Accepted paper:

Ruptured faces, ruptured futures? Facial 'disfigurement'; transplantation and the problem of identity


Anne-Marie Martindale (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

I explore participant experiences of becoming facially 'disfigured'. I argue these can disrupt everyday embodied and narrative identities, which can disrupt perceptions of the past, the present and the future, though to varying extents.

Paper long abstract:

Since the advent of facial transplantation faces and their role in identity (re)creation have received increasing attention. Clinical and ethical authors have suggested a strong relationship between the two. Some have even claimed that identity is corporeally contained within the face and therefore transplantable. I refute this claim as it is founded on flawed Cartesian principles and lacks evidence. The results of my phenomenological research into the relationship between acquired facial 'disfigurement' and identity shift suggests the issue is complex and multifaceted. Identity is in part related to embodied, everyday practices and narrative constructions. The contexts and processes associated with becoming facially 'disfigured' i.e. cancer or a car crash, have the capacity to threaten and rupture these sense-making frameworks. In doing so they can destabilise the person's sense of who they were, who they are now, and who and what they will be in the future (Frank; 1995). Drawing on the concepts of biographical disruption (Bury, 1982) absence and appearance (Leder, 1990); ritual pollution (Douglas, 1968) and Frank's (1995) work on narrative disruption I will present new theory to illuminate how facial 'disfigurement' can influence and problematize identities in the immediate and longer term future. Nevertheless, I will be concluding that the role of faces in identity (re)formation has been overstated. It is persons in all of their glorious complexity that move through the life-course and plan for the future, not faces.

panel P57
Im)possible lives: on futures as process