Identity and Governance of Bodily Extensions: The case of Prosthetics and Avatars

Identity and Governance of Bodily Extensions: The case of Prosthetics and Avatars


Wellcome Trust
Wellcome Seed Award in Humanities and Social Science

Value to Coventry University


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Project team

Professor Sarah Whatley


Professor Sita Popat and Professor Rory O’Connor, University of Leeds (lead); Dr Shawn Harmon, The University of Edinburgh; Professor Abbe Brown, The University of Aberdeen


The Wellcome Trust, University of Leeds, The University of Edinburgh, The University of Aberdeen

Duration of project

01/01/2016 - 31/07/2017

Project overview

Prosthetics and avatars can both be defined as forms of bodily extension – one mechanical, the other digital. Both are used widely in everyday life, yet research into their impact upon users’ lived experiences has been approached with different emphases. Medical research into prosthetic limbs has tended to focus on functionality, while research into avatar usage has been more active in embracing embodiment, social identity and interaction, legal ownership and rights. The project investigated what we can learn about bodily extensions by examining these two different forms alongside each other.

Project objectives

The project applied multiple perspectives to types of bodily extension, considering embodied experience, social engagement, and legal rights. Objectives were to explore:

  • How different forms of bodily extension impact on experiences of embodiment and being in the world.
  • How body image and social identity relate to the design and function of bodily extensions.
  • How far bodily extensions are defined and acknowledged in medical, information technology and human rights law.
  • The project’s goal in terms of impact was to establish a new interdisciplinary research network in bodily extension, specifically in relation to prosthetics and avatars, influencing legal frameworks in relation to disability and rehabilitation medicine.

  • Brown, A, Harmon, S., Popat, S, Whatley, S & O’Connor, R (2018), 'Body Extension and the Law: Medical Devices, Intellectual Property, Prosthetics and Marginalisation (Again)' in Law, Innovation and Technology, vol 10, no. 2.

    Harmon, S, Brown, A, Popat, S, Whatley, S & O’Connor, R (2017), 'Struggling to be Fit: Identity, Integrity, and the Law' SCRIPTed, vol 14, no. 2, pp. 326-344.

    Popat, S., Whatley, S., O’Connor, R., Brown, A. & Harmon, S. (2017), ‘Bodily extension and performance’ International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, vol 13, no. 2, pp. 101-104.

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