A posthuman ecology of simulated human patients: Eidolons, empathy and fidelity in the uncanny embodiment of nursing practice


Ireland A (2020) A posthuman ecology of simulated human patients: Eidolons, empathy and fidelity in the uncanny embodiment of nursing practice. Explorations in Media Ecology, 19 (3), pp. 299-318.

The reproduction of the human form has been a universal practice amongst human ecologies for millennia. Over the past 200 years, popular culture has considered the imaginary consequences of the danger to humanity and human-ness of replicating the autonomous human form too faithfully. Today, the seductive allure of technologically advanced simulated human bodies and advances in robotics and artificial intelligence has brought us closer to facing this possibility. Alongside the simultaneous aversion and fascination of the possibility that autonomous simulated human forms may become indistinguishable from human beings is the deep-rooted uncanniness of the automaton in its strange familiarity – not only to ourselves but to our pleasant childhood imaginings of playing with dolls. As such, simulated human bodies are often enrolled in medical and nursing education models with the assumption that making the simulation teaching spaces seem as close to clinical spaces as possible will allow students to practise potentially harmful clinical skills without causing any harm to human patients. However similar the simulated human bodies may appear to a living, breathing human, a tension between the embodiment of particularly human attributes and their replication persists. How can computerized human patient simulators be enrolled to teach people to develop the necessary attributes of compassion and empathy when caring for human beings? This article explores the uncanny ecologies of simulated human patients in nursing education by presenting a posthuman analysis of the practices of nurse educators as they enrol these digital objects in their teaching. Guided by a selection of heuristics offered as a mode of interviewing digital objects, the analysis enrolled ‘Gathering Anecdotes’ and ‘Unravelling Translations’ to attune to the ways in which these uncanny posthuman assemblages become powerful modes of knowing to mobilize learning about human attributes within uncanny posthuman ecologies.

high-fidelity simulation education; the uncanny; empathy; nursing education; object interviews; sociomateriality; translation; posthuman ecologies

Explorations in Media Ecology: Volume 19, Issue 3

FundersEconomic and Social Research Council
Publication date31/12/2020
Publication date online30/09/2020
Date accepted by journal20/04/2020