Phantom Limb: Amputation, Embodiment, and Prosthetic Technology

Phantom Limb: Amputation, Embodiment, and Prosthetic Technology

Phantom Limb: Amputation, Embodiment, and Prosthetic Technology

Phantom Limb: Amputation, Embodiment, and Prosthetic Technology

Synopsis

Phantom limb pain is one of the most intractable and merciless pains ever known--a pain that haunts appendages that do not physically exist, often persisting with uncanny realness long after fleshy limbs have been traumatically, surgically, or congenitally lost. The very existence and "naturalness" of this pain has been instrumental in modern science's ability to create prosthetic technologies that many feel have transformative, self-actualizing, and even transcendent power. In Phantom Limb, Cassandra S. Crawford critically examines phantom limb pain and its relationship to prosthetic innovation, tracing the major shifts in knowledge of the causes and characteristics of the phenomenon. Crawford exposes how the meanings of phantom limb pain have been influenced by developments in prosthetic science and ideas about the extraordinary power of these technologies to liberate and fundamentally alter the human body, mind, and spirit. Through intensive observation at a prosthetic clinic, interviews with key researchers and clinicians, and an analysis of historical and contemporary psychological and medical literature, she examines the modernization of amputation and exposes how medical understanding about phantom limbs has changed from the late-19th to the early-21st century. Crawford interrogates the impact of advances in technology, medicine, psychology and neuroscience, as well as changes in the meaning of limb loss, popular representations of amputees, and corporeal ideology. Phantom Limb questions our most deeply held ideas of what is normal, natural, and even moral about the physical human body. Cassandra S. Crawford is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Northern Illinois University and a faculty associate in Women's Studies and in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Studies.

Excerpt

In many ways, the conference was like all others. Hundreds of us had taken over the lobby, the hallways, the dining spaces, and many of the meeting rooms in the Fairmont Dallas on an oppressively sultry August weekend. We were all signing in, orienting, mingling—all of those registration day musts. I was given a “first-timer” sticker. But, unlike most of the other first-timers, I was one of a very few at the conference who was not an amputee. The Amputee Coalition of America’s (ACA) Annual Education Conference and Exposition was officially devoted to changing direction, and to the technology, prevention, information, and support needed to make that happen. However, another theme was more conspicuous. I found it in the sessions, the workshops, the informal gatherings, and most prominently in the exhibit hall where attendees spent the majority of their time watching presentations, having their gaits analyzed by prosthetists other than their own, and collecting generous amounts of swag. Prosthetization, it seemed, was tantamount to rebirth.

The schedule included two days of technology sessions with presentations on issues such as phantom pain reduction, cutting-edge advances that will change the way amputees live and work, or choosing a microprocessor knee; workshops on issues such as fitness and state advocacy; networking rooms; panels addressing psychological health and finding community resources; a gait analysis clinic; and a very large exhibit hall that included hundreds of exhibited products as well as exhibitor product-theater presentations such as Freedom Innovation’s “Join the Revolution.” Manufacturers of prostheses and prosthetic paraphernalia were all vying for our attention. Össur, whose slogan was “life without . . .

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