Technical aids, aesthetics and the mediation of belonging

Friday, November 1, 2013
First author:
Horst H. van der
Belonging through Performance

Research Centre Sociology of Consumers and Households, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands

All authors:

Hilje van der Horst, Maartje Hoogsteyns

Empowerment & Environment
Technology, aesthetics, disability, belonging, appropriation


Technical aids for people with impairments are usually evaluated with medical and functional terms. For example, the absorptive capacities of incontinence material need to be sufficient. Hearing aids need to increase hearing. Despite the dominance of such forms of evaluation, all technical aids also have aesthetic effects on users and their social environment. In this paper we analyse how aesthetics of technical aids influence the way a user can relate to his/her aid, to the impairment and to others in diverse social settings. 


Biographic interviews using the Biographic Narrative Interpretation Method were conducted with 27 persons who (had) used an arm prosthesis, hearing aids or incontinence products.


All users of aids elaborately commented on the aesthetics of technical aids. Aesthetics of technical aids were found to intervene in the way in which people could relate to others and to their impairment. Also, when aids were found appalling this prevented a successful appropriation of the object itself. The item, and sometimes the handicap, was not found to ‘belong’ to the body. Abilities to modify or choose a nicer looking item improved this sense of belonging.


Aesthetics of an aid interfere in the way in which people achieve a sense of belonging with the aid, the body, as well as within diverse social settings. When people were able to influence aesthetics, either through a choice between aids, or through modifications, they were more likely to achieve such belonging.