Prosthesis and the Engineered Imagination
In 2016 and 2017, Raymond Holt and Stuart Murray received funding from a British Academy APEX award to investigate relationships between the imagination/theorization and engineering of prosthetic technologies. This coincided with an ongoing Wellcome Trust project that focused on body augmentation and posthumanism, and the two opportunities allowed us to bring together our ideas on how to engineer (using the word as both an imagined creation and physical process) prosthetics. The research produced a number of outcomes, including a student project and a showcase of our work at the inaugural British Academy Summer Showcase in 2018 (https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/events/summershowcase/2018/). It also led to this article, published in BMJ Medical Humanities. In the article we explore concepts of prostheses, and embodiment more widely, in both cultural/disability theory and engineering/design, within a critical medical humanities frame. We observe how the idea of ‘the prosthetic’ is used widely in cultural studies as a shifting idea that has been applied to questions of memory, art production and theories of posthumanism, and how there has never – before this work – been any conversation between those involved in this usage and scholars who work on prostheses in engineering design or the processes through which such technologies are produced. The article suggests that there are affinities between the two disciplines that might not seem obvious on a first contemplation, particularly surrounding issues of metaphor, materiality and systems which all weave through the different working methods. The article claims that a critical dialogue between the working methods of literary/cultural studies and engineering/design, for all their obvious differences, possesses the potential to create informed and sophisticated accounts of disability embodiment. In our conclusion, we bring the strands of the enquiry together and point to the value of engineering the imagination, and imagining engineering, as both a subject and method in future medical humanities research.
Murray, Stuart & Holt, Raymond. (2019). Prosthesis and the Engineered Imagination: Reading Augmentation and Disability across Representation and Product Design. Medical Humanities. 46. 10.1136/medhum-2018-011583.