Human, Non-Human, and Beyond

Human, Non-Human, and Beyond: Cochlear Implants in Socio-Technological Environments, article published in NanoEthics (2015) by Beate Ochsner, Markus Spöhrer and Robert Stock (TP 2), focuses on processes of normalization through which dis/ability is simultaneously produced in specific collectives, networks, and socio-technological systems that enable the construction of such demarcations.

Our point of departure is the cochlear implant (CI), a neuroprosthetic device intended to replace and/or augment the function of the damaged inner ear. Unlike hearing aids, which amplify sounds, the CI does the work of damaged hair cells in the inner ear by providing sound signals to the brain. We examine the processes of the CI’s genesis as well as its specific uses by and interrelations to the different and divergent actors that the CI assembles. We argue that the technological device and the implicated normalization process mobilize complex effects in varying socio-technical arrangements.

The CI is conceived as a “boundary object” [89] or a “quasi-object” [49, 83], i.e., a metastabilized medium of translation that coordinates social, cultural, and technological (inter)action. Although intended to transform non-hearing or hard of hearing people into competent and “normal” hearing subjects, the CI system reproduces the asymmetrical structures of the disability discourse [14] through its function of “developing and maintaining coherence between intersecting social worlds” [89, 393].

Additionally, it initiates controversial discourses that have resulted in new forms of biosocial collectivities ranging from cochlear implantees with (restored) normal human hearing to (trans)human configurations who have passed through (post)human enhancement. Our approach is thus situated at the intersection of disability and media studies and tackles the particular conditions technological media configurations impose upon the (re-)production of dis/ability.