Jim's Dog

Donna Haraway| University of California at Santa Cruz


Meet Jim’s Dog. My university colleague and friend Jim Clifford took this photograph during a December walk in one of the damp canyons of the Santa Cruz, California, greenbelt near his home.  This attentive, sitting dog endured only for a season.  The next winter the shapes and light in the canyon did not vouchsafe a canine soul to animate the burned out redwood stump covered with redwood needles, mosses, ferns, lichens—and even a little California bay laurel seedling for a docked tail—that a friend’s eye had found for me the year before.  So many species, so many kinds, meet in Jim’s dog, who suggests an answer to my question, whom and what do we touch when we touch this dog?  How does this touch make us more worldly, in alliance with all the beings who work and play for an alter-globalization that can endure more than one season?


We touch Jim’s dog with fingery eyes made possible by a fine digital camera, computers, servers, and email programs through which the high-density jpg was sent to me.1 Infolded into the metal, plastic, and electronic flesh of the digital apparatus is the primate visual system that Jim and I have inherited, with its vivid color sense and sharp focal power.  Our kind of capacity for perception and sensual pleasure tie us to the lives of our primate kin. Touching this heritage, our worldliness must answer to and for those other primate beings, both in their ordinary habitats and in labs, television and film studios, and zoos. Also, the biological colonizing opportunism of organisms, from the glowing but invisible viruses and bacteria to the crown of ferns on top of this pooch’s head, is palpable in the touch.  Biological species diversity and all that asks in our time come with this found dog.

In this camera-begot canid’s haptic-optic touch, we are inside the histories of IT engineering, electronic product assembly-line labor, mining and IT waste disposal, plastics research and manufacturing, transnational markets, communications systems, and technocultural consumer habits.  The people and the things are in mutually constituting, intra-active touch.2 Visually and tactically, I am in the presence of the intersectional race, sex, age, class, and region differentiated systems of labor that made Jim’s dog live.  Response seems the least that is required in this kind of worldliness.

This dog could not have come to me without the leisure-time promenading practices of the early twenty-first century in a coastal, central-California, university town.  Those urban walking pleasures touch the labor practices of late nineteenth-century loggers, who, without chainsaws, cut the tree whose burned stump took on a post-arboreal life.  Where did the lumber from that tree go?  The history of deliberate firing by the loggers and of the lightening-caused fires in dry-season California carved Jim’s dog from the tree’s blackened remains.  Indebted to the histories of both environmentalism and class, the greenbelt policies of California cities resisting the fate of Silicon Valley ensured that Jim’s dog was not bulldozed for housing at the western edge of real-estate hungry Santa Cruz.  The water-eroded and earthquake-sculpted ruggedness of the canyons helped too.  The same civic policies and earth histories also allow cougars to stroll down from the campus woodlands through the brushy canyons defining this part of town.  Walking with my dogs off leash in these canyons makes me think about these possible feline presences.  I reclip the leashes.  Visually fingering Jim’s dog is touching all the important ecological and political histories and struggles of ordinary small cities asking who should eat whom and who should co-habit. The rich naturalcultural contact zones multiply with each tactile look.  Jim’s dog is a provocation to curiosity, which I regard as one of the first obligations and deepest pleasures of worldly companion species.

Jim’s seeing the mutt in the first place was an act of friendship from a man for whom dogs had not been particularly present nor sought in his life before his colleague seemed to think about and respond to little else.  Furry dogs were not the ones who then came to him, but another sort of canid quite as wonderful dogged his path. As my informants in U.S. purebred dog culture would say, Jim’s is a real dog, a one-off, like a fine mixed-ancestry dog who could never be replicated but must be encountered.  Surely, there is no question about the mixed and myriad ancestors, as well as contemporaries, in this encrusted charcoal dog.  I think this is what Alfred North Whitehead might have meant by a concrescence of prehensions.3 It is definitely at the heart of what I learn when I ask whom I touch when I touch a dog.  I learn something about how to inherit in the flesh.  Woof...

Reassembled and mutated from When Species Meet (Minnesota University Press, 2008) for Pintacanes 2009

Donna Haraway is a retired professor in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California at Santa Cruz,where she teaches feminist theory and science studies. She is also an affiliated faculty member in the Women’s Studies, Anthropology and Environmental Studies Departments at UCSC. Dr. Haraway is the author of Crystals, Fabrics and Fields: Metaphors of Organicism in Twentieth-Century Developmental Biology (Yale University Press, 1976), Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science(Routledge, 1989; Verso,1992), Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (Routledge,1991; Free Association Books, 1991) and Modest_Witness @Second_Millennium. FemaleMan(c) Meets OncoMouse (New York and London: Routledge, 1997).


1 “Fingery eyes” is Eva Hayward’s term for the haptic-optic join of camera with marine critters, especially invertebrates, at the multiple interfaces of water, air, glass, and other media through which visual touch occurs in art and science.  See Eva Hayward, “Fingery Eyes: Impressions of Cup Corals,” Submitted to Cultural Anthropology, 2009

2 Intra-action is Karen Barad’s term.  By my borrowing, I also touch her in Jim’s dog.  Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway (Durham:  Duke University Press, 2007).

3 A.N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, Lowell Lectures, 1925 (New York: Mentor Books, 1948).  Whitehead writes:  “An event is the grasping into unity of a pattern of aspects.  The effectiveness of an event beyond itself arises from the aspects of itself which go to form the prehended unities of other events” (p. 111).