Denisa Butnaru

c:o/re Senior Fellow 05/24 – 02/25

Denisa Butnaru is senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Konstanz. Her main areas of research are the socio-anthropology of the body and of technology, with a specific focus on developments in healthcare and lately, armed forces. She is equally interested in contemporary phenomenological perspectives, such as the enactive turn. In her monograph, Exoskeletal Devices and the Body: Deviant Bodies, Extended Bodies (2023), she analyzed how such recent technologies as exoskeletons contribute to invent ‘corporeal worlds’ in three specific areas: medicine, industry and military. Before coming to Konstanz, she held positions in Germany at the University of Freiburg and the University of Augsburg, and in France at the University of Strasbourg and Nancy University.  

Digitized productions of bio-objects: on emerging forms of ‘biological excess’

The aim of the project is to pursue a theoretical inquiry into how ‘bio-objects’ (Vermeulen, Tamminen, Webster 2012; Lafontaine 2021) gain further meanings following the expansion of cyber technologies. It shall investigate current digitized productions of bio-objects and how these entities contribute to emerging forms of ‘biological excess’ (Davies 2013). As Vermeulen, Tamminen and Webster note, bio-objects designate entities in which new relations to life or to which ‘life’ is attributed are mixed (2012: 1). In this vein, they argue that “as a consequence of these novel relations, the boundaries between human and animal, organic and nonorganic, living and the suspension of living (and the meaning of death itself), are questioned” (ibid. 1). Whereas interventions such as genetics have shown the relevance of mutations taking place inside the materiality of our bodies (Lappé & Landecker 2015), current technological projects as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) or extended reality (XR) that draw bodies beyond their somatic identities, reformulate precisely the ‘bio’ feature of bio-objects. In doing so they reveal the importance of the digital in such a process.

Building on my previous work, the project inquiries into possibilities of embodiment, enactment but also of ‘estrangement’ (Gilbert et al. 2017) fostered by bio-objects with respect to their virtual extensions (VR, AR, XR), and to their impact on somatic identities. The focus shall be on medical worlds and their re-materialization. This inquiry contributes to expand debates on life-likeness potentials related to the phenomenon of augmentation in sociology of health and illness, sociology of the body, and in the broader field of science and technology studies (STS).

Publications (selection)

Butnaru, Denisa. 2024. Aiming at the ‘Proper’ Body: How Exoskeletons Foster ‘Risky’ Bodies and Conflicting Knowledge Regimes. In Sociology of Health and Illness

Butnaru, Denisa. 2024. “Among Bodies and Machines: ‘Epistemological Vulnerability’ with Exoskeletons.” In Ethical and Methodological Dilemmas in Social Science Interventions, edited by Doris Lydhal and Niels C. Nickelsen, 257-269. Wiesbaden: Springer.

Butnaru, Denisa. 2023. Being loyal to the Fieldwork. On Building the ‘Contract of Silence’. In Journal of Data Mining and Digital Humanities.

Butnaru, Denisa. 2023. Exoskeletal Devices and the Body: Deviant Bodies, Extended Bodies. London: Routledge. Butnaru, Denisa. 2021. Exoskeletons, Rehabilitation and Bodily Capacities. Exoskeletons, Rehabilitation and Bodily Capacities. In Body & Society, 27(3): 28-57.