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Denisa Butnaru, “Temporarily Abled: How Exoskeleton Experience Reinvents Bodies in Spinal Cord Injury and Cerebrovascular Accidents”, NanoEthics, 2021

Recent achievements in rehabilitative robotics modify essential parameters of the human body, such as motility. Exoskeletons used for persons with neurological impairments like spinal cord injury and stroke enter this category by rehabilitating and assisting damaged motor patterns, achievements thought impossible until not long ago. Unlike other examples leading to similar dysfunctions, such as diseases or tumors, the experience of an accident causing a spinal cord injury or the occurrence of a cerebrovascular accident is sudden and perceived as a radical event. This often leads to deep consequences for one’s own body capacities. Exoskeletons attempt to alter this condition, contributing to forge a temporary abled body, although this currently happens in the restricted space of a clinic or a lab and under very controlled conditions for the predominance of users. Using qualitative empirical material from an ongoing study in sociology, including expert and narrative interviews as well as ethnographic visits in labs and centers that design and test exoskeletons, this article addresses the challenges and gains that people with stroke and spinal cord injury experience during their training with exoskeletons. The discussed cases contribute to reassess categories from the phenomenological paradigm, disability studies, and the role medical technologies play in contemporary body worlds.

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