WEEK 10 – Thoughts about disability in relation to globalization

In the epilogue, McRuer discusses how the specters of globalization are haunting disability studies” (199).  This statement speaks to disability studies in relation to postmodernism.  Postmodernism offered an escape from the reductionist mode of thought by advocating that “the body and identities around the body [are] socially constructed and performative” (Davis, 13). 

Our world is a socially created and socially mediated construction.  Culture is prior, present, and future to us because we are born into culture, experience culture, and create culture.  Culture assumes a kind of truth value because culture shapes our interactions with the world and contributes to the reality by which we structure our social lives.  As such, culture, as a social product, positions us in the world as subjects and contributes to the construction of our identity.  Yet, in accordance with Hegel, our “error” is “failing to recognize culture as a human product”.  We tend to forget that culture is an artificial human creation and begin to unquestionably and unconsciously regard it as our natural reality through processes of normalization. 

Problems surrounding disability can be expressed using an analogy that deals with globalization and commodities.  We live in an age where culture is significantly impacted by materialism and consumption.  We ascribe value to cultural commodities, thereby empowering these artefacts and enlisting them as part of a global cultural discourse.  This commodity culture shapes the environment in which we live.  Commodity culture is fueled by capitalism.  The nature of capitalism functions to reinforce hegemonic powers because the dominant powers control the production of commodities which are then consumed, leading to more being produced and creating a recursive cycle of production and consumption.  So in many ways we are still trapped by modernism.  Yet Davis states that “disability may turn out to be the identity that links other identities, replacing the notion of postmodernism with something [he wants] to call ‘dismodernism’” (13-14).  Dismodernism has the potential to counter the problems of postmodernism and dissolve problematic power structures associated with modernism in relation to disability.  Davis notes how disability is an unstable category that is a subset of an unstable identity in a postmodern era (25).  He proceeds to acknowledge that “[w]hat dismodernism signals is a new kind of universalism and cosmopolitanism that is reacting to the localization of identity.  It reflects a global view of the world” (27). 

Countries all possess unique nationalities and, as such, are culturally divergent from one another.  The same applies to different individuals, such as women, minority groups, and the disabled.  Groups such as these cannot be merged into one category that accurately reflects their unique subject positions just as countries all possess their own unique subject position.  With globalization, however, cultures are becoming integrated with one another because the local and global are converging.  Nations have become increasingly independent and interconnected through the process of globalization.  The expansion of global linkages has compressed space and time, causing the once distant and inaccessible to become proximate and accessible.  The same holds true for identity constructions.  Identity “categories” are experiencing increasing intersectionality.  To better understand one group we can express it with the help of another group’s identity project.  The exchange of local cultures through the global interactions of geographically disparate people has produced a seemingly global consciousness and global culture.  This notion speaks to the increased awareness of subjugated identities which has, in a sense, produced a global consciousness in addressing their oppression. 

However, this production of a global consciousness has threatened to result in extreme merger of identities.  So the question remaining is what actually unites the world to make this consciousness and culture global?  Just as what actually unites identities, in the local sense, to produce this global sense of identity?  The convergence of the local and global is arguably realized through commodity consumption because the consumption of commodities positions the local within the global and the global within the local.  So what positions disability in a global context as well as a local context, and what forces mediate this convergence?  And how is a balance maintained then between expressions of individual identity, the local, and the group identity, the global?  If the balance is not maintained, we will only deaden both the local and global, the individual and group identities, because differences will be dissolved through assimilation.




WEEK 10 – Summaries

Davis – “The End of Identity Politics and the Beginning of Dismodernism”
In this article Lennard Davis discusses disability identity.  He describes how the “first wave of any struggle involves the establishment of the identity against the societal definitions that were formed largely by oppression” (10).  With the second wave, “a newer generation of people within the identity group…begin to redefine the struggle and the subject of study” (10).  He discusses how the “way out of [the] reductionist mode was to say that the body and identities around the body were socially constructed and performative”, but this view created its own problems in raising the question of whether there is a core identity (13).  Davis’ main argument is that “disability may turn out to be the identity that links other identities, replacing the notion of postmodernism with something [he] want[s] to call ‘dismodernism’” (14).  Davis proposes a “new ethics of a body” and states that this “new ethics for the body begin with disability rather than end with it” (23).  Finally, Davis explains that “caring about the body subsumes and analyzes care of and care for the body” and produces an “ethic of liberation” (29)  

Siebers – “Disability Studies and the Future of Identity Politics”
Siebers discusses how if “minority identity is not destined for extinction, it may be worth considering it as a factor in all political representation” (70).  He considers “the future of identity politics from the perspective of the many forms of disability” (71).  Siebers contends that “disability studies requires one to think with greater flexibility about what constitutes both an identity and a minority group” and also wants “to engage disability studies with two theories important to identity politics: social constructionism and philosophical realism” (72, 73).  He notes how “the social model challenges the idea of defective citizenship by situating disability in the environment, not in the body” (73).  Siebers discusses “the problem of rationality and political representation” (78).  He notes how “[d]isability does not yet have the advantage of a political interpretation because the ideology of ability remains largely unquestioned” (81).  He concludes that “identity politics is not a curse on minority individuals but a political boon” and that “[d]isability studies has much to offer future discussions of minority identity and its politics” (95). 

McRuer – “Epilogue”
In the epilogue, McRuer discusses how the specters of globalization are haunting disability studies” (199).  He explains how the “rhetorical point—everyone will be disabled if they live long enough—functions around global bodies” (200).  The notion of global bodies can refer to a supplementation for the foundational work, the expansion of subjects in the field, a kind of cosmopolitanism, a body that does not “refer to people at all”, or even “another kind of mobile and productive force” (201-203).  McRuer states that “we need to develop new vocabularies, disability vocabularies, for analyzing postmodern subject positions” (204).  He concludes that disability to come must acknowledge “the other that haunts the self” and acknowledge “the democracy to come” (208). 

Haraway – “Manifesto for Cyborgs”
Harraway notes how “identities seem contradictory, partial, and strategic” (113).  She examines “two major new scientific and technological universes, electronics and biotechnology, in order to suggest the scope of social reformations which socialist feminists and other progressive groups must face” (114).  She draws out a “fuller picture of material and cultural reworkings linked to biotechnologies, especially genetic engineering” (116).  She notes how “genetic engineering is inherently a technology for the production of meanings, as well as for the production of bodies” (117).  She states that “[p]erhaps the largest challenge in genetic engineering and associated reproductive technologies is to our beliefs about the nature of our bodies, about where our bodies end and the environment or other people being” (119).  Harraway observes that “the social relations of science and technology, visible in electronics and biotechnology, are powerful techniques for intensifying the commodification of everything” (120).  Harraway feels that “there are great riches for feminists in embracing the possibilities inherent in the breakdown of clean distinctions between organism and machine” (124).  She concludes that “the machine is us, our processes, an aspect of our embodiment” and that “[c]yborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our tools to ourselves” (124, 125).

WEEK 9 – Thoughts

This week’s readings were interesting in terms of how parallels can be drawn between various body theories and how these theories can be interrelated.  I found Bordo’s article particularly interesting in terms of the nature of eating disorders and the relationship between these disorders and the body.  The “construction of such thinking as ‘faulty,’ ‘flawed,’ ‘distorted,’ ‘myths,’ the product of invalid logic, poor reasoning, or mythological thinking” is actually reflective of the social reality of how eating disorders are perceived (59).  Bordo explains how “‘distorted attitudes’[are] a fairly accurate representation of social attitudes toward slenderness or the biological realities involved in dieting” (59).  Distorted attitudes are representative of social attitudes because social attitudes have been humanly constructed.  In order to have a distorted attitude, that attitude must first be socially constructed.  It is through social constructions that we come to see ourselves as “flawed” or “distorted” because these constructions position us as such given that these terms are inherently dialectical and thus automatically evoke their counterpart upon usage, thereby conjuring images of the socially “ideal” body with which to compare ourselves.   

Bordo also notes how the medical model fails to “acknowledge how normative the obsession with body weight is in our culture” (64).  This obsession about the “ideal” body weight parallels the obsession about the “ideal” body in terms of its wholeness and “normalcy”.  The notion of the ideal body has become so normative in our culture that it has become naturalized.  Anything differing from the normative then consequently becomes classified as unnatural, abnormal, or other.  Our reverence of the ideal body has become an unconscious act.  Corker and Shakespeare discuss how “Lacan’s idea of the self as fiction or imaginary marked the most radical comprehensive decentering of the human subject through its suggestion that the unconscious, just like language, is an endless process of difference, lack, and absence” (9).  As such, since our desire for the perfect body has become so pervasive that it resides in the realm of our unconscious, we are constantly unconsciously drawing distinctions between the self and other.  We are always in a state of recognizing our deficiencies in terms of acknowledging how we differ from this ideal construction of the human body.  The more “deficient” we are perceived to be, the further we are removed from attaining the ideal and, consequently, the further we are from being considered “normal”.  The dialectical principles of merger and division, in alignment with Burke, are heavily at play with disability.  Distinctions are always being drawn and, from these distinctions, we either have reduction or division.  Concepts either become reduced to generalizations or multiplied in scope.  We have reduced our conception of the body to the ideal body, demonstrating the risks of excessive merger.  In this process of reduction, we also have its counterpart, excessive division.  We have drawn so many distinctions and classifications of what is not the ideal that any variation has become socially positioned as being distant from this merged generalization of the norm.  Merger constitutes the process of identification, which is one of consubstantiality, because identification marks an attempt to draw out a common substance or essence from diverging things, and so identification operates under the principles of merger and division.  Yet if we cannot identify with the merged thing, in this case the representation of the ideal body, we feel a lack since we do not possess this common substance or essence that incorporates us in the classification of the normal body.  This theoretical explanation of the principles of merger and division amounts to how Bordo states that “we need “awareness of the many layers of cultural signification that are crystallized in the disorder” which entails acknowledging the cultural implications that exist beyond the medical model (67).  If we disavow cultural implications, we disavow the ways in which we socially construct and position ourselves and others and, in doing so, may even come to disavow ourselves if we perceive that we possess a “lack” as a result of an inability to identify with and embody this merged perception of the ideal body. 

WEEK 9 – Summaries

Mairian Corker and Tom Shakespeare – “Mapping the Terrain”
In this article, Corker and Shakespeare outline and draw distinctions between modernism and postmodernism.  They state how the individual and medical models of disability “are characteristic of the kinds of epistemologies or knowledge systems generated by modernism”, and describe how the socialist model of disability serves as “an example of the socialist counter-culture” (2, 3).  The authors describe how the “capitalist underpinnings” of modernism contribute to the inequality present in today’s society (2).  They proceed to delve into approaches to post-modernism and discuss how these post-modernist approaches are important to disability studies.  The authors discuss how theorists like Baudrillard, Derrida. Foucault, Lacan, Butler, Bhabha, Spivak, Irigaray, Kristeva, Harraway, and others, perceive disability.  The authors state that the “failure to engage with post-structuralist and postmodernist thought is to the detriment of disability studies” and conclude that “existing theories of disability—both radical and mainstream—are no longer adequate” (13, 15).

Judith Butler – “Critically Queer”
Butler discusses “how certain injuries establish certain bodies at the limits of available ontologies, available schemes of intelligibility” (224).  She discusses power, subversion, and performativity, including the notion of “I” in that “there is first a discourse which precedes and enables that ‘I’” (225).  Butler delves into the risks of using identity categories and how “we are responsible for the terms that carry the pain of social injury” (229).  Butler states how “if identity is a necessary error, then the assertion of ‘queer’ will be necessary as a term of affiliation, but if will not fully describe those it purports to represent”, just as disability is also a necessary as a term of affiliation (230).  Overall, Butler’s implications of queer theory can be transferred and applied to disability in order to refigure our understanding of disability, especially with regards to how “to rethink the terms that establish and sustain bodies that matter” (240). 

Susan Bordo – “Whose Body Is This?”
Bordo discusses eating disorders with respect to gender.  She references a 1983 conference in which Susie Orbach spoke and acknowledged that “psychological factors have combined to produce a generation of women…without need, without want, without body” (47).  Orbach questioned the “designation of eating disorder as ‘pathology’” and, in doing so, was questioning the medical model of anorexia and bulimia (48).  Bordo proceeds to address how “eating disorders are culturally and historically situated” and states that researchers do not recognize fully the “preeminent role played by cultural ideology” (50, 51).  Bordo, instead, advocates a “feminist/cultural perspective on eating disorders” (54).  She proceeds to describe this feminist/cultural model and illustrates instances in which this model has brought into question the medical model.  Bordo explains how “‘distorted attitudes’[are] a fairly accurate representation of social attitudes toward slenderness or the biological realities involved in dieting” (59).  She then addresses misconceptions and concerns surrounding criticisms of feminist/cultural approaches to eating disorders.  Bordo notes how the medical model fails to “acknowledge how normative the obsession with body weight is in our culture” (64).  Finally she concludes that we need “awareness of the many layers of cultural signification that are crystallized in the disorder” which entails acknowledging the cultural implications that exist beyond the medical model (67).

Shelley Tremain – “On the Subject of Impairent”
Tremain notes how the “social model has two terms of reference, which are taken to be mutually exclusive.  They are impairment and disability” (33).  She references the UPIAS’s definition of disability which defines it as “‘a form of disadvantage which is imposed on top of one’s impairment” (33).  Using Foucault’s historical approach, Tremain states that impairment, an “allegedly ‘real’ entity”, can be shown to be a “historically contingent effect of modern power” (34).  Tremain argues that “impairment and its materiality are naturalized effects of disciplinary knowledge/power” and describes how “the social model (impairment) is an historical artefact of this regime of knowledge/power” (34).  Tremain states how “Foucault regarded ‘normalization’ as the central component of the regime of biopower” (36).  She proceeds to acknowledge how “‘the great complex idea of normality’ has become the means through which to identify subjects and make them identify themselves in ways that make them governable” (37).  Tremain then addresses issues of sex and gender, and the feminist viewpoint  Tremain proposes that “the causal link between ‘our bodies’ (impairment) and ‘our social situation’ (disability)” is similar “to the sex-gender distinction in genealogical terms” (41).  Tremain concludes that “impairment has been disability all along” (42).         

WEEK 8 – Some disability studies sources

Canadian Disability Studies Association
Includes a resources page with some links to relevant disability studies material:

Disability Studies Quarterly
Includes recent work in the area of disability studies and provides access to the articles in full:

Disability and Health Journal
This journal delves into disability in relation to issues of quality of life and specific health conditions related to disability. This journal deals more with health models and infrastructure surrounding disability, but could still prove useful for disability studies research:

Canadian Journal of Disability Studies

Journal of Disability Policy Studies
This journal “addresses compelling variable issues in ethics, policy and law related to individuals with disabilities”.

International Journal of Disability, Community, and Rehabilitation
This journal deals with the intersection of disability, community, and rehabilitation and the junctures on which the three interrelate and interact.

WEEK 7 – Some questions for consideration…

Q: How do we explain disability as something that is a material, individual experience located in particular bodies, but also as a social force?

Disability is an individual experience in the sense that everyone who is disabled experiences his/her disability differently from everyone else.  Someone who is not disabled can never fully comprehend the experience of someone who is disabled because the non-disabled person has not had to live with the disability and experience the disability on a daily basis.  Similarly, individuals with different disabilities can relate to each other, but in terms of potential difficulties in environment as a result of different contextual experiences, that ability to relate only connects individuals with disabilities so much because different disabilities affect lives differently.  In some sense, the notion of disability as both an individual experience and social force can be equated to a sense of nationality.  To be a Canadian citizen means something different to each person but, as Canadians, that presence of Canadian-ness is always with us.  With disability, it means something different to everyone in society, whether disabled or not, and the presence of disability is always with as a social force in society if even in the smallest form, such as through accommodating measures like ramps and parking spaces.  To some extent, although repressed, we are all somewhat aware of our inevitability to become disabled through age, and so we carry that fact with us as an internal unconscious force that is both individual and social.


Q: How should we understand disability as meaning making and not just as prescriptive but in a generative sense as meaningful and meaning making?

Disability cannot be reduced to being purely prescriptive as disability extends beyond the imposition of correct usage and rules.  And construing disability in purely descriptive terms would lead to erroneous generalizations about the qualities that define disability.  Disability is generative because it produces meanings.  Meanings are produced through the dualities of such terms as disability and ability.  With dialectic, in accordance with Burke, you get merger and division which leads to reductions and expansions of terms.  This process of reducing and expanding terms produces meaning because certain meanings become heightened while others are deflected, which creates a system of meaning that is continuous with some beliefs/ideologies while necessarily entailing a discontinuous system to function as the counterpart.  The term, disability, can be reduced to numerous generalizations, but it can also be expanded to include numerous specifications.  The ways in which we use the term, disability, evidently determines how the term functions as a generator of meaning.  Each specification or generalization refigures our understanding of the term.  Yet as Burke warns, “when the specific essence has been so strictly reduced, the generic essence is rediscovered in terms correspondingly askew” (A Grammar of Motives, 410).  Excessive merger and division distorts the essence or approximation of the substance of truth of the original term, and results in the production of meanings that are far removed from the original meaning, motive, and potentiality of the term.  It would seem that a problem concerning disability studies is the ways in which we often engage in excessive distillation of terminologies to the point where the original essence is distorted.  This is not to say that we should narrow the scope and meaning of “disability,” for doing so would be equally erroneous, but rather we must be careful of how far we stray from the embodied essence of the term, which becomes problematic when the term itself is so inherently ambiguous.

WEEK 6 – Rhetoric

Rhetoric is typically defined as the art of persuasion or the art of speaking well.  Yet these definitions seem too restrictive given the expansive subject matter attended to by rhetoric and the numerous forms of rhetoric.  Rhetoric and the body are inseparable because the body functions as a vessel that contains the potentiality for the production of rhetoric, but the body is also constitutive of rhetoric.  Rhetoric is not limited to our verbal capacity for communication.  Rather, rhetoric is also produced and experienced by the body through gesture.  Proponents of embodied cognition go even further and purport that all aspects of cognition are shaped and influenced by the body to some extent and effect.  If that is the case, then the body undeniably remains bound to cognition through the communicative forces of rhetoric and, thus, the body cannot be considered without recognition of the brain, nor can the brain be considered in isolation of the body, because the body and brain represent a unification of communication.