In the coming years, one in three returning veterans from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may be suffering from war-related post-traumatic stress, and they may consequently affect the emotional universe of seven to nine people who are close to them.

The objective of this course is to advance knowledge and design skills for cultural prosthetics by focusing on the conditions that arise in post-war life. While ergonomic requirements must be addressed, psycho-social needs must also be addressed through communication media.

According to trauma theorist and clinician Judith Herman the struggle for recovery from trauma by finding a narrative voice through testimony has a greater chance of success when performed as a public speech act – even more so when directed as a social utterance to and on behalf of others.

“Public truth-telling” as social action has a psychologically restorative power. At the same time, it contributes to social justice and the democratic process.

In order to counter new forms of social alienation and “disarm” cultural prejudice, there must be the advancement of artistic methods for designing, developing, experimenting with and socially implementing devices that facilitate cross-cultural communication for veterans.

Cultural prosthetics is a new techno-artistic and socio-aesthetic field that can inspire, encourage and assist this population by giving them methods for opening up and communicating with a greater public to the point of playful virtuosity.

Through the design of cultural prostheses, students will seek original responses to the social and psychological impact of present-day wars. The class will focus on the situation of war veterans and their families (who are war veterans in their own right), on the overwhelming experience of civilians caught in the theatre of war, and on society’s incomprehension of the emotional experiences of war.

We will explore core questions surrounding the design, development, equipping and “fitting” of this new type of post-war prostheses. What is necessary for restoring a veteran’s emotional, cultural, and social life? Through design, how can communicative and performative techno-devices be combined and made usable to veterans and their families so that they may challenge their own forms of alienation?

We will conduct ergonomic, psychological, and social research in collaboration with potential users and fabricators and will use creative software, 3D printing, physical modeling, and hardware design / integration (micro-projectors, display screens and other communication media devices).

The workshop will include visits to groups who are working on prosthetics, artificial intelligence, and robotics at Harvard, MIT’s Media Lab, and within the Boston area. There will also be the potential to meet with veterans groups and medical professionals who are advocating and developing new methods of treatment for psychologically and physically wounded soldiers and their families.