Call for Abstracts: Humans and Machines in Healthcare Contexts (STS Conference Graz, 06.-07.05.2019)

This is a Call for Abstracts for the session “Humans and machines in healthcare contexts” (S7, International STS Conference Graz, Austria, May 6-7, 2019) . The deadline has been extended to January 28, 2019.

TITLE: Humans & machines in healthcare contexts: interdisciplinary perspectives
Keywords: medical technology, care, agency, digitization, robotics

Susanne Brucksch, German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ) Tokyo,
Patrick Grueneberg, Kanazawa University,


Technical devices have been shaping daily routines and clinical practices in hospitals and healthcare institutions, including surgical operations, nursing and long-term care, management of patient data, and the organisation of public health systems. Medical instruments are used to manipulate the human body, ranging from general devices with extremely low risk to such ones highly invasive to patients. Considering the care-recipient agency, healthcare technologies also provide possibilities to assist and empower persons in more frail or impaired conditions or even to enhance healthy subjects and their autonomy. At present, the technological development progresses at high pace in the fields of biomedical engineering, medical informatics, and assistive technology, with processes of digitization and automation contributing to new configurations of the human-device interplay in healthcare contexts. Particular hopes in the face of demographic challenges concern the employment of AI and robotic technologies in the field of labour-intensive healthcare.

Following recent trends in healthcare developments, interaction between machines and healthcare professionals as well as patient and/or care recipients rely on human agency in order to decrease the human workload or to improve (human) judgement during actions of prevention, diagnostics, therapeutics, and rehabilitation of disorders and diseases, or even bodily enhancement. As known from other fields of digitization, there is the risk that the utilization of human agency draws on the manipulative nature of technical devices. For instance, human-machine interaction might blur boundaries between (new) life/death, disease/health, (dis)-abled, as well as body boundaries and human identities. The resulting legal and public controversies issue not only challenges to practitioners and patients, but also to decision-makers that have difficulties institutionalising appropriate rules, procedures and standards. Consequently, developers face new opportunities for interaction design that at the same time ask for responsibilities considering the effects on human agency. Here, participatory approaches and responsible innovation are two current methods to ensure patient-safety.

In sum, beyond the mere modification of technical procedures, recent trends in healthcare technologies challenge our very understanding of health and its meaning for human well-being. Hence, we argue there is a need for interdisciplinary research considering the nascent state of many developments and the urgent need for designing and implementing standards and policies for emerging healthcare technologies. When conceiving the development and employment of healthcare devices as an ongoing process of negotiation among different stakeholders, appliances and practices appear as societal phenomena.

We welcome academic presentations from various disciplinary angles as well as interactive and innovative contributions to this session.