Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 December 2021
Donna Haraway lives in a modest one-story house in Santa Cruz, California. Solar panels collect sunlight on the roof and a tangle of eclectic bushes, grasses, flowers, and fruit trees grows out front instead of a lawn. A Honda CRV minivan with an octopus sticker on the back bumper was parked in the driveway. She greeted me at the door with a smile and an infectious laugh. A doe-eyed black dog, Shindychew—named for a fictional planet in an Ursula K. Le Guin novel—was instructed to stop barking and sit. But Shindychew couldn't quite contain her tendency to guard the house as I made my way inside.
Haraway is a child of the 1960s, known for her playful and subversive ideas about science and technology. Over the years, her writing inspired a number of bumper stickers. In the 1980s legions of feminists rallied behind her slogan “I’d rather be a cyborg than a goddess.” More recently she suggested “We have never been human”—riffing on the fact that fungi, bacteria, and other microbes outnumber human cells in the spaces that we call our body. With this new slogan, Haraway was not only describing the past and the present condition of humanity. She was also gesturing toward the future of our species.
In her small and sharply appointed kitchen, an iconic magnet graced the fridge: a Darwin fish—a parody of the Christian Jesus fish—with legs popping out of the bottom, suggesting “We evolved.” I asked about the octopus on her minivan, knowing that she celebrates the “cunning intelligence” of octopuses in her writing. They are “adept at getting out of difficulties,” she said, with “tentacles where proper men would have beards.” Wiggling her fingers with excitement as she talks, it was as if she was extending her own tentacles into the air.
I have known Haraway since 2003, when I enrolled in one of her courses. She later joined my PhD dissertation committee and became my mentor. Over the years I visited her house for department parties and potluck dinners. I was visiting again to report back—to tell her about my research among the world's first edited people—and listen to her ongoing thinking about technological and scientific enterprises that are rapidly changing what it means to be human.