Imagining Technologies for Disability Futures

Description

Imagining Technologies for Disability Futures is a multidisciplinary and multi-institution research project, led by Professor Murray, focusing on the relationship between cultural and artistic imaginings of disability technologies (such as prosthetics and other assistive technologies) and their design, production and use in engineering and healthcare settings. Working with partners in Dundee (in product design), Sheffield (robotics) and Exeter (medical humanities and phenomenology) as well as mechanical engineering and service users in Leeds, we are exploring the boundaries and processes that constitute disability futures, looking at how ideas of imagining, engineering, design, selfhood, embodiment, and care shape the production and meaning of disability, augmentation and enhancement. We are also interested in the ways in which the various narratives that represent augmented/enhanced futures are framed within contemporary ideas – posthuman, transhuman, biohybrid, robot – that might articulate disability experiences within the development of health technologies and cultures.

While scholarly engagements with representations of disability augmentation and enhancement technologies in the arts and humanities often suggest that there is a reciprocal connection between the cultural imaginings of augmented selves, technological developments in the field, and the use of these technologies in real-world settings, such scholarship has not, so far, taken place through actual collaboration with researchers in engineering, robotics, design and people with disabilities in order to investigate the actual nature and scope of these suggested relationships. Connections between arts and humanities-based, product design and engineering/robotics methodologies are hugely underexplored, but they suggest points of productive comparison: models of empathy, the imagining of objects, conceptions and ethics of use and value, and notions of a transformed self. ‘Imagining Technology for Disability Futures’ is the first Medical Humanities research project to bring together expertise across these specific research areas, and our work aims to contribute new knowledge to discussions of augmentation and supplementation in relation to understanding technologically-driven futures of disability experience. 

Component parts of the project have been funded by Wellcome Trust ISSF award that explored initial shared interests between English and Mechanical Engineering, a Wellcome Trust Seed Award (‘Augmenting the Body’, 2017) and an APEX award for multidisciplinary research, entitled ‘Engineering the Imagination’, funded by the British Academy, Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering (2017/18). ‘Engineering the Imagination’ was an invited project exhibit at the first British Academy Summer Showcase in June 2018.