While we do not necessarily use the term “cyborg” in the way Donna Haraway used it in her famous 1985 “Cyborg Manifesto,” Haraway’s work is of great importance to many of the topics covered on the Cyborgology blog.

As I see it, the primary takeaway from Haraway is the existence of a recursive relationship between technology and social organization.  More importantly, as each iteration of this relationship unfolds, there opens a new field across which power relations operate.  Haraway is far more optimistic than Foucault or Baudrillard, however, who opine about our inability to escape the techno-social system.  For Haraway, we become empowered by figuring out, and, subsequently learning to manipulate, the code that organizes society in any given technological milieu.

Like Foucault, however, Haraway is intensely focused the relation between discourse and power.  In fact, she frequently cites the need for scholars and activists to engage in “category work.”  Haraway assumes that social institutions pivot on systems of categorization – often to the detriment of persons who do not fit the primary categorizations. Category work is, first and foremost, a process blurring the boundaries between these primary categories, and, as such, creating new possibilities for being inside the system.  Today, it is popular to describe this process as “queering” boundaries.  It is also in this context that she claims, “[a]ll kinds of interesting stuff is going on under the prefixes post- and trans-.”  The prefixes are simply used to signify counter-hegemonic discourses.  Consider, for example, “post-humanism.”  The mistake would be to interpret this term as an empirical statement that we are no longer human. Haraway would likely consider such a position “blissed-out technoidiocy.”  Instead, post-humanism” is a claim that the category “human,” as we have constructed it, is no longer sufficient.  Thus, implied in every “post-” and “trans-” is a semantic argument, but it is not merely a semantic argument since power and discourse are always intertwined.

Haraway has a nuanced vision of social change that is neither fully structural nor fully agentic.  The very fact of technological development (arguably a structural necessity of capitalism) creates new interpretive opportunities, which individuals may seize upon to challenge prevailing norms.  Breast augmentation, for example, might serve to support the dominant image of the female body.  But, it might also challenge that same image by facilitating transgenderism.  Thus, Haraway champions what I would call “co-optation” as a strategy of social change, whereby marginalized groups seize the tools of the dominant groups and use them for their own ends.

The following quote, I believe, captures the three themes (i.e., the recursivity between technology and social order; the material implications of category work; and co-optation):

[…] knowledge projects these days constitute their objects of attention in the Foucauldian sense – as discourse constitutes it own objects of attention. This is not a relativist position. This is not about things being merely constructed in a relative sense. This is about those objects that we non-optionally are. […] It is not that this is the only thing that we or anyone else is. It is not an exhaustive description but it is a non-optional constitution of objects, of knowledge in operation. It is not about having an implant, it is not about liking it. This is not some kind of blissed-out technobunny joy in information. It is a statement that we had better get it – this is a worlding operation. Never the only worlding operation going on, but one that we had better inhabit as more than a victim. We had better get it that domination is not the only thing going on here. We had better get it that this is a zone where we had better be the movers and the shakers, or we will be just victims.

Haraway is neither wholly positive or negative about the emergence of new technologies.  Instead, technological development is both an opportunity and a danger, and as such, it as an imperative to act.  Though, she also cautions us that more is going on in the world than what happens in the field of technology, so we must be wary of becoming too myopic.

While I have briefly sketched some themes in Haraway’s work as it pertains to technology, I have said little about the Feminist and socialist aspects of her work.  I would be remiss to not, at least, point out that she sees all these aspects a fundamentally intertwined.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has just released new figures on the use of what they are calling “location based” or “geosocial” services (e.g., Foursquare, Gowalla, or Facebook Places).  These services encourage social interaction through the sharing of location-based information.  Usage patterns break down along some interesting lines.  I have taken the liberty of compiling some tables for you.

Men are currently twice as likely to use geosocial services as woman.

Similar to trends in mobile Internet access, both Hispanics and blacks use geosocial services more than whites.

Young adult are by far the most active users of geosocial services with rates currently double that of any other category.

Unfortunately, the full data is not available, so we can not yet look at interaction effects.  But, you can expect an update soon!  For curious readers, Pew’s survey question reads:

Do you… Use a service such as Foursquare or Gowalla that allows you to share your location with friends and to find others who are near you?

Because I am usually trapped in the Sociology Department’s data dungeon on Wednesdays, I have decided to establish a recurring series of posts that discuss new trends or data.

Last week, I compiled some data from a 2005 Pew study to explore whether college students are using Online dating.  I’ve now replicated that chart for Pew’s 2009 data.What’s most striking about these data is their sizable departure from the 2005 data.  Particularly, because the movement is opposite of the expected direction (i.e., upward).  Recall that, in the 2005 chart (included below), roughly 40% of young adults reported using online dating websites, compared to roughly 10% of that same group in 2005.I suspect that a change in wording is the primary culprit.  The 2005 survey asked:

Have you ever gone to an online dating website or other site where you can meet people online?

The 2009 survey asked:

Please tell me if you ever use the internet to do any of the following things.  Do you ever use the internet to… Use an online dating site.   Did you happen to do this yesterday, or not?

Note that the 2005 question is double-barreled and is so broadly constructed that it seem to clump dating-specific sites like eHarmony, Match.com, and OkCupid into the same category as general social-networking sites like Facebook and  MySpace.   Thus, the 2009 question is probably a better measure our object of inquiry (namely, use of online dating sites).

The trend line for the 2009 data resembles the 2005 data but is much less steep, indicating that the influence of age has a subtle negative relation with online dating.  Yet, when we look more closely, we see that the graph is fairly dichotomous with respondents under 35 using online dating much more frequently than respondents 35 and over.  Of course, there are less single people in older cohorts, and we cannot make good inferences from these graphs about whether single users under 35 are using online dating more than single users 35 and older.

A colleague, Zeynep Tufekci, and I were having a friendly debate about whether college students are using sites focused specifically on online dating or whether they are using Facebook and other more general social networking sites in lieu of online dating sites. I compiled some data from the Pew 2005 online dating survey. As you can see, online dating sites were most popular among young adults. I’ll try to compile the same chart for 2010 next week.

In the meantime, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. Are college students using online dating more than they were five years ago? Are they using other sites in lieu of online dating sites?

I also pulled a chart from OKCupid’s blog. While I have been critical of some of their policies in the past, they do an admirable job of sharing aggregate data with their users.We see that the user base of OkCupid fairly closely parallels the 2005 Pew data on online dating use in the overall population.

If you are interested in online dating, I suggest reading the 2010 paper,  “The Social Demography of Internet Dating in the United States,” by Jessica M. Sautter, Rebecca M. Tippett, and S. Philip Morgan in Social Science Quarterly and the 2006 Pew “Online Dating” report by Mary Madden, Amanda Lenhart.