What is Cyborg Anthropology?

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Cyborg anthropology is a recent subspecialty launched at the Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) in 1993. Within the AAA cyborg anthropology is associated with the Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology and Computing (CASTAC). From the start cyborg anthropologists have located themselves within the larger transdisciplinary field of Science and Technology Studies (STS), attending with frequency the annual meetings of the Society for the Social Studies of Science (SSSS) and applying cyborgian perspectives to a wide research spectrum that has ranged from the culture of physicists in Japan (Traweek 1988) to organ donation in Germany (Hogle 1999) to extended work on the new reproductive technologies.

Anthropology, the study of humans, has traditionally concentrated on discovering the process of evolution through which the human came to be (physical anthropology), or on understanding the beliefs, languages, and behaviors of past or present human groups (archaeology, linguistics, cultural anthropology).

A cyborg (shorthand for “cybernetic organism”) is a symbiotic fusion of human and machine. Humans have always developed technologies to help them survive and thrive, but in recent decades the rapid escalation and intensification of the human-technology interface have exceeded anything heretofore known. From satellite communications to genetic engineering, high technologies have penetrated and permeated the human and natural realms. Indeed, so profoundly are humans altering their biological and physical landscapes that some have openly suggested that the proper object of anthropological study should be cyborgs rather than humans, for, as Donna Haraway says, we are all cyborgs now.

From: Cyborg Anthropology Joseph Dumit PhD, Assistant Professor, Program in Science, Technology and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Robbie Davis-Floyd PhD, Research Fellow, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Texas Austin

Relations to other fields

  • Anthropology of Medicine
  • Anthropology of Science
  • Digital Anthropology
    • Cell Phone Anthropology
  • Anthropology of Time and Space (Time Geography)

References and further reading

  • Davis-Floyd, Robbie and Joseph Dumit (1998) Cyborg Babies: From Techno-Sex to Techno-Tots. New York: Routledge.
  • Downey, Gary Lee, Joseph Dumit, eds. (1997) Cyborgs and Citadels: Anthropological Interventions in Emerging Sciences, Technologies and Medicines. Seattle: SAR/University of Washington Press. (Includes essays by Joseph Dumit, Deborah Heath, and Rayna Rapp).
  • Forsythe, Diana (2001) Toward an Anthropology of Informatics: Ethnographic Analyses of Knowledge Engineering and Artificial Intelligence. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Gray, Chris Hables, ed, with Heidi J. Figueroa-Sarriera and Steven Mentor (1995) The Cyborg Handbook. New York: Routledge.
  • Haraway, Donna (1991) Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. London: Free Association Books.

Hogle, Linda F. (1999) Recovering the Nation's Body: Cultural Memory, Medicine, and the Politics of Redemption. Rutgers University Press

  • Layne, Linda, ed. (2000) Transformative Motherhood: On Giving and Getting in a Consumer Culture. New York University Press.
  • Martin, Emily (1994) Flexible Bodies: Tracking Immunity in America from the Days of Polio to the Age of AIDS. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Rapp, Rayna (2000) Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America. New York: Routledge.
  • Taussig, Karen-Sue (forthcoming) Just Be Ordinary: Normalizing the Future through Genetic Research and Practice. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Traweek, Sharon (1988) Beamtimes and Lifetimes: The World of High Energy Physicists. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.