DFG-Project: Deviant Bodies. Extended Bodies

The aim of the present project is to inquire into the transformation of the human body by means of such biotechnologies as exoskeletons. This shall be observed both in rehabilitative environment, as well as non-rehabilitative environment (industry; military field). An "exoskeleton is an electromechanical structure worn by operator and matching the shape and functions of human body. It is able to augment the ability of human limb and/or to treat muscles, joints, or skeletal parts which are weak, ineffective or injured because of a disease or a neurological condition. […] The exoskeleton works mechanically in parallel with human body and can be actuated passively and or actively" (Anam/Al-Jumaily 2012: 988).

One of the areas which reinforced the visibility and importance of the body as a topic of social research is that of disability studies (Barnes/Mercer 2003; Waldschmidt/Schneider 2007). Disability has often been conceived as a form of deviance from a standard health model and associated with impairment (Goodley 2011: 5). The development of medical technologies reinforced this conception of a body in need of normalization, biotechnologies being particularly elucidating in such a context (Sharon 2014). However, such technological advancements bring a double challenge: first they reinforce the status of disability qua deviance in respect to a health norm; second, their applications may go over rehabilitation purposes. As already shown by promoters of the “transhumanist” paradigm (Bostrom/Savulescu 2009; Kurzweil 2006), biotechnologies modify parameters of the human body and advance a model for an enhanced body, leading to a reinvention of corporeal limits.

This research inquires into the transformation and categorical redefinition of the "deviant" body and its correlation to an "extended" body while examining motility impairments such as cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury and cerebrovascular accidents, and experiences of healthy persons active in industrial and military field. The above mentioned terminological association questions the transition of a bodily deviance conceived in medical terms and mostly negatively (Goffman 1963), to a form of deviance produced by means of biotechnological applications, and conceived positively as augmentation.

From a theoretical point of view, the phenomenological perspective on body and embodiment (Husserl [1928] 1973; Merleau-Ponty 2012; Gallagher 2005; Crossley 2001) is used. If the phenomenological tradition of the body is present in various sociological projects (Crossley 2001; Gugutzer 2002, 2012), the consideration of such categories as "deviant" or "extended" body in relation to biotechnology was less addressed. The originality of the planned project resides in its interest in the production of these categories, questioning the pertinence of classical phenomenological concepts such as “own body” (Leib) or “objective body” (Körper). The theoretical background shall be correlated to data obtained from qualitative fieldwork, namely expert interviews, narrative interviews and participant observation in laboratories and centers where exoskeletons are tested and used.


Anam K. & Al-Jumaily A.A. (2012): Active Exoskeleton Control Systems: State of the Art. In Procedia Engineering 41. 988 – 994.

Barnes C. & Mercer G. (eds.) (2003): Disability: An introduction. Cambridge: Polity.

Bostrom N. & Savulescu J. (2009): Introduction chapter. In Human Enhancement, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1-22.

Crossley N. (2001): The Social Body. Habit, Identity and Desire. London et al.: Sage.

Gallagher S. (2005): How the Body Shapes the Mind. Oxford: Clarendon.

Goodley D. (2011): Disability Studies. London: Sage.

Gugutzer R. (2002): Leib, Körper und Identität. Eine phänomenologisch-soziologische Untersuchung zur personalen Identität. Wiesbaden: Westdeutscher Verlag.

Gugutzer R. (2012): Verkörperungen des Sozialen. Bielefeld: Transcript.

Husserl E. ([1928] 1973):  Cartesianische Meditationen und Pariser Vorträge. Husserliana I. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Kurzweil R. (2006): The Singularity is Near. New York: Viking.

Merleau-Ponty M. ([1945] 2012): Phenomenology of perception. London/New York: Routledge.

Sharon T. (2014): Human Nature in an Age of Biotechnology. The Case for Mediated Posthumanism. Dordrecht/ Heidelberg/New York/London: Springer.

Waldschmidt A. & Schneider W. (Hgs.) (2007): Disability Studies, Kultursoziologie und Soziologie der Behinderung. Erkundungen in einem neuen Forschungsfeld. Bielefeld: Transcript.



1. Exoskeletal devices in a rehabilitative environment and their challenges in the production of a hybrid intentionality. Exo Berlin. Germany. 22-23.10.2018.

2. Redesigning Bodies: How Technology Contributes to New Phenomenologies of Vulnerability. Workshop: Phenomenology of Changing Life-Worlds. Exploring Human-Machine Interaction. Universität Konstanz. Germany. 23-24.07.2018.


1. De-situierte Körper: Wie exoskeletale Vorrichtungen somatische Wissensbestände umgestalten. Kongress der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Soziologie. Sektion: Körper- und Emotionsoziologie. Salzburg. 26.-28. 09.2019 (accepted) (forthcoming).   

2. Bodies Redesigned: How Technologies of Motor Rehabilitation Recast Forms of “I can”. Conference: E-approaches to social difference and disparity. University of Wollongong. Australia. 13.-14.03.2019.

3. Re-appropriating autonomy: from objective bodies to subjective bodies. Conference: Appropriating Technologies. The political economy and routinization of artefacts and devices. Copenhagen. Denmark. 24-25.09.2018.

4. Bodies and their stories. Tagung: Narrative Matters. Enschede, Niederlanden. 2-6.07.2018.  

5. Bionic bodies: challenging disability, challenging ability? Conference: Phenomenology of Medicine and Bioethics. Stockholm, Sweden. 13-15. 06.2018.

6. Das “Ich kann” erfinden: Wie Bewegungsdysfunktionen neue Körper gestalten. Conference: „Ungeahnte Unfähigkeiten“, Mainz, Germany. 17-18.05.2018.