In/Visible Personal Medical Devices: The Insulin Pump as a Visual and Material Mediator Between Selves and Others

  • Ava Hess
Part of the Health, Technology and Society book series (HTE)


Donna Haraway’s theoretical framework serves as a point of departure for this chapter, which argues that real-life cyborgs may complicate boundaries between the human self and technological other while also maintaining or creating these distinctions through everyday action. Drawing on ethnographic accounts of three women with type 1 diabetes, this chapter sheds light on the complex in/visibilities of the insulin pump as an enigmatic object that is at once seen and felt while simultaneously unseen and unfelt, and which is experienced as augmenting flexibility in travel, exercise and diet while limiting flexibility and well-being in other ways. These findings reveal how the pump, whose in/visibility can be manipulated through various strategies, acts as a visual and material mediator in relationships between multiple selves and others.



All interview material used in this chapter was gained with informed consent and is used with permission.


  1. Balfe, M., & Jackson, P. (2007). Technologies, diabetes and the student body. Health and Place., 13(4), 775–787.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Blackman, L. (2008). The body: The key concepts. London: Berg.Google Scholar
  3. Cohn, S. (2007). Seeing and drawing: the role of play in medical imaging. In C. Grasseni (Ed.), Skilled visions: between apprencticeship and standards (pp. 91–105). Oxford: Berghahn.Google Scholar
  4. Cohn, S. (2013). Being told what to eat: Conversations in a diabetes day centre. In P. Caplan (Ed.), Food, health and identity (pp. 193–212). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Corsin-Jimenez, A. (Ed.). (2007). Culture and well-being. Anthropological approaches to freedom and political ethics. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  6. Escobar, A., Hess, D., Licha, I., Sibley, W., Strathern, M., & Sutz, J. (1994). Welcome to Cyberia: Notes on the anthropology of cyberculture [and comments and reply]. Current Anthropology, 35(3), 211–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gell, A. (1998). Art and agency: An anthropological theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  8. Goffman, E. (2009). Stigm: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. New York: Touchstone.Google Scholar
  9. Grunberger, G., Abelseth, J., Bailey, T., Bode, B., Handelsman, Y., Hellman, R., et al. (2014). Consensus statement by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists/American College of Endocrinology insulin pump management task force. Endocrine Practice.Google Scholar
  10. Gray, C. (1995). The cyborg handbook. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Haraway, D. (1991). Simians, cyborgs, and women: The reinvention of nature. New York: Free Association Books.Google Scholar
  12. Hayano, D. (1979). Auto-ethnography: paradigms, problems, and prospects. Human Organization, 38(1), 99–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Heinemann, L., Fleming, G., Petrie, J., Holl, R., Bergenstal, R., & Peters, A. (2015). Insulin pump risks and benefits: a clinical appraisal of pump safety standards, adverse event reporting and research needs. A joint statement of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association diabetes technology working group. Diabetologia, 58(5), 862–870.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Howes, D. (2005). Architecture of the senses. In M. Zardini (Ed.), Sense of the city: An alternate approach to urbanism (pp. 322–331). CCA: Montreal.Google Scholar
  15. International Diabetes Federation. (2015). IDF Diabetes Atlas (7th ed.). Brussels, Belgium: International Diabetes Federation.
  16. Jackson, M. (2002). Familiar and foreign bodies: A phenomenological exploration of the human-technology interface. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 8(2), 333–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Latour, B. (1993). We have never been modern. London: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  18. Leder, D. (1990). The absent body. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  19. Merleau-Ponty, M., & Edie, J. M. (1964). the primacy of perception: and other essays on phenomenological psychology, the philosophy of art, history and politics. Evanston, Il: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Miller, D. (2001). Consumption: Theory and issues in the study of consumption. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Mol, A. (2002). The body multiple: Ontology in medical practice. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mol, A., & Law, J. (2004). Embodied action, enacted bodies: The example of hypoglycaemia. Body and Society, 10(2–3), 43–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. NICE. (2008). Diabetes (type 1) insulin pump therapy guidance. TA57. London: National Institute for Clinical Excellence.Google Scholar
  24. Norris, L. (2004). Shedding skins the materiality of divestment in India. Journal of Material Culture, 9(1), 59–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Pickup, J., Keen, H., Viberti, G., & Bilous, R. (1981). Patient reactions to long-term outpatient treatment with continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion. British medical journal (Clinical research ed.), 282(6266), 766–768.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Scheldemen, G. (2010). Technokids? Insulin pumps incorporated in young people’s bodies and lives. In J. Edwards, P. Harvey, & P. Wade (Eds.), Technologized images (pp. 137–159). Berghahn Series: Technologized Bodies.Google Scholar
  27. Strathern, M. (1988). The gender of the gift: Problems with women and problems with society in Melanesia. Oakland, CA: University of California.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Seltin, J. (2009). Production of the post-human: Political economies of bodies and technology. Parrhesia, 8, 43–59.Google Scholar
  29. Taylor, J. (2005). Surfacing the body interior. Annual Review of Anthropology, 34, 741–756.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Willerslev, R. (2007). To have the world at a distance: Reconsidering the significance of vision for social anthropology. In C. Grasseni (Ed.), Skilled visions: Between apprencticeship and standards (pp. 23–46). Oxford: Berghahn.Google Scholar
  31. Woolgar, S. and Lazaun, J. (2013). The wrong Bin Bag: A turn to ontology in science and technology studies? Social Studies of Science, 43, pp. 321–340.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Independent ScholarNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations