Katie King introducing Donna Haraway at the Cyberculture Conference, University of Maryland, 27 April 2002

Interdisciplinary work requires great friendships. It means, in the words of Margaret Mead: "we continue to meet and take delight in one another's minds." (Mead 1972:109) My own best teachers have been people who practiced great friendships, friendships that required care for thinking about thinking, care for the "liveliness of subject-shaping and reshaping," caring alternative models of household, of "solidarity and difference" --such friendships drawing us all beyond our own first impulses. (Haraway & Goodeve 2000:126)

I met Donna Haraway for the first time in the late 70s over stories about our teachers Gregory Bateson and Evelyn Hutchinson, both of whom were figures at the famous Macy Conferences on Cybernetics following WWII. The Macy Conferences themselves have been described as "annual conversations among friends who recognized possible connections and implications beyond their individual specialties. They committed to be in a conversation that explored the connections and transcended the boundaries...." (Berkana 2002) But as Gregory Bateson pointed out, this is a kind of interdisciplinarity in which, he says, "the relations are to be thought of as somehow primary, the relata [the things related] as secondary." (Bateson 1972:154)

Donna was arriving at the University of California, Santa Cruz, to be interviewed for the first job specifically advertised as in "feminist theory" in the U.S. I had the good fortune to spend a following six odd years studying feminist theory with her in the History of Consciousness, the department in which she still teaches. As an intellectual mentor Donna richly entered into the social worlds of her students' projects, while introducing her own communities of practice. What we all shared was not necessarily subject matter, but rather a search for how to think well, how to make interventions into knowledge production as feminists.

As I work on my current book project, I keep running into Donna's friends. I remember one from Donna's first visit to Xerox Parc, there she met Lucy Suchman, whose analysis of working relations I've begun to explore as a model for (inter)interdisciplinary communication. Suchman's work honors movements among, she says, "...an increasingly dense and differentiated layering of people and activities, each operating within a limited sphere of knowing and acting that includes variously crude or sophisticated conceptualizations of the others." (Suchman 2000:online pdf)

It takes great friendship to inspire our commitments to the complexities of creating reciprocal "new working relations" among our interdisciplines. In Suchman's words "[i]n place of the model of knowledge as a product that can be assembled through hand-offs in some neutral or universal language, we began to argue the need for mutual learning and partial translations. This in turn required new working relations not then in place." (

In great friendships we slow down to learn one another's languages, taking care because we come to love the very words, their relationality, their glimpses into unfamiliar meanings, what Donna calls "the sheer wiliness and complexity of it all." (Haraway & Goodeve:82) And more, she says: "[i]t isn't as though I make a choice to work with and through metaphor, it's that I experience myself inside these constantly swerving, intensely physical processes of semiosis." (Haraway & Goodeve:86)


DH > boundary objects
Donna Haraway herself is the object of the semiosis of others, of longings and passions, positive and sometimes negative. Oddly she and the Cyborg have both become interrelated boundary creatures, moving between worlds claiming and disavowing them. By way of Haraway and the Cyborg cyberfeminism and feminist technoscience studies overlap. Cyberfeminism is especially lively in European and in non-U.S. English-speaking locations around the globe, and is inextricably connected with arts of all kinds but especially avant-garde performance and computer art in a range of new media.

The Cyborg in this context is more and more clearly a boundary object, sometimes less the post-WWII entity Haraway herself finds worth scrutinizing, and more a wild amalgam of goddess imagery and technophilia performing a range of new historical and artistic connections across centuries and across generations. In this context the Cyborg performs the work of connecting women and technology through and within many pasts.
Cyberfeminism shares enthusiastically Donna's poetic passions and evocative analytic and performative language, while feminist technoscience studies shares her fascination with concrete historical specificity and theories of complex agencies of materialization. The Cyborg performs boundary work across various communities of practice embodied in ranges of either technoscience or cyberfeminism, working because it is, as Geof Bowker & Leigh Star describe, "weakly structured in common use" and "strongly structured in individual-site use." (Bowker & Star 1999:297)

Interdisciplines shaping and reshaping require new academic formations and practices. Donna tells us    "[f]eminist technoscience really means going beyond the kinds of institutions we have now. It's filled with different kinds of work processes and knowledge-practices, including reshaping time and space. For example, to interact effectively at work, to work with people, really involves rethinking time and careers and the speed of research." (
Haraway & Goodeve:157)

DH > dogworlds

Donna's current work on "the cultures of nature of contemporary western dog worlds" requires the "labor-intensive work of developing serious relationships with informants and communities of practice," that is to say, the cultivation of new friendships and the creation of new working relations. (Haraway 2000) I got the chance to go with Donna to one of her new research sites last summer, where I met some of these new friends, people and dogs, companion species together, having fun in agility games and trials.

Companion species are the nodes in a dense interdisciplinary practice and a rich array of audiences. Donna points out: "Companion animals are contested for by animal rights activists, breed clubs, pet owners, humane societies, city councils, veterinary medicine, trainers, sports organizations, working and sporting dog associations, ranchers, and many more communities of practice. Evolutionary and archaeological origin stories, detective fiction, genome projects, training manuals, websites of all kinds, and magazines ranging from literary rags to holistic health newsletters do not begin to contain the proliferation of contemporary dog discourses. The oral and written practices are dense, and the social worlds are many." (Haraway 2000)

Gregory Bateson asked "How do ideas interact?" (Bateson:xvii) while Donna has always literalized knowledge dynamics: like Bateson she understands that things are knots "in a field of relatedness" (Haraway & Goodeve:94) and that the lively processes are what matter in material-semiosis.

Such lively processes are akin to the friendships that anchor and concretize our interdisciplinarities. How could we know it all? How much we depend upon each other in collective knowledge projects. How much we have to honor the friends who do work quite other than our own, to know and value it without asking them to leave their work and do ours. It is the friendship of interdisciplinarity that permits us to decenter ourselves and practice intellectual generosities. 

Interdisciplinary work requires great friendships. As Donna says "[i]nterdisciplinarity is risky but how else are new things going to be nurtured?" (Haraway & Goodeve:46)


Bateson G. (1972) Steps to an ecology of mind. Chandler.
Berkana Institute. (Accessed 2002) Description of Macy Conferences, at: http://berkana.org/
Bowker GC and Star SL. (1999) Sorting things out. MIT.
Haraway D and Goodeve TN. (2000) How like a leaf. Routledge.
Haraway D. (2000) Personal communication.
Mead M. (1972) Blackberry winter. Morrow.
Suchman L. (2000) Located Accountabilities in Technology Production, published by the Centre for Science Studies, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA 4YN, UK, in pdf online HERE