Reality Studies
Urgent Futures with Jesse Damiani
Laura Forlano & Danya Glabau: Living Well with Machines, Real-World Cyborg Futures, and Critical Cyborg Literacy | Urgent Futures #14

Laura Forlano & Danya Glabau: Living Well with Machines, Real-World Cyborg Futures, and Critical Cyborg Literacy | Urgent Futures #14

🎙 Jesse is joined by professors & co-authors of 'Cyborg' (MIT Press) Laura Forlano & Danya Glabau to discuss the figure of the cyborg & how it can nuance our relationship to technology.

Welcome to the Urgent Futures podcast, the show that finds signal in the noise. Each week, I sit down with leading thinkers whose research, concepts, and questions clarify the chaos, from culture to the cosmos.

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My guests today are Laura Forlano & Danya Glabau.

Laura Forlano, a Fulbright award-winning and National Science Foundation-funded scholar, is a disabled writer, social scientist and design researcher. She is Professor in the College of Arts, Media, and Design at Northeastern University. She is the author of Cyborg (with Danya Glabau, MIT Press 2024) and an editor of three books: Bauhaus Futures (MIT Press 2019), digitalSTS (Princeton University Press 2019) and From Social Butterfly to Engaged Citizen (MIT Press 2011). She received her Ph.D. in communications from Columbia University.

Danya Glabau is a medical anthropologist and STS scholar researching health activism, the medical economy, and how human bodies become valuable data. She directs the Technology Ethics undergraduate curriculum at NYU Tandon School of Engineering and teaches in the NYU Tandon Integrated Design and Media graduate program. She has authored two books, Food Allergy Advocacy: Parenting and the Politics of Care (2022, University of Minnesota Press), and Cyborg (2024, MIT Press; co-authored with Laura Forlano, Northeastern University). Her latest research investigates how new parents use parenting advice, with a focus on how digital resources, apps, and devices shape modern ideas about what makes a “good” parent.

Cyborg. When you hear the word, you probably think of something like Blade Runner, Westworld, or the Terminator. Shiny tech with a dash of dystopia. But what if I told you there’s a totally different way of thinking about and understanding cyborgs? This other way of understanding cyborgs, cyborg theory, also seeks to understand the relationship between humans and machines—but it’s rooted in examining that relationship through real-world power dynamics such as race, gender, and disability. There’s nothing wrong with the Hollywood examples I mentioned! After all, they’re stories meant to entertain. They’re not necessarily concerned with putting forward a healthy vision of real-world cyborg futures—their focus is on telling compelling stories.

But cyborg theory gives us a lens through which to view technology as it actually exists today: asking critical questions about how it’s built, who it is (and isn’t) built for, and why.  This might sound a little conceptual, but it matters tremendously for our collective futures, and the great news is: this conversation is with the two perfect people, ahem, cyborgs to sensemake the subject with us: Professors Laura Forlano and Danya Glabau. They’ve just published the book Cyborg, out with MIT Press, which is both an excellent introduction to the subject and a foundational text for their notion of “critical cyborg literacy.” 

As you’ve probably gathered by now, there are a bunch of ways to understand the word “cyborg,” and competing ideas within feminist scholarship about how we talk about the subject, so instead of me trying to map it all out here, I’m instead going to direct us back to this illuminating conversation with Professors Laura Forlano and Danya Glabau.

Pick up your copy of Cyborg here!

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CREDITS: This podcast is edited and produced by Adam Labrie and me, Jesse Damiani. Adam Labrie also directed, shot, and edited the video version of the podcast, which is available on YouTube. The podcast is presented by Reality Studies. If you appreciate the work I’m doing, please subscribe and share it with someone you think would enjoy it.

Find more episodes of Urgent Futures at: Past conversations include Taylor Lorenz, Lia Halloran & Kip Thorne, Cherie Hu, Lisa Messeri, Legacy Russell, and more. Here is another recent episode with artist/researchers Eryk Salvaggio & Caroline Sinders:

Reality Studies
Urgent Futures with Jesse Damiani
Welcome to the Urgent Futures Podcast, the show that finds signal in the noise. Each episode, I sit down with leading thinkers for dialogues that clarify the chaos, from culture to the cosmos.