Bodies, Technology, Touch and Telepresence: itDf visits the University of Pittsburgh

Stuart Murray

Team members Luna Dolezal and Stuart Murray visited the University of Pittsburgh in October 2023 to present itDf project work to staff and students, following an invitation from Mark Paterson in Pittsburgh’s Department of Sociology. Each spoke as part of the University’s Bioethics and Health Humanities series, co-sponsored by the Center for Bioethics and Health Law. Luna spoke on ‘The Remote Body in Medicine: Touch and Telepresence on a Hospital Ward’, basing her talk on the work she has been doing with Touchlab, an Edinburgh-based robotics company, and colleagues in Sociology at University of York (Nik Brown, Sarah Nettleton and Karl Atkins). Together, they are conducting fieldwork and a sociological and phenomenological analysis of the trial of the telepresence robot Välkky in Laakso Hospital in Helsinki, Finland. Välkky is being tested on its capacity to deliver face-to-face care to older adults and Luna’s presentation considered the phenomenology of the remote body for the clinician who is operating the robot, exploring the delivery of care at a distance and mediated via a technological avatar, as well as questions of intercorporeality and affect for the patient receiving care. Read more about Touchlab’s trial of Välkky at Lakso Hospital.

Stuart’s talk was entitled ‘Disability and Technologized Embodiment’. It explored the place of disability in critical and creative thinking on the technologized body and had a focus on critical posthumanist approaches to ideas of embodiment and selfhood and their relationship to theoretical models derived from critical disability studies. The talk included examples from contemporary literature, especially the work of novelist William Gibson, which portray this association and discussed their relevance to wider debates on the topic. Stuart’s work on Gibson will appear in the forthcoming Edinburgh Companion to Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities, edited by Gavin Miller, Anna McFarlane and Donna McCormack, published later this year.

The following day, Luna and Stuart took part in a seminar on Mark’s undergraduate Body Politics module, discussing issues raised by itDf’s investigation into the relationship between bodies and technology.