also mobilized to sustain “a narrative about ‘objectivity’ that continues to get in the way of a more adequate, self-critical technoscience committed to situated knowledges” prompts Haraway to suggest more appropriate vehicles for navigating technoscience.
She lights upon two key figures, FemaleMan© and OncoMouse,™ with which to address some of the possiblities for sociotechnically manipulated creatures and their interrelationships. Haraway imagines the FemaleMan©, image of a multiple, human clone taken from Joanna Russ’s novel of the same name, locked in a mutual gaze with OncoMouse™, a DuPont product and representative of patented, genetically engineered, or “transgenic” creatures. Using this composite image, Haraway works her way through the politics of patents, postgender utopias, and academic-corporate families. With her vision of these two figures as “sisters,” working as partners and family members to each other and to herself, Haraway invokes a problematics of kinship literally to bring home the relevance of transgenic creatures and global economies to discussions of identity politics. While the implicit conflation of the social mechanisms of filiation and of alliance in this image threatens to obscure our understanding of the forces engineering the “domestic,” Haraway’s primary commitment to undermining the notion of “self-evidence” assumes a dynamic worldview that is “conventional and revisable, if also eminently solid and full of consequences.”
Perhaps most importantly, the structure that Haraway has chosen for this book develops the fruitful overlap between studies of science and of visual culture. Her competent analyses of comics, fine art, magazine [End Page 502] illustrations, and advertisements, illustrated by black-and-white reproductions of these objects, form an integral part of her text. This signature style will be familiar to readers of Haraway’s earlier collection of essays, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, who may also recognize here the work of contemporary American painter Lynn Randolph. Enhancing the boundaries between the sections, chapters, and even covers of this book, Randolph’s images, paired with Haraway’s readings of them, underscore crucial dimensions of the conversation between figure and form that are at stake in what Haraway terms “the New World Order, Inc.” With these marginal discussions, Haraway punctuates her feminist-constructivist assertions that agency is a dynamic relationship involving knowledge-production, accountability, and barriers, and not merely a static derivative of power and privilege.
By cultivating “non-innocence” (by which she means that all knowledges are situated and attached to agendas), “yearning” (a term she borrows from bell hooks to describe the ideal of knowledge-projects that promote justice), and “technoscientific literacy” (a practice akin to what...