May 2004

Julie Boulanger

nonfiction

The Companion Species Manifesto by Donna Haraway

Donna Haraway, a professor in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California in Santa-Cruz, is well known for her 1991 publication of A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late-Twentieth Century. She has stepped back a pace to now offer The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. I say “step back” because she now looks upon dogs as the most significant example of companion species, the cyborg being but a toddler in our world of inter-species relations.

She uses the term companion species instead of companion animal because humans, as historical and social organisms, have been affected by many species that do not fall into the animal category, such as insects and bacteria. That being said, so as to focus her argument, she bases her manifesto on the companion-species she most cares for: dogs. She hopes to explore significant otherness by taking dog-human relationships seriously, and to demonstrate the importance of history within naturecultures by examining dog-human worlds. Her main goal is to reflect upon human-animal relationships and other naturecultures to better understand our approaches (the good ones and the bad ones) to technoscience studies. She wishes to examine the “history of evolutionary biology” as a species, by studying the other species that grow with us as our helpers, workers, threats/enemies and companions/friends. The idea is to look at how these species are linked to us historically on a social, biological and behavioural level.

She concentrates her writing on two herding breeds: the Great Pyrenees and the Aurtralian Sheperd, the former being by far the star of her manifesto. With the claim that stories are bigger than ideologies, she embarks in telling us stories from the dog world with the hope that they will make us realize their importance. For Haraway, to recount the history of the breed, their origins, their working use, the trainers that have brought them up and the shows that have showed them off, is to know how to live with the histories that surround her. It is therefore by this process that we can get to know the histories of the naturecultures in which we live. To demonstrate this process she tells stories of breeding, upbringing and training, kennels, agility competitions and other games, and the stories of some dog world people, such as the trainer Vicki Hearne and Susan Garrett. She finishes with the story of the Save-a-Sato foundation, an organisation that seeks American homes for Puerto Rican street dogs, stating (and rightly so) that the undocumented species often say more of how our world has been built “than do the well pedigreed.”

Certain elements of Haraway’s writing style bothered this reader. First, she is quite wordy. Too often, too many words seem to be used when less could be, and would be preferable for the sake of clarity. Second, her manifesto is littered with name and theory dropping. It simply is not necessary to resume a theorist’s concept or book to one sentence (a wordy one, at that) to expose her thought on the matter, or how it affected her thought pattern. Last, throughout the book she repeats the reasons why she wrote such a manifesto. These (eventually annoying) repetitions make it feel as though she is continually trying to convince her readers of the validity of such a project.

On the good side, she does share some interesting insights on the training process of a dog as a way to remind her reader of the master/slave dynamic that is the basis of all relationships, and the respect each owes the other. She confronts the Western problematic of unconditional love and misplaced affection for their dogs, stating that: “To regard dogs as a furry child, even metaphorically, demeans dogs and children -- and sets up children to be bitten and dogs to be killed.” The book is also a great account of the Great Pyrenees and is of interest for the lovers of that breed.

Haraway admits in her intro that the point of her manifesto is a personal one, one she is passionate about, and that she truly believes in the importance for scholars and laymen to reflect upon the historical, social and biological effect of inter-species relationships. I made my way through these pages wondering: “Why can’t she convince me?” The existence of naturecultures, the co-habitation of species and their inter-dependent development all make sense. Maybe it is because her manifesto only glimpses over, not offering the depth the matter deserves. So I ask myself: “Am I the one who doesn’t get the point of manifestos? Should they be so general? Do they usually lack rigor due to an underlying over-personal topic?” Maybe I am just enough of a dog person to understand the implications, but not enough of one to truly care.

The Companion Species Manifesto by Donna Haraway
Prickly Paradigm Press
ISBN: 0971757585