Friday, 27 September 2013

Feminist disability theory

Gendering Disability, edited by Bonnie G. Smith and Beth Hutchison (Rutgers University Press, 2004) is a collection of eighteen essays based on a three-day conference organized by the Institute for Research on Women (IRW) at Rutgers University, March 1-3, 2001. Other research emerged from the Institute for Women's Leadership, supported by the Ford foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.

The book is divided into four parts: Positions; Desire and Identity; Arts and Embodiment; Citizens and Consumers.

The contributors include:

Catherine Kudlick, Lisa Schur, Melissa McNeil, Thilo Kroll, Russell Shuttleworth, Sumi Colligan, Ann Fox, Adrienne Asch, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Bonnie Smith, Sarah Chinn, Daniel Wilson, Brenda Jo Brueggemann, Carol Kaufman-Scarborough, Robin Adele Greeley, Kristin Lindgren, Allison Kafer, Corbett O'Toole, Georgina Kleege 


Bonnie G. Smith explains her sense of 'exponential intellectual excitement' at the coming together of disability and gender studies. She looks forward to 'a better vision of a common landscape that can provide new room for growth.' There is also an awareness of the 'activist and scholarly paths' that run through this collection (1).

This was a stimulating book and in my view lived up to his declared project to show 'the possibilities for crossdisciplinary hybridity and for intellectual and activist growth.' (6)

Having just re-read Erving Goffman's Stigma (1963) which deals at length with the social interactions between the stigmatized and 'the normals' I was intrigued to read Adrienne Asch' account of her experiences and her conclusion that 'The law can do nothing about the sorts of informal interactions described above that make up so much of the lives of people with disabilities...' ("Social Justice and Personal Identity", 9-44, 12)

Selected Quotations from Rosemarie Garland-Thomson

Corporeal comparisons

'To embrace the supposedly flawed body of disability is to critique the normalizing phallic fantasies of wholeness, unity, coherence, and completeness. The disabled body is contradiction, ambiguity, and partiality incarnate.' (Rosemarie Garland-Thomson: 100)

Understanding the common ground

'The informing premise of feminist disability theory is that disability, like femaleness, is not a natural state of corporeal inferiority, inadequacy, excess, or a stroke of misfortune. Rather, disability is a culturally fabricated narrative of the body, similar to what we understand as the fictions of race and gender.' (Rosemarie Garland-Thomson: 77)

An outline of the four aspects of disability:

'first, it is a system for interpreting and disciplining bodily variations; second, it is a relationship between bodies and their environments; third, it is a set of practices that produce both the able bodied and the disabled; fourth, it is a way of describing the inherent instability of the embodied self.' (Rosemarie Garland-Thomson: 77)

Recalling the pioneers

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson argues that there is a lack of knowledge in disability studies of the relevance of the earlier work in Women's studies and feminist theory. As a result, 'disability studies does a great deal of wheel inventing.'  (Rosemarie Garland-Thomson: 73)

Emergence of new academic discipline

'Over the last several years, disability studies has moved out of the applied fields of medicine, social work, and rehabilitation to become a vibrant new field of inquiry within the critical genre of identity studies.' (Rosemarie Garland-Thomson: 73)

The Bigger Picture: Identity based critical enterprises ...

'such as gender studies, queer studies, disability studies, and a proliferation of ethnic studies, all of which have enriched and complicated our understandings of social justice, subject formation, subjugated knowledges, and collective action.' (Rosemarie Garland-Thomson: 73)
 What feminists need to do

'Conversely, feminist theories all too often do not recognize disability in their litanies of identities that inflect the category of woman.' (Rosemarie Garland-Thomson: 73)

Disability studies and feminist theory working together

'both are insurgencies that are becoming institutionalised, underpinning inquiries outside and inside the academy. A feminist disability theory builds on the strengths of both.'  (Rosemarie Garland-Thomson: 73)

The Return to humanity

'to understand how disability operates is to understand what it is to be fully human.'  (Rosemarie Garland-Thomson: 100)

Publisher Description

Disability and gender, terms that have previously seemed so clear-cut, are becoming increasingly complex in light of new politics and scholarship. These words now suggest complicated sets of practices and ways of being.

Contributors to this innovative collection explore the intersection of gender and disability in the arts, consumer culture, healing, the personal and private realms, and the appearance of disability in the public sphere—both in public fantasies and in public activism. Beginning as separate enterprises that followed activist and scholarly paths, gender and disability studies have reached a point where they can move beyond their boundaries for a common landscape to inspire new areas of inquiry. Whether from a perspective in the humanities, social sciences, sciences, or arts, the shared subject matter of gender and disability studies—the body, social and cultural hierarchy, identity, discrimination and inequality, representation, and political activism—insistently calls for deeper conversation. This volume provides fresh findings not only about the discrimination practiced against women and people with disabilities, but also about the productive parallelism between these two categories.

No comments:

Post a Comment