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Borderlands of living

Tracing states of (un-)consciousness between the irreversible and the potential


With advances in medical technology new prognostic tools become available to distinguish states of consciousness in unresponsive patients. Born from a desire to enhance the treatment and rehabilitation of such patients, these advances, however, hold ethical implications for what constitutes personhood.

The Borderlands of Living project traces uncertainties of prognostics of unresponsive patients with serious brain injury between scientific and clinical reasoning, as a study of knowledge relationality through an interdisciplinary inquiry taking its outset in anthropology, medical humanities and philosophy.

The project empirically studies the high-stake relationships of clinic and research, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) method, electroencephalography (EEG) and other measures in efforts to develop prognostic tools for the unresponsive patients with uncertain consciousness. Examining these intersections of reasoning between clinic and research we learn about how they come to affect our understanding of responsiveness, consciousness and personhood.

Findings from the project will inform conversations on being human and add insights into how uncertainties of potential and personhood are negotiated in search of unambiguous signs of consciousness. It hereby carves out new trails in the conversations about the ethics of medical technologies and treatment in the borderlands of living, while critically examining the relationality of knowledge and methodological innovation.

The project collaborates with researchers and clinicians at the Radiology Department, Diagnostic Centre, University Research Clinic for Innovative Patient Pathways and the Neuro Intensive Step-down Unit, both at Silkeborg Regional Hospital, and researchers from the Center of Functionally Integrative Neuroscience (CFIN), Aarhus University.


The Borderlands of Living project is funded by The Carlsberg Foundation (2019-2021) through a Distinguished Fellowship awarded to Associate Professor Mette Terp Høybye, who is the principal investigator.

Project leader