Cyborgism: Cyborgs, Performance and Society

Developed from my PhD thesis (completed Summer 2003), this book (completed Summer 2007) ranges across history, philosophy, sociology and performance to examine the nature of identity in a world where machines are becoming more and more a part of our lives, and of ourselves.

The book is available from

Who are we when we are part (bio-)mechanical, or genetically engineered? Cyborgs in literature and film, as cultural texts, have explored this possibility ideologically, as utopian or, more often, nightmarish. A cyborg performance, on the other hand, is one that attempts to address the issue in the liminal spaces of theatre/live art, and to explore the profounder issues concerning identity in a part-physical, part-digital manner.

In this research I address the question of cyborg performative identity. From Goffman’s collective self-development process, through post-feminist performative constructs, to situated selves, the system / agency tension reveals our liminality: between individuality and construction. But the body is something real and tangible. True, that reality is perhaps only established by the observing eye that reads it, but the consciousness engaged in observation can only be realised through embodiment. This is understood clearly in physical theatre / performance art, where the body has become the primary means of communication and exploration, providing a visceral vocabulary of performed identity wrought by the interchange between body and eye.

The nineteenth-century ‘technologies of the body’ that today comprise law-abiding citizenship, sanity, health, and sexuality, have been instrumental in the creation of the contemporary selfhoods we daily perform, and explore in experimental theatre. But the contemporary endo-colonisation of human technology presents a profound challenge to everyday identity: prosthetic replacements, smart implants, and the promise of genetic therapy, prevention, weoponry and even pre-programming, seem to carry the prospect of a new level of liminality – the ‘cyborg’, between organic and inorganic – that may cost us that between system and agency.

Using the philosophy of Henri Bergson, the critical thinking of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, and fieldwork in the United States comprising notes from DARPA’s Exoskeletons for Human Performance Augmentation conference, interviews with the maker of the Utah Array (a brain/computing interface) and people with disabilities who incorporate metal into their bodies, this book ranges across philosophy, technology, and critical thought, set in a performative exploration of identity.

A companion website is at

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