Witches and cyborgs: Materialist feminist debates on extractivism, technoscience, and reproduction

This year the marxisms collective RIW will focus on coordinating a series of reading and discussion groups on a theme tentatively titled “Witches and cyborgs: Materialist feminist debates on extractivism, technoscience, and reproduction.” Throughout the year we will be engaging with the writings of Silvia Federici, Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Selma James, Angela Y. Davis, Veronica Gago, Shulamith Firestone, Donna Haraway, Helen Hester and Sophie Lewis.

In the wake of the pandemic and the proliferation of class struggles for social reproduction and against racialized and gendered forms of premature death a crisis that looms over all struggles is that of ecological disaster. How have materialist feminists theorized the interlocking aspects of this multifaceted crisis? 

On the one hand, in feminist struggles throughout the world the archaic figure of “the witch” emerges as a disruptive naturalist force against the contemporary forms of extraction (of bodies, territories and in digital worlds). This is perhaps most clearly theorized by Silvia Federici’s seminal book Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation and also been taken up by feminist thinker Veronica Gago in the wake of the Latin American feminist “green tide” (see Feminist International: How to change everything). 

On the other hand, in contemporary struggles it is also possible to trace the distinct futurist figure of “the cyborg” which turns towards the repurposing of capitalist technoscience for emancipatory goals. This tendency can be read in the works of Donna Haraway’s “A cyborg manifesto” and, more recently, in the anti-naturalist, technomaterialist and gender abolitionist variants of “xenofeminism.” The vital relevance of these debates on reproduction, extractivism and technoscience can also be read in the recent (and to some quite polemical) call by Sophie Lewis – following the “cyborg” and xenofeminist line– to abolish the family. 

A group of us have selected a series of writings that will frame some of the relevant debates that span the spectrum delimited by these two apparent polarities.

Our first meeting will be on Friday, September 23, at 4pm via Zoom. We will begin by reading and discussing a chapter of Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation titled “The great-witch hunt in Europe” and a more recent essay titled “Re-enchanting the World: Technology, the Body, and the Construction of the Commons.”

If you are interested in a PDF of the readings and in joining us in the reading group this year please email alejo AT umich DOT edu

Image credit: Midjourney AI