Monthly Archives: January 2013

Thoughts on “Stigma”

He may see the trials he has suffered as a blessing in disguise, especially because of what it is felt that suffering can teach one about life and people. (…) Correspondingly, he can come to re-assess the limitations of normals, as a multiple sclerotic suggests:
Both healthy minds and healthy bodies may be crippled. The fact that “normal” people can get around, can see, can hear, doesn’t mean that they are seeing or hearing. They can be very blind to the things that spoil their happiness, very deaf to the pleas of others for kindness; when I think of them I do not feel any more crippled or disabled than they. Perhaps in some small way I can be the means of opening their eyes to the beauties around us (…).

– Irving Goffman, “Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity”, 1963.

These thoughts were, again, articulated a while back. This time, it was during my musings as an Erasmus student in Rome, where I took a course on the sociology of deviance. One of the readings recommended was the book cited above. Having already read some Goffman, and being quite an enthusiast of interactionism, some thoughts popped into my head concerning amputees and prosthesis users (I’ve yet to find the appropriate word for those who I wish to concentrate my studies on). 

In any case, on with less than eloquent babble: Goffman’s book “Stigma” was a biggie on my Neapolitan professor’s bibliography (which I attribute to his postdoctoral research having been undertaken in the USA). I’d already read Goffman’s “Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior”, which I found absolutely amazing. However, I read it during my first year of undergraduate studies, and feel that it is now time to go through it again. “Stigma”, on another note, seems to be right up my alley.

Let’s refresh Aimee Mullins TED talk (posted here under). She follows in the same line as the multiple sclerotic interviewed by the author. She declares not feeling any more disabled than “normals”. The terminology utilized is also interesting. For the sake of simplicity, Goffman choses to name “normals” those of us who are not branded or marked or show any trace of outer, or inner stigma. That is to say, those who show no trace of visible, or known, mark of differentiation. Example: a person lacking a limb carries a stigma.

I believe Goffman’s book carries with it an interesting idea to explore when working with cyborgs. Why? Because we may have to redefine the whole concept of physical stigma, specially when it is used as a negative definition. Normality in itself might have to be redefined if becoming a cyborg becomes “normality”. Or, to be rather more precise, it’s not a simple question of normality, but of desirability. What would happen in the case of prosthetic limbs becoming superior to biological ones? 

These post, due to their repetitive, cross-posted nature, are much less developed than I would like them to be. Indeed, if I changed platforms it was with the intent of being able to go further into my research and post rather more interesting points than simply referencing books. Yet for the sake of reference, I shall nevertheless leave this blog here, in hope that it might aid me later or that it might prove to be interesting to someone. 

In any case, I leave you with the inspiring Aimee Mullins’ TED talk.


Amber Case and Cyborg Anthropology

Her theme takes on a definition of “cyborg” I’ve actually been considering very closely. Do we really need to integrate our tools INTO our bodies to become a cyborg? Isn’t using them constantly ENOUGH for is to become cyborgs?

I love how she talks about losing a computer as a mental loss. It really is. How many of us still remember our best friend’s telephone number by heart? Losing our phones and/or computer entails an actual loss of data!
Then there’s the whole notion she puts out of “second self”. Though I agree with her, what I think about the whole cyborg situation is that there would be an actual singularity. So there wouldn’t BE a second self. There’d be YOU. As a machine, and as a human and both are one and the same.

The phrase that sticks, “Technology doesn’t just get adopted because it works. It gets adopted because people use it.” I’d like to add something on to it : If people adopt it, it’s because people’s morals are able to accept it. How does this have anything to do with cyborgs? I don’t YET think people are ready for this last phase. Talking to one of my friends at college about this whole theme yesterday, she ended the conversation with a very simple, “Yeah, but all that stuff scares me.”

The whole concept of cyborgs continues to be quite touchy. Debates are constantly popping up concerning the actual advantages of constantly being connected to other people via smartphones, etc, and the same will continue to hold true for ever more advanced prosthetics. Oscar Pistorius participating in the Olympics was an example of this, I believe. The sheer amount of people who were either against his participating in the able-bodied Olympics, or who wanted him to choose only one “kind” of Olympics seemed to me enormous (I wish I had statistics to back this up appropriately, but this comes from the talks I’ve had with countless people).

I believe the entire issue derives from the lack of appropriate definition of who can or cannot participate in each of the Olympics, which also has to do with an appropriate definition of prosthetics, enhancement, and cyborgs.