Skip navigation
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: The Connector: An Anthropology of Experimental Neuroprosthetic Science and its Bodies and Homes
Authors: Middleton, Alexandra
Advisors: Biehl, João
Rouse, Carolyn
Contributors: Anthropology Department
Keywords: clinical trials
medical anthropology
prosthetic science
science and technology studies
Subjects: Biomedical engineering
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Situated at the frontier of cutting-edge experimentation in neuroscience and brain-machine interfaces, this dissertation examines how humans and machines come to live with/among/against one another, in the pursuit of integrating a neuroprosthetic limb into one’s body and life. Based on two years of fieldwork spanning laboratory, clinic, industry, and domestic sites throughout Sweden, I chronicle two clinical trials developing neuromusculoskeletal prosthetic technologies controlled by users’ neural impulses, aiming to offer a functional human arm replacement, restore lost sensory feedback (touch) and relieve the phantom limb pain of amputees. These cases constitute the first in the world in which such intimately integrated prostheses are taken out of the laboratory and used freely by people at home, all while still being studied in the clinical trial. This dissertation traces how embodied sensory experience gets communicated, translated, mediated, and engineered upon, in both formal and informal experimental sites, through people’s bodies and experiences of machine-integrated living, and how their homes and domestic lives become key, if not also obfuscated, sites of this processThe dissertation contains five Parts. Part I, a genealogy of the experiment, documents the story of its first patient-subject and the prosthesis’ techno-social history, situating these within the Swedish social-welfare state to show how patient-subjects engage in new forms of ‘experimental labor.’ Part II excavates the datafication of phantom limb pain and examines the phantom’s critical role in making human-prosthetic relations. Part III traces the entanglement of ‘sense-making’—engineering sensory feedback (touch)—with ‘making-sense’—efforts to inform nascent understandings of human touch. The emic dichotomy of ‘natural’ and ‘artificial,’ I argue, gets destabilized as touch is tinkered with at the electrical level of the nervous system. Part IV, in documenting experimental efforts to measure prosthetic embodiment, shows how patients sense embodying their prosthesis not as a fixed state but as mutable, spectral, and deeply contingent. Part V details two different cases of breakdown in the trials, exploring how repair work becomes a particular form of experimental care. Instead of being conceived of as failures, I argue, breakdowns can be retheorized as instances where a human-machine relationship is enacted, negotiated, re-made.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Anthropology

Files in This Item:
This content is embargoed until 2026-01-25. For questions about theses and dissertations, please contact the Mudd Manuscript Library. For questions about research datasets, as well as other inquiries, please contact the DataSpace curators.

Items in Dataspace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.