PRIMATE VISIONS: Gender, Race, and Nature in the Worm of Modern Science by Donna Haraway
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PRIMATE VISIONS: Gender, Race, and Nature in the Worm of Modern Science

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Primate visions. . .and revisions! This extraordinary volume explores the cultural/historical/personal anlagen that have colored the work of primatologists, anthropologists, paleontologists, et al. since the turn of the century. We are told that this ""will not be a disinterested, objective study""; that it will be responsible ""to the broad left, anti-racist, anti-colonial, and women's movements, to animals, and to lovers of serious stories."" And so it is. Haraway (Biology/U. of Cal. at Santa Cruz) brings to her sociology of science a critical stance that reflects the French tradition of Foucault and Derrida, the semiotics theory of Eco and others, and her own unique vision. The result is not feminist revisionist history--indeed, one of the book's major strengths lies in revealing the diversity of feminist points of view. Instead, Haraway peels away at the ""stories"" scientists have told to explain the passage from ape to human, from sex (male and female) to gender (man and woman), from nature to culture. She accomplishes this through ""deconstruction"" and ""destabilization"" of the accounts of science, reconstructing them ""out of context"" in light of major factors affecting observation and experiment. These factors include colonialism, WW II, postwar decolonization, United Nations statements on race, the threat of nuclear war, and the women's liberation movement. Within science are the developments of ethology, sociobiology, the advent of women fieldworkers in primatology, fossil discoveries, and the major schools defined by mentors, disciples, and networks linking campuses and field stations in America, England, Africa, and Japan. Haraway is superb in delineating these genealogies and supplying critical intellectual biographies. She begins with ""Teddy Bear Patriarchy""--embodied in the work of Carl Akeley, the man behind the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History, moves on to Yerkes at Yale, Harlow at Wisconsin, and to Washburn, Devore, Lee and Hinde among the men, and to Goodall, Altmann, Fossey, Jolly, and Hardy among the women, telling their ""stories""--be they man the hunter or woman the gatherer. She ends by describing today's western ""groping"" for ways to narrate difference--a dilemma reflecting the persistence of antagonism versus cooperation, group versus individual selection--illustrating the tensions in a sci-fi plot of Octavia Butler. Ingenious, formidable (watch that deconstructive prose), outstanding.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Routledge