Beyond Prosthetic Memory

Posthumanism, Embodiment, and Caregiving Robots


  • Amelia DeFalco University of Leeds



Literary and cinematic speculations about the future of care, read in tandem with the rising prominence of actual robotic caregivers, foretell a future in which human interaction is no longer an inevitable feature of care relations. This essay considers the social, cultural and ethical implications of robotic care alongside a particular speculative representation of posthuman care, the 2012 film Robot and Frank. The film demonstrates how the intimacy of human/machine care relationships can supply posthumanist insights into the illusion of human invulnerability and exceptionalism that obscure the heterogeneity of embedded and embodied subjects. Not only does the film dramatize the fundamental anxieties caregiving robots incite, it also offers provocative posthumanist critiques of human exceptionalism, conjuring haptic affects that trespass the boundaries between humans and machines.

Author Biography

Amelia DeFalco, University of Leeds

is a University Academic Fellow in Medical Humanities in the School of English, University of Leeds. She is author of Uncanny Subjects: Aging in Contemporary Narrative (Ohio State University Press, 2010), Imagining Care: Responsibility, Dependency, and Canadian Literature (University of Toronto Press, 2016), along with essays on literature and aging, dementia, disability, and the ethics of care. Readers may write to Amelia DeFalco at


“Age Watch Report Card.” Globe Age Watch. HelpAge International, 2015. Web. 30 Sept. 2015. Ahern, Patti. “Caregiving robots on the way.” Chicago Tribune. Chicago Tribune, 2 Sept. 2009. Web. 1 Nov. 2012. news/0908310202_1_caregiver-robot-uic

Anderson, Ben. Encountering Affect: Capacities, Apparatuses, Conditions. Farnham: Ashgate, 2014. Aronson, Louise. “The Future of Robot Caregivers.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 July 2014. Web. 2 Aug. 2014.

Basting, Anne Davis. Forget Memory: Creating Better Lives for People with Dementia. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 2009.

Benthien, Claudia. Skin: On the Cultural Border Between Self and the World. Trans. Thomas Dunlap. New York: Columbia UP, 2002.

Borenstein, Jason and Yvette Pearson. “Robot Caregivers: Ethical Issues across the Human Lifespan.” Robot Ethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Robotics. Ed. Patrick Lin, Keith Abney and George Bekey. Cambridge: MIT P, 2012. 251–65. ---. “Robot Caregivers: Harbingers of Expanded Freedom for All?” Ethics and Information Technology 12.3 (2010): 277–88.

Braidotti, Rosi. Posthumanism. Cambridge: Polity, 2013.

Broekens, Joost, Marcel Heerink, and Henk Rosendal. “Assistive Social Robots in Elderly Care: A Review.” Gerontechnology 8.2 (2009): 94–103.

Clough, Patricia. Introduction. The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social. Ed. Patricia Ticineto Clough and Jean Halley. Durham: Duke UP, 2007. 1–33.

Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1982.

Gregg, Melissa and Gregory Seigworth. “An Inventory of Shivers.” The Affect Theory Reader. Ed. Melissa Gregg and Gregory Seigworth. Durham: Duke UP, 2010. 1–28. Haraway, Donna. The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm, 2003.

---. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. ---. When Species Meet. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2008.

Hardt, Michael. “Affective Labor.” boundary 2 26.2 (1999): 89–100.

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1999.

Held, Virginia. The Ethics of Care. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006.

Holler, Linda. Erotic Morality: The Role of Touch in Moral Agency. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2002.

Ito, Robert. “The Love Bot.” Pacific Standard. Pacific Standard, 30 Oct. 2012. Web. 1 Nov. 2012. Kittay, Eva Feder. Love’s Labor: Essays on Women, Equality, and Dependency. London: Routledge, 1999.

Kontos, Pia. “Embodied Selfhood in Alzheimer’s Disease: Rethinking Person-Centred Care.” Dementia 4.4 (2005): 553–70.

Kuzniar, Alice. Melancholia’s Dog: Reflections on Our Animal Kinship. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2006.

Kyodo, Jiji. “Japan Population Drops For Third Year Straight; 25% Are Elderly.” The Japan Times. Japan Times Ltd., 15 April 2014. Web. 30 Sept 2015. for-third-straight-year-25-are-elderly/

Lin, Patrick. “Introduction to Robot Ethics.” Robot Ethics: The Ethical and Social Implica- tions of Robotics. Ed. Patrick Lin, Keith Abney and George A. Bekey. Cambridge: MIT P, 2012. 3–15.

Marks, Laura. In the Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses. Durham: Duke UP, 2000.

Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham: Duke UP, 2002. Nayar, Pramod. Posthumanism. Malden: Polity, 2013.

Noddings, Nel. Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984.

Petersen, Steve. “Designing People to Serve.” Robot Ethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Robotics. Ed. Patrick Lin, Keith Abney and George Bekey. Cambridge: MIT P, 2012. 283–98.

Nayar, Pramod. Posthumanism. Malden, MA: Polity, 2013

Robot and Frank. Dir. Jake Schreier. Perf. Peter Sarsgaard, Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon. Sony Pictures, 2012. DVD.

Rooney, Ben. “The Robot That Helps Dementia Patients.” Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones, March 15, 2012. Web. June 27, 2012.

Sharkey, Noel, and Amanda Sharkey. “The Rights and Wrongs of Robot Care.” Robot Ethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Robotics. Ed. Patrick Lin, Keith Abney and George Bekey. Cambridge: MIT P, 2012. 267–82.

Sobchack, Vivian. “Phenomenology and the Film Experience.” Viewing Positions: Ways of Seeing Film. Ed. Linda Williams. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1995: 36–58.

Sparrow, Robert, and Linda Sparrow. “In the Hands of Machines? The Future of Aged Care.” Minds and Machines 16.2 (2006): 141–61.

Thacker, Eugene. “Data Made Flesh: Biotechnology and the Discourse of the Posthuman.” Cultural Critique 53 (2003): 72–97.

Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic, 2011.

West, Loraine A., et al. United States Census Bureau. 65+ in the United States: 2010. Washington: GPO, 2014.

Wolfe, Cary. What is Posthumanism? Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2009.




How to Cite

DeFalco, A. “Beyond Prosthetic Memory: Posthumanism, Embodiment, and Caregiving Robots”. Age, Culture, Humanities: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 3, Jan. 2018, pp. 01-31, doi:10.7146/ageculturehumanities.v3i.130153.