Reading the Cyborg in Singapore Technology, Gender, and Empowerment

Shirley Soh

We live in a cyborg society today. Many of us are cyborgs, wittingly or unwittingly. A cyborg, an abbreviation of cybernetic organism, refers to a technologically enhanced human being who could survive in extreme environments.1 If a cyborg is a being improved or sustained in some way by an external agency, there are, indeed, many cyborgs among us. Spectacles enhance our vision, we take drugs for our ailments, use prostheses, have pacemaker implants, and wear hearing aids; even our mobile phones make us cyborgs. The range of human-machine couplings, according to Chris Hables Gray, Steve Mentor, and Heidi J. Figueroa-Sarriera, defies definition: “from the quadriplegic dependent on a vast array of high tech equipment to a small child with an immunization.”2 However, Gray et al. also highlight the great difference between a kidney patient on a dialysis machine and a combat pilot in his fighter aircraft; the patient uses technologies to maintain normal bodily functioning while the pilot cyborg is an enhanced being, “a man-plus.”3 These examples show that there can be different kinds of cyborg bodies and different dimensions of technological enhancements. If there are different kinds of cyborg bodies, are these bodies also empowered differently and how is gender relations thus affected? In this paper, I will be looking at cyborg bodies and the cyborgization process using Singapore as a case study, particularly the implications of technology for gender relations. For the investigation, the paper will refer to a fictional cyborg from Donna Haraway’s seminal essay, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminist in the Late Twentieth Century.”4 I begin with the AWARE saga that took place in Singapore in 2009.

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