American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations

FutureBodies: Octavia Butler as a Post-Colonial Cyborg Theorist

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Radhika Gajjala

Second Advisor

Ellen Berry (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Maisha Wester (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Susan Brown (Committee Member)


Donna Haraway has referred to Octavia Butler as a "theorist for cyborgs" and while much work has been done to critically analyze Butler's novels and short stories, there has been very little attention paid to her contributions as a theorist in her own right. Located at the intersection of postcolonial and cyborg theory, this study examines reason across Octavia Butler's oeuvre, which groups historically have been granted access to reason via dominant discourses, and how Butler's novels and short stories rework these discourses, creating an inclusive model of reason.

The study examines the historical linkages between Christianity and reason which fueled nineteenth century colonial projects as well as examining the construction of people of color as irrational and Butler's postcolonial counter-discursive strategies in her novels Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. Examining power in patterns of communication and knowledge production, the study also analyzes how the development of the experimental life in Europe in the seventeenth century shut out members of socially marginalized groups of the discursive site of the laboratory. Butler's Xenogenesis and Patternist series, however, provide an example of networked communication that allows all participants to act as knowledge producers, granting women and people of color the ability to speak authoritatively. Finally, the study examines how Butler unites reason and religion in her Parable series to provide a grounded theoretical model to build these inclusive communication networks into the structure of a culture. The theory Butler proposes provides us with a working model that stresses the importance of education, critical thought, and community-building in order to create a more just world.