New Columbia Course on Technology, Democracy, and the Question of the Human (Spring 2021)

December 10, 2020 Opportunities

Professor Neni Panourgiá has created “‘Man-machine’: Medical Technology, Democracy, and the Question of the Human” a course open to students at Columbia University and which might be of interest to those who are part of the Justice-in-Education Initiative.

The rapid proliferation, over the last fifteen years, of technologies that aim at the preservation of life at the edges of illness has created a conceptual, intellectual, and political fissure in the ways in which life and death can be fixed with any degree of certainty. This is true as much in chronic cases, such as the various neurodegenerative diseases, as in acute cases, such as COVID-19, managed in the ICU, where life is being preserved through mechanical intervention. 

Are these mechanical interventions (ventilators, stomas, monitors) prosthetics that become part of the human body, or do they remain within the space of signification of the extracorporeal? What is the glamour of the “cyborg” when it appears within the context of medico-mechanical intervention? 

These questions are not academic intellectual abstractions but they become pressing questions when they inform the decision-making process in the context of encounters between physicians and patients, patients and families, or physicians and the State. Cases such as Terry Schiavo’s, which captured the global imaginary as it posited the question of “what is a human being” and what is “life” and what is not, belie the deep anxieties that appear when medical interventions are in the process of becoming naturalized and normalized, as if the questions that they posit are exhausted when they are approved by the IRB or the Ethics Board. 

These questions become even more pressing when they are articulated within the framework of already existing systems of exclusion that seek to cancel the humanity of “other populations,” Blacks, refugees, Latinx, LGBTQI. 

This course will examine the conceptual spaces that are being created in the crevices of the fixity of life, death, and the human/non-human being by looking at concerns that have been voiced by various thinkers and social movements.

For additional information, please contact Professor Neni Panourgiá at