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13 Things 2009

13 Things 2008

Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology

Search Brown



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

For my project, I aim to explore the evolution and significance of the modern wheelchair. In this early stage, I am currently investigating two possible approaches: one, to examine the influence of the wheelchair on modern American architecture and city design, or two, to track the evolution of the network of things which makes our society almost entirely handicapped accessible.

I have been collecting a few texts, most by Bruno Latour. They include articles from The Body, by Sean Swenney and Ian Hodder, as well as Latour’s 1993 book We Have Never Been Modern.

So far, I have been primarily intrigued by the idea of creating a handicapped-friendly society. This monumental effort is quite unique to 20th century America. Thus far, I haven’t found any evidence for another society that has ventured to design its cities, homes, and public buildings in such a fashion that they be accessible to the physically disabled. There are still many cultures in the modern world that simply dispose of deformed or handicapped children. Indeed, this instinct to remove invalid genes from our species seems natural in the evolutionary process. So why have we devoted so much funding and thought to incorporating the handicapped into our society?

This observation also incorporates the idea of the cyborg. Without the assistance of not only a single piece of technology but also an entire network of things, the handicapped are exactly that- markedly incapacitated in a physical or social fashion. And yet, with the invention of prosthetic limbs, hearing aids, and even artificial retinas, we are closing the gap between the handicapped and the physically valid. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that prosthetic legs may even outperform natural ones, as a few athletes with such artificial aids have been banned from competing in the Olympics for fear that they would have an advantage over other athletes.

Lastly, I am intrigued by the idea that of all the things we have invented to aid the handicapped, we have chosen the wheelchair as the symbol of all disabilities. In addition, the stencil image of a wheelchair, as seen on handicapped parking signs, looks nothing like an actual wheelchair. How is it that this thing has become so pervasive in our society that a completely inaccurate depiction of it is still widely recognized? I hope to further explore all of these ideas in the coming days.

Back to the wheelchair