By bringing science and technology studies together with disability studies and American studies, my work uses interdisciplinary methods to question popular assumptions about the normal body and what constitutes "progress." My dissertation uncovers the cultural stories we tell about disabled bodies normalized with science and technology. I ask: how does mainstream U.S. culture promote an understanding of disability as an imperfection to be corrected for the good of the nation and for technological progress? While these stories are inextricably linked to a cultural understanding of disability, I suggest there is something bigger at stake; disability helps sanitize widespread concerns about technological dependency. Technologies that normalize disabilities are promoted as icons of progress, but I argue technological progress does not equal social progress.
I call these stories of people with disabilities being normalized "techno-makeovers." I situate techno-makeovers in several cultural locations: first, reality makeover television; second, news stories following the charitable "gift" of a techno-makeover to people with disabilities in the Global South; third, political discourse over stem cell research where the promise of techno-makeovers, for Michael J. Fox in particular, drives research; and fourth, in the disability technology industry, which often develops and markets wheelchairs and prostheses with a limited understanding of disability.
Through these sites, my dissertation illustrates the many realms in which we repeat the same story about disability - as always in need of high tech normalcy above all else, leaving little room to prioritize social change that goes deeper than the techno-fix. As we celebrate that technology makes the body "right," it becomes harder to ask what was "wrong" to begin with.