For lack of a better expression, shit hit the fan today in the world of science and science studies. And it’s all Brian Cox’s and Robin Ince’s fault.
This is the moment I have been waiting for. Dissertation semester slowly approaches, and so do PhD proposal writings, and thus I have begun the time when I am free to explore the beautiful realm of prosthetics for actual studying purposes.
Which also means more constant updates. Whilst before it meant simply documenting an interest, this now means documenting my research. For the time being, there’ll be little reference to actual articles, but I will be exposing daily findings of prosthetics and biomechanics found from anything and everything.
Shall we begin?
Currently working on a paper proposal for the 15^th Anniversary Conference of the Work Group Medical Anthropology of the German Anthropological Association.
This is what I have so far. Criticism is highly encouraged.
"Though prosthetics have existed for millennia, it is only in recent decades that technological advancements have permitted medicine to mimic nature more thoroughly. This new generation of artificial limbs have come closer and closer to blurring the boundaries between human and mechanical. In this paper, I propose to take a closer look in the way the user of prosthesis integrate them in their daily lives. By the means of interviews and observations we explore the adaptation and eventual internalization of the limb by its wearer, searching to grasp not only the psychological consequences but also the social impact it may have. "
Bodies, as we perceive them, are normally bounded in space – they appear to us as whole and impermeable, separated from other bodies and the environment by a boundary that we call the skin. Eating and metabolic bodies, however, open up and incorporate their environment complicating this distinction between inside and outside. But eating bodies are not radically unbounded and permeable; rather, they are semi-permeable, keeping some things inside and excreting others. A mouth can be such a semi-permeable boundary, but other organs (the esophagus, the cardia, the pancreas, the rectum) and metabolic and digestive processes (cooking, chewing, swallowing, ingesting, absorbing, and excreting) can also be described as semi-permeable boundaries separating and mediating between several insides/outsides. How are such boundaries done and studied in practice? What are the repertoires of spatial models/imaginations that can be drawn from such boundary work? How do these boundaries reconfigure what it could mean to eat? And how can those models/imaginations afford a different sense of what a body can be and do? These are some of the questions that I hope to explore in my project by probing situations where eating (as defined above) is considered problematic.
I had never considered that AT ALL. The notion of seeing our bodies as a “semi-permeable boundary” is immensely interesting! We do indeed absorb things around is, physical things, for nutrients and oxygen. Let’s push the boundaries on this notion: if we integrate the exterior into us, what makes cyborgs so different from us? Is is the sheer mechanics of it all? Where does the limit lie? We accept food, and many artificial elements are ingested through food-coloring and conserving agents, etc, yet people who eat colorful candies are less conspicuous than those who have mechanical limbs for a valid purpose (bettering the quality of their daily lives).
It seems to all come down to pure social values. But as a speaker put out to us at the Utopiales Sci-Fi meeting in Nantes, France: where does the limit lie between healing and augmenting?
Both healthy minds and healthy bodies may be crippled. The fact that “normal” people can get around, can see, can hear, doesn’t mean that they are seeing or hearing. They can be very blind to the things that spoil their happiness, very deaf to the pleas of others for kindness; when I think of them I do not feel any more crippled or disabled than they. Perhaps in some small way I can be the means of opening their eyes to the beauties around us (…)."
- Irving Goffman, “Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity”, 1963.
Once again, I feel obliged to excuse myself (again, to myself) for my absence. It is not because I’m not more present in this blog (notepad, information hoarder) that I do not continue my reading on cyborgs, androids and robots (oh my!).
I’m currently taking deviance sociology here in Rome (Università di Roma Tre) with a Neapolitan teacher by the name of D’Agostino. I have been fortunate enough in my Italian language level to be able to understand what he says 90% of the time. The fact that he spent a while studying at Berkeley University in California might help, as he speaks English and is available every time I’ve needed help.
All personal information aside, Goffman’s book “Stigma” is a biggie on this teacher’s bibliography. I’d already read his “Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior”, which I found absolutely amazing. However, I read it during my first year of studies, and feel that it is now time to go through it again (the same must be said about many of the classics I read throughout that first year). However, “Stigma” seems to be right up our alley, my dear friends.
Let’s refresh Aimee Mullins TED talk. She follows in the same line as the multiple sclerotic Goffman quotes. She declares not feeling any more disabled than “normals”. The terminology utilized is also interesting. For the sake of simplicity, Goffman choses to name “normals” those of us who are not branded or marked or show any trace of outer, or inner stigma. That is to say, those who show no trace of visible, or known, stigma. Example: a person lacking a limb carries a stigma, as does (in those times and even to this day in some places) a person who is known to be homosexual.
I believe Goffman’s book carries with it an interesting idea to explore when working with cyborgs. Why? Because we may have to redefine the whole concept of physical stigma, specially when it is used as a negative definition. Normality in itself might have to be redefined if becoming a cyborg becomes normality. Of course, this all comes with the one “hiccup” of having to define a cyborg in itself, which, believe me, I am having quite a lot of difficulties.
For the moment, I’ll leave you with this, and with a strong recommendation: read this book, it is great! In true Goffman form, it is simple to read and digest, and full of great testimonies and definitions.
PS: I’m hoping to become a lot more active once again. I’d forgot what a pleasure it is to write without really thinking about it, and that is what this blog is for, after all. Plus, I finally finished reading the “Millenium” trilogy by Stieg Larsson. Worth a read if you’re into detective stories, but B- for narrative. Though that might be because of the translation… Ok! I’m off!
Tumblr world! I am BACK!
Yes, I know, I never actually said I was going to be gone, but hey… I was busy. I’ve been traveling a lot these last few months, but I am finally settled again. My headquarters are now in Rome, Italy. They were in Nantes, France, before.
I now have time to continue my reading and research, so expect a lot more from this little… scrapbook on cyborgs on the weeks to follow. I’ll keep you all posted. ;)