Through dissolving human-machine boundaries, the ‘cyborg’ challenges traditional conceptions of embodiment. Thus, identifying a singular conception of what it means to be human may become increasingly impossible within a contemporary, cyborg-infused reality. The term cyborg has been appropriated within a mixture of utopian and dystopian accounts to describe various hybrid bodies; Haraway’s (1991) visions of feminist liberation have intertwined with both monstrous Science-Fiction machines and ‘everyday cyborgs’ (Haddow, 2015). This talk will align with Laughlin (1997:146), arguing that we must preserve the cyborg’s explanatory power by carefully considering its applied relevance prior to labelling new innovations. A phenomenological approach will be adopted to explore cyborg depictions alongside medical literature, envisioning how robot-assisted surgeons may experience ‘being-in-the-world’ (Heidegger, 1996) through present and future surgical systems. When the surgeon extends their natural, material body into the world and specifically the patient’s body, they gain feedback in return. However, when the surgeon merges with the robot to extend their body, their feedback is felt through the machine and translated back into their body in an alternative, mechanized form. Consequently, by considering the level of bodily autonomy robot-assisted surgeons are able to maintain while temporarily enhancing their bodies through technology, I will argue that conceptualising robot-assisted surgeons as cyborgs risks descending the term into the metaphorical banal; robot-assisted surgeons currently have the ability to fully detach themselves from the machine and maintain agency over their own bodies. While Science-Fiction cyborgs alter their identity through subjecting their own bodies to violent reconstruction processes, surgeons shape their own identities through reconstructing the bodies of others. However, due to rapid technological advancement there is a distinct possibility that surgeons may one day become cyborg, further breaching their bodily boundaries to access new, subjective worlds in the pursuit of professional excellence.
About the speaker
Rachel Simpson is a Masters by Research Student in Science Technology and Innovation Studies at the University of Edinburgh. She is currently undertaking a qualitative research project entitled ‘Regulating Robotic Surgery: new sociological explorations in ethics and embodiment’ which aims to explore human-machine interactions within a variety of clinical settings.
Haddow, G. et al., 2015. Cyborgs in the Everyday: Masculinity and Biosensing Prostate Cancer. Science as Culture, 24(4), pp.1–23.
Haraway, Donna. 1991. A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminisim in the Late Twentieth Century. In Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge: Chapter 8
Heidegger, M. & Stambaugh, J., 1996. Being and time : a translation of Sein und Zeit, Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press.
Laughlin, C.D., 1997. The Evolution of Cyborg Consciousness. Anthropology of Consciousness, 8(4), pp.144–159.