IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - June 2015 - 75

could, at first sight, be considered "non-experts." Lastly,
and this is particularly true for upper limb prostheses, it
is visible to others. Thus, viewed in the light of the work
of these thinkers in anthropology of techniques, the prosthesis can be considered as an ultimate technical object.
We will discuss further then, socio-anthropological
and cultural phenomena, which have as much influence on the appropriation and use of prosthetic devices by patients as technical performance.

Beyond Technical Performance
Disciplinary Compartmentalization
It is surprising to note that prosthetic "technicians"
(researchers and engineers) have given little consideration
to the fundamental work from humanities and social sciences on body and techniques. Although the work of
M. Mauss [22] highlights the importance of "body techniques," the new actions and gestures that are necessary
to use a prosthesis, and the learning process involved,
are rarely considered in the design. Mauss used a holistic
approach to broach the biological, psychological, and
sociological aspects of human beings, however his method
is rarely followed. Indeed, despite the fact that the role of
prosthetics is to replace a part of the body, they are generally only considered from a "biological" point of view.
The work of A. Leroy-Gourhan [23] on the technical,
psychic, and psychological relationships between man
and techniques during prehistoric periods (particularly
regarding the process of hominization), is little known in
the world of robotic "tool" conception, despite the fact
that it has influenced fields such as neuroscience.
G. Canguilhem's work on normality and the process
of construction of biological difference [24] is also
rarely considered, despite its pertinence when trying to
normalize a "lessened" body. The mechanistic view of
the body that dominates the field of engineering (in an
often simplistic form) would benefit from an evolution
towards the "vitalistic" vision defended here. A more
complex vision of the body from the perspective of its
relationship with its environment is proposed.
Lastly, it would be pertinent to reconsider prosthetics, their conception, and their use in the light of the
work of G. Simondon [25]. Simondon's work suggests
that a prosthesis is indeed an ultimate object since it is
both a "tool" (allowing action on matter) and an "instrument" (transforming perception of matter). His concept
of the cultural and "human" existence of technical
objects would provide a more global approach to the
genesis of these objects for prosthetic designers.

Ambient Cultural Myth
We are currently living in an era in which there is a very
pervasive mythology of a particular chimera termed the
june 2015

∕

"cyborg," and of man-machine hybridization. A large
number of cultural products from science-fiction nurture this myth and influence the manner in which we
perceive technology: the ambient cyborg myth generates a discrepancy between collective imagination and
technical reality. In the case of prosthetics, this mythology thus generates a perceptive bias, responsible for
changes in technical values and leading to a sensation
of deception in a large number of prosthetic users.
This phenomenon raises the question whether such a
myth reduces the stigma of amputation by trivializing the
image of a prosthesis wearer, or if, in reality, the over-representation of a repaired, or hybrid, body does not have
the reverse effect, even perverse, by constantly exposing
the image of a super human, or an "athlete-come-hero"
(see O. Pistorius [26]). It is indeed the face of a "monster"
(in the sense given by the philosopher M. Foucault [27]:
unclassable, displacing the limits of normality), which
is particularly present in the majority of these mythical works, rather than the "ordinary" prosthesis-wearer,
amputated following an accident at work, for example.
This over-representation and simplification of the
"cyborg" concept generates a form of misoneism, a
rejection of innovation and technology, an indirect
source of passion around the question of prosthetics,
when there should only be reasoned thinking (a "for
or against" debate regarding wheelchairs or crutches
would seem incongruous).
The patient, reduced by the act of amputation, more or
less fixed by the prosthesis, thus finds himself thrown, out
of his will, into the middle of passionate debates on the
questions and risks of an "augmentation" of his/her body,
which he knows is far from being technically possible.

Versatility and Technical Popularization
of Performance
Another important phenomenon related to the appreciation of technology is the discrepancy between the
versatility of the human body and the popularization of
technical performance.
The body can carry out a fantastic number of motor
actions. This is particularly true for the upper limb whose
capacity ranges from tasks which require large forces
(e.g., carrying boxes, lifting your own bodyweight, etc.)
to very fine tasks requiring much dexterity (playing the
piano, writing, etc.), as well as dynamic tasks (catching a
thrown object) - and all this repeatedly (endurance). However, this versatile nature of the body, its capacity to carry
out so many different tasks (with more or less success), is
often forgotten.
Versatility is a rare performance index in the different fields of engineering, for example robotics.
Indeed, the mechanistic and functionalistic tradition
which governs this domain tends to decompose the

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