Life and limb: prosthetic citizenship in Serbia
Milosavljevic, Kate Louise
The term ‘prosthetic’ is used increasingly across the social sciences and has taken on a theoretical life as a result of debates springing from contemporary studies of science and technology, medical anthropology and citizenship. This research considers whether the usage of ‘prosthetic’ and ‘prosthesis’ has however, become all too distanced from a grounded understanding of these terms, and is now in many ways synonymous with the term ‘cyborg’, therefore obscuring the specific relationships that prostheses represent. It asks if these terms have become a ‘catchall’ of technological subjectivities, without any basis in lived experience. Through ethnographic research into the manufacture, marketing and usage of medical prostheses in a Serbian inpatient rehabilitation centre, as well as interviews with prosthesis manufacturers, salespeople, as well with various citizens young and old, I present a nuanced view of the way in which citizenship itself is enacted. Citizenship is also a process of augmenting the body, both explicitly, such as in the (re)construction of socially acceptable bodies who have the capacity to labour, and implicitly, such as in the process of acquiring passports and identity documents. This process of externalising, and of the distributing of elements of the self into objects and relationships outside of the biological body forms the basis of what I term prosthetic citizenship. In my search for a grounded and ethnographically informed understanding of prostheses, and of prosthetic citizenship, key themes emerge, such as hope, normality, morality and the relationship of technology to the bodies. I find that prostheses are always sites of entanglement and paradox, but that they are also equally full of promise, and that in understanding how, why and in what capacities they are used, they emerge as capable of bridging the divide between theoretically complex abstract relationships, and the pragmatic realities of daily life.