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.
Today, forms of obscurantism—both “sophisticated” and less so—are seeing a revival as important tools of the governing order. In his Foreword to Hubert Krivine's The Earth, Tariq Ali urges us to see beyond a facile opposition between religious dogmatism and relativism, and instead look to the rich development of science in the Islamic world.
Pages from Tadhkira fi ‘ilm al-hay'a (Memoir on Astronomy) by Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, dating from 1389.