Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California


UC San Francisco Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUCSF

Ghost in the Machine: A Genealogy of Phantom-Prosthetic Relations


Situated at the intersection of science and technology studies (STS), medical sociology and the sociology of the body, this work is a genealogical analysis of phantom-prosthetic relations or the historically multifarious and dynamic relationship between dismemberment and prosthetization understood through psychological, medical and biomedical constructions of phantom limb syndrome. I trace the major shifts in knowledges and discourses about phantom limb etiology, nosology, and epidemiology from the late-1800s through 2005 revealing how this amorphous, ethereal object became material or socially substantive over the 20th century.

I further situate psychological and (bio)medical constructions of phantom limb in the larger socio-cultural and historical context of the modernization of dismemberment, including: the establishment of synchronic practices and principles between amputation surgery and prosthetic science; the state-sponsored rapid coalescence and professionalization of the field of prosthetic science; the elaboration and sophistication of prosthetic technologies and techniques; the institutionalization of post-surgical rehabilitation including pain treatment; and the use of visualizing technologies to situate phantom limb in the brains of amputee.

One of the central concerns of the dissertation is historical changes in corporeal ideology or those ideas, knowledges, institutions and practices that make up what is taken for granted about the body, its use, its capacities, its "nature." I explore the implications of corporeal ideology for governing and disciplining partial-ized bodies and spectral parts. However, I also demonstrate how phantoms have functioned as a window into corporeal resistance. I detail the ways in which phantoms have resisted attempts at biomedical domestication, as well as how they have been the force behind many transmutations within the field of phantom research, within bodies, and between bodies and technologies.

Data included ten months of observation at a San Francisco bay area orthotic and prosthetic clinic, observation at an annual Amputee Coalition of America conference, eight in-depth semi-structured interviews with key researchers and practitioners in the field, and an interpretive content analysis of 439 articles published in the medical literature from 1930 to 2005.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View