The ghost in the machine: prostheses, phantoms, and futures unknown
(University of Edinburgh)
Paper short abstract:
Prosthetising invokes the promise of endless regeneration in a biotechnical future; the self unleashed from its corporeal constraints. Prostheses may have become fertile metaphoric territory, but how do these imagined futures capture the realities of patients undergoing prosthetic rehabilitation?
Paper long abstract:
Rehabilitation following amputation places a premium on the aesthetics and kinesthetics of the upright and bipedal body. Prosthetists and patients alike speak of seamless integration of the inorganic into the body schema. Ironically, this is accomplished through a process of compartmentalizing, reducing the body to a series of parts that can be replaced by technological components. This creates a market of various limbs, the qualities of which may at first appear to surpass the limits of the human body. However, the ability of patients to make use of such devices is contingent on both their specific biology post amputation, and the economic resources that they, and their health workers are able to access. Using ethnographic fieldwork conducted with physicians, prosthetists and patients in an inpatient prosthetic rehabilitation centre in Serbia, I argue that the rehabilitation of bodies and of the state itself share desires to achieve a state of 'normalcy'. The phantom residues of a previous life (and limb) continue to influence the trajectories of patients, as they struggle toward a universal norm. In knowing that they will fall short of this ideal, many aim for an acceptable deviation from this. This is renegotiated each time a current limb no longer aligns with the kind of citizen a patient imagines themselves as being, and is thus never a complete integration of the technological into the biological. This constantly regenerated prosthetic citizen, constrained by economies, national politics and trade relations therefore problematizes the promise of a technological future with infinite possibilities.