Cordelia Erickson-Davis

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Stanford U.

Grant number

Gr. 9406

Approve Date

April 18, 2017

Project Title

Erickson-Davis, Cordelia R., Stanford U., Stanford, CA - To aid research on 'Sensory Ethnography and the Bionic Eye: What it is to See,' supervised by Dr. Tanya Luhrmann

Preliminary abstract: In the rapidly expanding field of brain-machine interface technology, perceptual experience is a neglected question. I have spent the past year working with an interdisciplinary group that is developing a bionic eye that will be implanted in subjects in 2017. The idea is that the device will translate visual information like light into electrical signals that the brain can understand, and thus restore sight to individuals who have lost their vision due to damage to part of their visual system. But if other, similar devices are any indicator, it is unclear what effects the device will have. What will subjects see when the device is turned on? What does it mean for the device to ‘work’? This project proceeds from the persuasion that the theory and methods of cultural anthropology and the neurosciences can inform one another with regard with their mutual interest in the processes of embodiment, and the bionic eye offers a unique opportunity to test these claims. In collaboration with researchers making these devices, I will develop a method to probe the perceptual experience of individuals implanted with the device, and then I will relate these data with those I gather ethnographically. This project combines institutional ethnography and critical phenomenological methods in the context of the neuroscientific experiment in order to create a sensory ethnography of the bionic eye. It will enact new ways of gaining and conveying ethnographic knowledge through the mobilization of experimental methods and collaborative engagement.