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05 February 2013

The extended body of Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking is a household name, known by many for his book A Brief History of Time and his extensive work relating to black holes. The Extended Body of Stephen Hawking by Hélène Mialet, published in the recent issue of Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, focuses on the machines, devices, and people who enable him to conduct his work (what Mialet calls his ‘extended body’).

Mialet held interviews with Hawking, his assistants and colleagues, physicists, engineers, writers, journalists, archivists, and artists taking into account Hawking’s daily activities, including his lecturing and scientific writing. She begins the article by asking two questions
‘What can we say about theoretical work when no visible traces can be seen?’ and ‘Is it true that he needs nothing more than a ‘good’ head to think?’  

Although Hawking, like Einstein, is often referred to in the popular press as a ‘lone genius’, Mialet concludes that he is just the opposite. Because of his disability many of the motor and cognitive operations normally unseen by the ethnographer are delegated and incorporated in other bodies.  In this sense, his disability serves to highlight the collaboration involved in his theoretical work. The notion of collaboration is nothing unique in science, and this is the case for most professors who work with a collection of students. Mialet argues that Hawking’s disability acts as a magnifying glass that reveals the collaborative network, ‘the extended body,’ that we normally don’t see.

The article The Extended Body of Stephen Hawking is available in Interdisciplinary Science Reviews Volume 37, Issue 4. This issue is entitled ‘Master and Servant in Technoscience’ and explores the ongoing relationship between man and machine. The issue is edited by Markus Krajewski of Bauhaus University, Weimar.

Interdisciplinary Science Reviews actively explores the differing trajectories of the disciplines and practices in its purview, to clarify what each is attempting to do in its own terms, so that constructive dialogue across them is strengthened. It focuses whenever possible on conceptual bridge-building and collaborative research that nevertheless respects disciplinary variation. The next issue of the journal in March will be edited by Philip Ball and Matthew Jarron and will discuss the theme D’arcy Thompson and his legacy.

Volume 37.4 of Interdisciplinary Science Reviews is available via ingentaconnect at:

Read Mialet’s article for free until 1st March at:

For more information about the journal visit