What makes us human? And how does the body – gendered, raced, classed – play intoconceptions of humanness? For centuries, the distinction between our inside and outside has dominated how we think about the human self. The idea, imparted to us from the Renaissance onwards, that the self lies at the core of the body, has structured our corporeality in a clear inside/outside dichotomy, with our insides occupying the matter of value and signification. The result is that our outside, the skin, has been seenas less meaningful than the depths of the body. Skin is near-ubiquitous in Western visual culture today, especially in a consumer culture that fronts advertising images and plastic surgery practices. Yet despite what might be described as our current obsession with skin, it is rarely seen as a site of signification beyond surface looks, apart from as a readily available marker of difference connected to race. Why is that? These are issues to be explored in the postdoctoral project Skin Deep: Entanglements of Materiality and Difference in Questions of the Human (NTNU, 2017-2020). Through analyzing skin in two different historical moments, this project argues that skin is the object of a new mode of thinking that moves away from the depth/surface opposition and recognizes our skin as the locus of meaning and selfhood previously ascribed to our interior. Using an interdisciplinary, intersectional textual and visual approach to analyzing nineteenth-century wax models and representations of contemporary geminoid robots, the project will show how this mode of thinking builds on understandings of skin in the interstices between art and science, culture andmedicine. Studying these manifestations of skin leads us to see how different notions of the inside and outside of the human self have been shaped by different medical, social, cultural and political contexts.
In a collaboration with Ingvil Hellstrand (University of Stavanger) and Aino-Kaisa Koistinen (University of Jyväskylä), this project addresses how gender, sexuality, and care work in the portrayal of humanoid robots in science-fiction series like Real Humans, Westworld, and Orphan Black. So far, Orning and Hellstrand have produced a Norwegian-language article for the feminist magazine Føniks entitled “Kjønn og seksualitet i forhandlingen mellom menneske og maskin.” A reworked version is in process to be sent to Norsk medietidsskrift. All three authors are working on an article about Real Humans and the role of humanoid robots in the politics of care.
Differently abled bodies were at the forefront of the Victorian freak shows. With the gradual transformation of the understanding of disability, these shows fell into disrepute and dwindled rapidly from the 1920s. Today, we see a number of TV reality shows with disabled participants. The article “Narratives of Enfreakment and Normalization in Victorian and Contemporary Versions of the Freak Show” questions the links between these two modes of the disabled body on display, and asks how – and if – the ways we watch such bodies are completely different from the Victorian context.
Feminism has succeeded in making gender a legitimate, even crucial, category of analysis across social and academic discourses. Disability theory has not succeeded tothe same degree, even if the aims and scopes of disability theory/activism and feminism often overlap. This project seeks to explore these overlaps and to see what uses the two strands of theory can have of each other, especially in a Norwegian context where there is even less of a history of connections between the two than in, for example, an Anglo-American context.
Sara Orning has studied, worked and lived in the UK and the US for ten years. Her educational background is a BA in Cultural Studies from Goldsmiths College, an MA in Critical Theory from University of Sussex, and a PhD in Literature from University of California, Santa Cruz (2012). She came to the University of Oslo in 2013, working first as a temporary lecturer, then a researcher, and finally a tenured Senior Lecturer from the fall of 2015. From January 2017, she is a postdoctoral fellow at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim.