Wired for interdependency: Disabling cyborg identities in feminist science fiction

Laurie Ann Carlson, University of Rhode Island


Representation is seldom kind to bodies that have been marked by otherness; acknowledging this is neither new nor controversial. In the visual/ narrative culture we live in, representation is how we make meaning out of the world. Through signs and symbols we name things, and through that act of naming, meaning is formed. This meaning, which cannot be divorced from the culture and society that created it, has very real world consequences. This statement might be especially true of those bodies marked by disability. In this dissertation I argue that not only do people with disabilities comprise the United States‘ largest minority group, but disability is the one identity category that connects us all. Its fluidity as a identity category is both why it has the potential to reshape the way we see identity groups and the body, and perhaps also behind the cultural impetus to disavow our largest minority presence. The idea that none of us is ever more than temporarily able body is not a fact many are willing to accept and moreover, disability is seemingly antithetical to the American ideals of autonomy and independence. Yet, what if we were to value interdependence? Cyborgs are wired for interdependency. Of course, feminist readings of cyborgs are not new. They have been analyzed at length to examine the socially constructed nature and socio-political consequences of gender, race, class, and sexuality. Recently, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson has suggested that the hybrid figure of the female cyborg be used to look at people with disabilities in a new light. Nobody, however, has used the lens of Disabilities Studies and its valuing of interdependence to look at cyborgs. It is my premise that doing so will give us a fresh way to look at minority identities in the context of science fiction. Doing so will open up a space for considering the disabled female body as a lived reality in a manner that is not saturated with the stigmatic juxtaposition with the norm. To achieve this, I focus on the works of three renowned writers of feminist science fiction: Anne McCaffrey (1926-), Octavia Butler (1946-2005), and James Tiptree, Jr. (1915-1987). Aside from being three of the most influential female writers in the field, the structures, styles and themes of their works defy normative notions of the body. In my examination of the resulting new form of bodies and identities, I focus on McCaffrey‘s works in relation to disability identity, Butler‘s in relation to race, and Tiptree in conversation with gender.

Subject Area

Womens studies|American literature

Recommended Citation

Laurie Ann Carlson, "Wired for interdependency: Disabling cyborg identities in feminist science fiction" (2011). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3464732.