Insulin Pump Use and Type 1 Diabetes: Connecting Bodies, Identities, and Technologies

2020-06-16T18:22:40Z (GMT) by Stephen K Horrocks

Since the late 1970s, biomedical researchers have heavily invested in the development of portable insulin pumps that allow people with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) to carry several days-worth of insulin to be injected on an as-needed basis. That means fewer needles and syringes, making regular insulin injections less time consuming and troublesome. As insulin pump use has become more widespread over the past twenty years among people with T1D, the social and cultural effects of using these medical devices on their everyday experiences have become both increasingly apparent for individuals yet consistently absent from social and cultural studies of the disease.


In this dissertation, I explore the technological, medical, and cultural networks of insulin pump treatment to identify the role(s) these biomedicalized treatment acts play in the structuring of people, their bodies, and the cultural values constructed around various medical technologies. As I will show, insulin pump treatment alters people’s bodies and identities as devices become integrated as co-productive actors within patient-users’ biological and social systems. By analyzing personal interviews and digital media produced by people with T1D alongside archival materials, this study identifies compulsory patterns in the practices, structures, and narratives related to insulin pump use to center chapters around the productive (and sometimes stifling) relationship between people, bodies, technologies, and American culture.


By analyzing the layered and intersecting sites of insulin pump treatment together, this project reveals how medical technologies, health identities, bodies, and cultures are co-constructed and co-defined in ways that bind them together—mutually constitutive, medically compelled, cultural and social. New bodies and new systems, I argue, come with new (in)visibilities, and while this new technologically-produced legibility of the body provides unprecedented management of the symptoms and side-effects of the disease, it also brings with it unforeseen social consequences that require changes to people’s everyday lives and practices.