Disposable bodies: robots and care in Real Humans
(University of Leeds)
Paper short abstract:
This paper will consider how the imaginary posthuman affects depicted in Real Humans can assist us in analyzing the political and ethical implications of actual care robots.
Paper long abstract:
This paper will consider a central question underpinning the Swedish television program Real Humans (2012-2014), which imagines a world in which humanoid robots, or hubots, have become ordinary and ubiquitous: what happens when we treat machines like people, and people like machines? In the program hubots are used for a variety of "menial" tasks, including sex work, housekeeping, childcare, and eldercare. Its representations of posthuman care highlight many of the ethical and political issues central to the study of aging, vulnerability, and care. In particular, my inquiry will consider the ways Real Humans explores and exploits the gendered and racialized affective economies that structure care work in the developed world, economies that depend on the emotional and physical labour of marginalized workers. In its depictions of human-like machines tasked with giving care, Real Human exposes the cultural denigration of care work, the dismissal of particular bodies (elderly, racialized, gendered) as peripheral and disposable. The robots distributed for care, along with the humans they care for, most often children, the elderly, and "needy women," suggest a provocative affinity between diverse vulnerable bodies -- old, young and mechanical. This paper will consider how the imaginary posthuman affects depicted in Real Humans can assist us in analyzing the political and ethical implications of existing robots designed for care, such as Paro, Miro, and Care-O-bot 4. The program reveals how caregiving machines perpetuate the exploitation and marginalization central to affective economies built on the undervaluation of care and the denigration of dependency.
Imagining and making futures