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Book Review: Phantom Pain: Amputation, Embodiment and Prosthetic Technology
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Phantom Limb: Amputation, Embodiment, and Prosthetic Technology (Biopolitics)

Title: Phantom Pain: Amputation, Embodiment and Prosthetic Technology

Author: Cassandra S. Crawford
Publisher: New York University Press, 300 pages
Reviewed by: Susan F. Spaulding, MS, CPO, FAAOP

It is important to recognize the author’s background while reading this book: Dr. Crawford received her PhD in Sociology and is an Assistant Professor and Faculty Associate in Women’s Studies and in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies. The author begins by introducing her ideas about prosthetic transcendence after attending an Amputee Coalition Conference; examples of her perspectives from the conference include “technical fetishism and highly technologically mediated transformations.” 

The author summarizes the literature on phantom pain including the prevalence and the history of descriptors used to express quality of pain, which are illustrated by brilliant images from Alexa Wright (https://www.alexawright.com/after-image). Concepts from psychological, neurological, and social scientists are highlighted to distinguish phantoms in the mind from phantoms in the brain with the intent to rethink theories proposed by biomedicine and technoscience,

Thoughtful perspectives are raised about the transformative nature of prostheses on phantom pain and the transformative nature of prostheses on the person, e.g., the hybridized soldier, the cyborg warrior, technological transcendence. The text includes a historical context about the relation between amputations and prosthetic technology, and it reports a reducing prevalence of phantom pain with the use of prostheses.

The concluding chapter returns to the author’s theory of the biopolitics of phantom-prosthetic relations. Specifically, the author addresses ideas about the “significance of phantoms becoming at once extraordinary and seemingly inconsequential,” and she describes her assessment of “how phantom-prosthetic relations have transformed and been transformed by the modernization of amputation.” 

In summary: This academic text with over 500 references is challenging to read and full of abstract metaphors and theories on prosthetic transcendence. It is fascinating to hear this author’s perspectives on phantom pain and prosthetic technology. 

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