“Man-machine”: Medical Technology, Democracy, and the Question of the Human
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Level: Graduate
Division: The New School for Social Research
Department: Anthropology
Course Number: GANT 6216
Course Format: Seminar
Location: NYC campus
Permission Required: No
  • Anthropology
  • Social Sciences
  • Philosophy
The rapid proliferation, over the last fifteen years, of technologies that aim at the preservation of life at the edges of illness has created a conceptual, intellectual, and political fissure in the ways in which life and death can be fixed with any degree of certainty. This is true as much in chronic cases, such as the various neurodegenerative diseases, as in acute cases managed in the ICU, where life is being preserved through mechanical intervention. Are these mechanical interventions (ventilators, stomas, monitors) prosthetics that become part of the human body, or do they remain within the space of signification of the extracorporeal? What is the glamour of the “cyborg” when it appears within the context of medico-mechanical intervention? These questions are not academic intellectual abstractions but they become pressing questions when they inform the decision-making process in the context of encounters between physicians and patients, patients and families, or physicians and the State. Cases such as Terry Schiavo’s, which captured the global imaginary as it posited the question of “what is a human being” and what is “life” and what is not, belie the deep anxieties that appear when medical interventions are in the process of becoming naturalized and normalized, as if the questions that they posit are exhausted when they are approved by the IRB or the Ethics Board. This course will examine the conceptual spaces that are being created in the crevices of the fixity of life, death, and the human/non-human being by looking at concerns that have been voiced by various thinkers: Donna Haraway, Nicholas Rose, Paul Rabinow, Barbara Maria Stafford, Michel Foucault, Elizabeth Grosz, Rosi Braidotti, Georges Canguilhem, Roberto Esposito, Alfred Tauber, Julien Offray de la Mettrie, Lorraine Daston. For MA students of the NSSR anthropology department, this seminar fulfills the requirements of a Perspectives course.
Course Open to: Degree Students with Restrictions


Not open to Undergraduate students.