Cyborgs: The Affect upon Identity of the Technological Modification of the Body



Literature Review

There is much that is being published in this field all the time, so the process of literature review is likely to be ongoing throughout the three years. The vast majority of books and journal articles that I will need are available at one of the CALIM libraries or on the Internet, using one of the many adjudicated electronic data sources. Particular areas of interest will include: Performativity and performance studies; disability arts practice and theory; cyborgology and posthumanism in artistic practice and in theory; sociology of technology; sociology of the body; Foucault.

Data Collection

As regards empirical study, initial data collection will follow an inductive format. This will involve a series of (unstructured) interviews with a range of different individuals. Following these, specific lines of enquiry may be pursued, depending on emerging themes and issues. It is hoped that this method will avoid the imposition of a priori categories and draw upon the experiences of informants used in the study. Alongside the interviews, participant observation will be used to enhance the validity of the study. It is hoped that this will achieve some degree of triangulation, in order to add to the validity of the analysis.


1) Non-disabled performance artists exploring Cyborgism.

Stelarc, digital performance artist in Australia - access already achieved.

Eduardo Kac, performance artist in USA - access already agreed.

Orlan, performance artist in France - access to be negotiated.

I intend to attempt to restrict my interviews to the most widely known and successful artists, who have been working in the area for the longest. This probably means that I shall interview only the three famous non-disabled performance artists noted above. However, through networking in the performance studies community, I may hear of other performance artists working in this field and will try to interview them, too.

2) Disabled Performance Artists exploring Cyborgism.

Ju90, performance artist with a brace - access already achieved

Other Disabled Performance Artists:

I intend to interview a minimum of six disabled artists. I will need a wider range of interviewees, not only because they are neither as famous nor as successful as the non-disabled artists, but because they will each differ in large measure as to their specific disability. I shall seek to find the following categories of technologically modified bodies, for interview.

  • (i) An artist using technology for movement: Ju90 has a brace, which immobilises her spine.
  • (ii) An artist using technology for movement, with prosthetic limbs.
  • (iii) An artist using technology for hearing, (preferably an implant.)
  • (iv) An artist using technology for vision, (not simply spectacles.)
  • (v) An artist using technology for speech, (computerised voice, etc)
  • (vi) An artist using technology for communication in general, (brain implants..)

Each of these artists should be working in the field of identity, its representation, its meaning, and the uniqueness of identities for the disabled.

3) Scientists in the bioengineering sector.

In March 2000 I hope to be attending the 6th Performance Studies International Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, to deliver a paper. Whilst in the US, I hope to meet and interview some of the scientists working at the forefront of their fields. I am currently in the process of negotiating access to the following people:

  • (i) Glen Klute, Joseph Czerniecki, and/or Blake Hannaford, at Washington's BioRobotics Lab, University of Washington, who are at the forefront of biomechanical prosthetic technology.
  • (ii) Richard Norman and his team of scientists at The Centre for Neural Interfaces at Utah University in Salt Lake City, who are making the most advanced neuro-prosthetic devices, or implant chips, in the world.
  • (iii) Elizabeth Thomson, Director of The Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) Research Program, National Human Genome Research Institute, (NHGRI), Bethesda, Maryland, (or one of her colleagues). The ELSI Program includes in its remit for 1998-2003 a commitment to "explore ways in which new genetic knowledge may interact with a variety of philosophical, theological, and ethical perspectives."
  • (iv) Prof. Warwick, Reading University, UK - the man whose implant opens doors and switches on his computer, as highlighted in the national press Summer 1998.


I shall be able to find and contact disabled artists through a number of channels:

  • (i) Ju90 knows many others like herself, and has agreed to help introduce me to some of them.
  • (ii) I hope to attend PSi6, in Phoenix, Arizona, which is focusing on 'The Visceral and the Virtual', and which I expect to be attended by many individuals in the field of cyborg-exploration.
  • (iii) All the Regional Arts Boards, and the Arts Council of England, have comprehensive listings of professional artists working in their areas. The RABs also have an officer responsible for disability arts who will be able to advise me who is appropriate for me to contact, and give me an introduction.

Networking in the Arts community is something I have been doing for some 20years, and I am confident, therefore, of finding many such artists. I have programmed disability arts performances at local authority venues in the past, and still have their contact details. Although none of these performers actually fit into the noted categories, I have no doubt they would have contacts and be able to help.

Negotiating access to US scientists may be tricky, however there are a number of gatekeepers I believe will be of great assistance in securing these interviews. The fact of being a UK researcher visiting the US during a limited period of time, for the purpose of delivering a paper at an International Conference, will stand in my favour. I met both Dr Kristin B. Valentine, and Dr. Leslie Hill, of Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona, at the PSi5 in Aberystwyth, in April 1999, and they are joint organisers of the PSi6, and encouraged me to submit a paper to deliver at the conference. Preliminary contact with other US academics, through these individuals, promises to be of great help. Also, I hope that if I am able to contact Professor Warwick at Reading University, he will be able to help me get access to these US researchers.

Ethical Issues

Due to the nature of the research field and methods of data collection, ethical and confidentiality issues will be kept in mind at all stages of the research. The research will conform to the BSA (1989) criteria on ethically sound research. Informants will be made aware from the outset of the nature of the study and will have the final say in whether their comments are to be included in the final analysis. As all the informants used in the study are either professional performers or academics, real titles and names will be used, unless anonymity is specifically requested. Finally, strenuous attempts will be made to avoid discriminatory or prejudicial language. All recording will be overt.

Analysis of Data

The ongoing literature review will consist in the recording of reference details, relevant quotations, brief abstracts, comments and notes in the software program, Papyrus. I have a small Toshiba portable for work at home that has this software installed. It is also installed on the Salford AIS network. Quotations can be cited from it direct into word processing software. The Keyword assists in cataloguing and coding the information for easy access and recall.

As this research is essentially inductive, an initial series of unstructured interviews will be taped, on a small, standard compact cassette recorder and transcribed by myself, and analysed as texts. Themes identified through this process may be investigated further. All visual data - diagrams from bioengineers, photographs and hypertext imagery from artists - will be analysed in relation and in reference to texts.

My Background

My BA was in Theatre and Arts Management, at Dartington College of Arts, generally recognised as one of the two top colleges in the country for avant-garde performance work. My professional career since then, as Arts Centre Director in local authority Arts Departments, has been as an arbiter of taste in matters of theatre, and programmer of physical theatre and performance art work.

I am therefore familiar with the general lifeworld of the proposed artistic informants, and already have networks of contacts through which I can gain access to the specific individuals I wish to interview. Not being either disabled, or a performance artist, myself, I am confident that my position as objective researcher will not be compromised.

My MA (part-time) was in Cultural Studies at Salford University, and included modules about, and a dissertation focus on, the sociology of technology and performativity.


Travel expenses for journeys and conferences in the UK are covered by the ISR.

The trip to the US presents a more difficult problem. At the request of my 2nd supervisor, I am in the process of putting together a proposal specifically for this trip. The essential points in it are that through contact with Dr.'s Valentine and Hill in Phoenix I hope to secure some one-off seminar work with some of their undergraduates, in exchange for some assistance from them in getting to and/or staying at the conference. I would then be in a better position to win the balance of the finances needed to complete the trip from the ISR. The flights to Maryland, Washington, Utah, and Arizona can be acquired as a package for under 500, and accommodation arranged through the Student Unions at each campus.


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