“Disability is not a minor issue that relates to a relatively small number of unfortunate people; it is part of a historically constructed discourse, an ideology of thinking about the body under certain historical circumstances. Disability is not an object – a woman with a cane – but a social process that intimately involves everyone who has a body and lives in the world of the senses. Just as the conceptualisation of race, class, and gender shapes the lives of those who are not black, poor, or female, so the concept of disability regulates the bodies of those who are ‘normal’.”
In Lennard J. Davis’ Enforcing Normalcy, he argues that disability concerns everyone, not only those who identify as disabled, because hegemonic ideals of what ‘normal’ bodies should be – whole, independent, beautiful, and productive – are inherently connected to ideas about what kind of bodies are not ‘normal’.
Until the late twentieth century, disability was largely represented as a biological problem in the individual with impairment. Knowledge about disability was primarily used to advance attempts to ‘fix’ problematic bodies through diagnostic labels and therapeutic interventions. Yet as Davis points out, disability is not a static category but by its very nature is unstable and expansive. A person with a physical impairment can also have a chronic illness and mental health condition; a person of any race, gender or class can become disabled at any given time in their life, whether due to illness, accidents or old age. Lived experiences of disability are multiple and this multiplicity makes it a rich site for contestations and intersectional explorations.
We invite scholars across a range of disciplines to come to together and think through social identity and the politics of the body through the lenses of disability. The aim of this reading group is to build alliances across the fields of disability studies, gender studies, social sciences, and the humanities to challenge and disrupt hegemonic discourses of normalcy and normativity. Through critiquing the ways in which notions of normalcy and normativity are constructed, we aim to reconceptualise the set of social relations that define and signify bodies of difference as ‘abnormal’ or ‘transgressive’.
Some of the themes and questions we will examine include (but are not limited to):
- Disability + Intersectionality: How are disabled bodies made into subjects of power, and how does theorising the disabled body reconfigure bodies as sites of multiple signification? How can we think through ‘compulsory able-bodiedness’ (McRuer) and how does this develop our understanding of bodies under capitalism? How can the category of ‘disability’ be disrupted when thinking about bodily injuries and social stigmas that are caused by political and economic factors?
- Disability + Culture: How do disabled bodies figure in literature and popular culture? How can we critique the feminisation of disabled bodies and the disablement of female bodies, and how does this help us to think through gender, disability, and power?
- Disability + Borders: How does the liminality of bodies between health and sickness, and able-bodiedness and disability, intersect with and help us to rethink other binary systems of representation – such as race, gender, sexuality, class? How does disability figure within and through state borders?
- Disability + Resistance: How can disabled bodies and other bodies of difference become a force for resistance against austerity and social injustice? How does disability challenge and resist notions of productivity and capacity?
- Disability + Performance: In what ways do disabled bodies perform? How have disabled bodies been represented in performance? Can performance offer alternative ways of thinking about disability and bodily capacity?