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Prosthesis and the engineered imagination: reading augmentation and disability across cultural theory, representation and product design
  1. Raymond Holt1,
  2. Stuart Murray2
  1. 1 Mechanical Engineering, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
  2. 2 English, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Stuart Murray, English, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK; s.f.murray{at}


This article argues for the value of considering the interaction of literary/cultural studies, disability studies and engineering/design studies in the ongoing development of a critical medical humanities research frame. With a specific focus on prosthesis, but also considerations of embodiment, technology and augmentation as concepts in both cultural/disability theory and engineering/design, we note how the shifting and plastic ideas of ‘the prosthetic’ as used within cultural studies have never been in conversation with scholars who work on prostheses in engineering design or the processes through which such technologies are produced. Additionally, we show that the increased use of systems engineering in the design and construction of prostheses creates fractured ideas of disabled bodies that frequently ignore both the cultural meaning and lived experience of technology use. In design and engineering, prostheses are literal objects, often made to order for a diverse range of clients and produced across different working platforms; in cultural studies, the word creates multiple resonances around both augmented bodies and non-embodied states increasingly understood in terms of assemblage and supplementarity. Working from this, we outline how questions of metaphor, materiality and systems weave through the different disciplines. The article claims that a critical dialogue between the working methods of literary/cultural studies and engineering/design, for all their obvious differences, possesses the potential to create informed and sophisticated accounts of disability embodiment. Our conclusion brings the strands of the enquiry together and points to the merits of engineering the imagination, and imagining engineering, as both a subject and method in future medical humanities research.

  • disability
  • rehabilitation medicine including disability

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See:

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  • Funding This study was funded by Wellcome Trust Seed Award (205336/Z/16/Z).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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