A controversial landmark in science studies, Donna Haraway's Primate Visions: Gender, Race and Nature in the World of Modern Science was first published by Routledge in 1989 and reissued by Verso in 1992.
"How," Haraway asks at the book's opening, "are love, power, and science intertwined in the constructions of nature in the late twentieth century?"
What may count as nature for late industrial people? What forms does love of nature take in particular historical contexts? For whom and at what cost? In what specific places, out which social and intellectual histories, and with what tools is nature constructed as an object of intellectual and erotic desire? How do the terrible marks of gender and race enable and constrain love and knowledge in particular cultural traditions, including the modern natural sciences? Who may contest for what the body of nature will be? These questions guide my history of the modern sciences and popular cultures emerging from accounts of the bodies and lives of monkeys and apes.
Taking primatology as a "storytelling craft," Haraway reconstructs the history of studies of primate behavior in the United States through a series of interlinking essays in cultural studies, the history of science, and feminist analysis. In the essay below, from the book's first section — "Monkeys and Monopoly Capitalism: Primatalogy Before World War II" — Haraway locates the discipline's foundation in a larger process of colonial extraction.
Detail from Fig 2.2 in Primate Visions: "A Monkey-College to Make Chimpanzees Human," from International Feature Service Inc., 1924. Robert M. Yerkes Papers. Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.
Before the Second World War, non-human primates were already the subject of international western interest, with research stations and conservation areas fostered by France, Belgium, Russia, Germany, and the United States. Literally and figuratively, primate studies were a colonial affair, in which knowledge of the living and dead bodies of monkeys and apes was part of the system of unequal exchange of extractive colonialism. Primate bodies grounded the discourses that rested on a flow of value from the lands where monkeys and apes lived to the lands where they were exhibited and textualized. Nonhuman primates were a fundamental part of the apparatus of colonial medicine. Part of the ideological framework justifying this directed flow of knowledge was the great chain of being structuring western imperial imaginations; apes especially were located in a potent place on that chain.
Steven Rose, co-author of Genes, Cells and Brains: The Promethean Promises of the New Biology, is joined by philosopher Julian Baggini and leading geneticists Caroline Relton and Adrian Bird to debate whether we are on the edge of a radical new account of life and evolution.
The debate centers on the potential of the new science of epigenetics to provide such an alternative account. Are we moving away from the notion that DNA provides the definitive blueprint for life?
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The discussion is part of the Philosophy for our Times series, hosted by The Institute of Arts and Ideas, a collection of cutting edge debates and talks from prominent thinkers. You can see all of video content from the Institute here.
We admittedly live in times plagued by an obsession with genetic manipulation of both ourselves and our species’ evolutionary path. Hilary and Steven Rose’s latest book, Genes, Cells and Brains, has stirred up a debate around the scientific validity and the moral implications of these efforts. Here is what reviewers Steven Poole, from the Guardian, Ian Wilmut, from Nature, and Debora MacKenzie, from the New Scientist had to say:Putting aside certain epistemological doubts (as in, how can we be skeptical of neuroscanning experiments for making assertions that we can neither prove nor disprove using any other sort of reference; or, alluding to underlying behavioural characteristics of which we know neither their provenance nor how and where they manifest themselves), Steven Poole generally endorses the book’s motives and claims, which are that the science behind using the human genome and brain scans to understand and interpret humans and their behaviours is much more vague and imprecise than its proponents would like us to think. Additionally, he points out that the ‘medicalization’ which comes as a result is not only vague and imprecise; it is, in fact, dangerous as it provides the pharma-industry and the healthcare business with much more responsibilities and powers than they should be afforded.