Two of the last week’s readings- Lennard Davis’ “The End of Identity Politics and the Beginning of Dismodernism” and Tobin Siebers’ “Disability Studies and the Future of Identity Politics” fascinated me more the others. The arguments both Davis and Siebers have forwarded in their articles are, I think, very powerfully persuasive. As Susan Wendell is quoted as saying: “In most postmodern cultural theorizing about the body, there is no recognition of- and, as far as I can see, no room for recognizing – the hard physical realities that are faced by people with disabilities. …We need to acknowledge that social justice and cultural change can eliminate a great deal of disability while recognizing that there may be much suffering and limitation that they cannot fix” (Davis, 8).

To me, it appears that the be-all and end-all objective of all kinds of disability rights movements, disability studies and all other academic and scholarly pursuits we have been involved in is to ease the lives and protect the dignity and rights of the people with various kinds of disabilities. From the readings we have done in our course so far and the discussions we have had in the classes, it is clear that disability studies has already come a long way and the application of the postmodern and deconstructive theories to the study of disability in particular has ushered it into a different era. Davis wants to do away with the postmodernist approach, arguing that “The universal subject of postmodernism may be pierced and narrative-resistant but that subject was still whole, independent, unified, self-making, and capable” and advocates dismodernism that proposes a “new ethics of the body” and that is “a new kind of universalism and cosmopolitanism” that differently reacts to the localization of identity (Davis, 27). To keep in mind not only the typological diversity of disability but also its trajectory with geography and economy, to what extent would this model be relevant to the underdeveloped societies, where the social model itself is an impossibility?  

Also, as Sierbers argues, “Recent theoretical emphases on “performativity,” “heterogeneity,” and “indeterminacy” privilege a disembodied ideal of freedom, suggesting that emancipation from social codes and norms may be achieved by imagining the body as a subversive text. These emphases are not only incompatible with the experiences of people with disabilities; they mimic the fantasy, often found in the medical model, that disease and disability are immaterial as long as the imagination is free” (Siebers, 75). I wonder if discarding the identity politics entirely would be detrimental to the comforts and rights of the people with disabilities and if the postmodern and deconstructive readings of disability would prove to me a mere academic pastime! 

“Mapping the Terrain” by Mairian Corker and Tom Shakespeare strongly advocates for doing away with the medical/ individual and social models of disability studies, arguing that these models spring forth from modernist tenets as they seek to “explain disability universally, and end up creating totalizing, meta-historical narratives that exclude important dimensions of disabled people’s lives and their knowledge” (15, Corker ad Shakespeare). They further argue that the other realms like feminism, critical race theory, queer theory and postcolonial studies have tremendously benefited from postmodernist and poststructuralist theories; however, the terrain of disability studies has failed to make use of those theories and resultantly, it lacks a strong theoretical foundation, which is, they argue, is essential to advance and consolidate the cause of the disabled. They state, “Disability and impairment have been largely excluded from mainstream postmodern analysis and this analysis has so far failed impact significantly on how we perceive, think about and produce disability and impairment in the twenty-first century” (3, Corker and Shakespeare). Very insightful though their arguments are, my concern here is to what extent it would be possible to reconcile the “activist and academic wings of the disability community” at a time when the academia and the disability rights movements are further drifting away. And again, it is true that “The global experience of disabled people is too complex to be rendered within one unitary model or set of ideas” (15, Corker and Shakespeare), how can the postmodernist and poststructuralist approach address such diverse issues all at one time? What I am curious to know is: does the approach Corker and Shakespeare talk about here just let loose the knot that tied the bundle of the problems without coming up with any specific solution? 

In course of looking for the research done in the field of dyslexia/learning disabilities in children as I am doing my upcoming presentation on a Hindi movie to look into the representation of a dyslexic boy, I came across the journal titled “The Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal” (RDS), published by the University of Hawaii, which I accessed by clicking the E-Journal of the library website of the University of Waterloo. I went through some of the articles “Teacher Educators’ Varied Definitions of Learning Disabilities” by Rachael Gabriel and Jessica Lester and “Disability Studies and the Language of Mental Illness” by Katie Aubrecht and I believe the journal contains a number of research articles on disabilities, specially in cross-cultural perspectives.   

Nancy Ordover in his article “National Hygiene: Twentieth-Century Immigration and the Eugenics Lobby” traces the history of eugenics in America arguing that “By warning against Latin American, Asian, eastern, and southern European, and North African immigration, twentieth century eugenics was a significant tool in the hands of those seeking to construct and preserve an Anglo-Saxon nation. These ‘interlopers,’ along with American Blacks, were viewed as both contaminated bodies and contaminators of the body politic.” This shows that the American eugenicists were wary of not letting the “alien defectives” contaminate the “pure” race. It is very interesting to observe the way how eugenics and racism  are wed together. The demarcation is quite slim. I am curious to know where the borderline between these two begins and ends. Additionally, I would like to connect our discussions on eugenics with a recent more recent phenomenon: to what extent are the immigration policies of the US and Canada still influenced by the the eugenic principles? Likewise, Angus McLaren in the Epilogue makes a trenchant point saying that “it must not be forgotten that in campaigning for the sterilization of the feeble-minded, eugenicists were responsible for serious crimes being committed against the weakest members of the community. The tragedy is that we know so much about the eugenicists, but next to nothing of their policies’ victims.”   I am shocked to read that “A Scarborough woman informed the press that she was told by her doctor that her nine-year-old girl should be sterilized.” What are the new forms and manifestations of modern-day eugenics?

Adrienne Asch’s article “Critical Race, Feminism, and Disability: Reflections on Social Justice and Personal Identity” poignantly explores the nuanced forms of indignities meted out to the people with disabilities of which the “able-bodied” people are intentionally or unintentionally unaware.  Asch argues that “people with disabilities are expected to play no adult social role whatsoever, to be perceived as always, in every social interaction, a recipient of help and never a provider of assistance” and I think this sort of practice of treating the disabled people like “children” makes them feel definitely emasculated the way the black people would be treated as mere “children.” What is really insightful is the way the writer proposes a “human variation” model discarding the “medical model” and the “minority model” arguing that what it does is “universalizing of disability” and “reminds everyone that human beings come in a variety of physical, mental and emotional make-ups that change over time.” Although Asch’s argument sounds logical, what I argue, first, is that taking the really life-threatening disabilities in some people as natural forms of human variations will belittle their exigencies and struggles.   Second, Asch also talks about how he felt very bad when a stranger sitting beside him at an academic conference offered him unsolicited help as a painful reminder that he is inferior. This makes me remembers an article by William Hines titled “Hello, Judy! I’m Dr. Smith” in which she talks about how the male physicians in America take the liberty of addressing their female patients by their first names while they want to be addressed by honorific words. When I read these articles where Asch feels hurt when offered help and Hines’ protest against first-naming by male doctors, I recall the feminist issues and the issues surrounding the disability rights in the so-called Third World. I wonder how the disability rights movement would address such problems!

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A young woman with cerebral palsy, whose only way of communicating is by writing with her foot, has won Nepal’s most prestigious literary prize.Ms Ghimire has published four volumes of poetry, two books of short stories and many newspaper columns.

Rosemarie Garland Thomson in her essay “Seeing the Disabled” talks about the rhetorics of visual representations of disability- the rhetoric of the wondrous, sentimental, exotic, and the realistic and how they manipulate the perceptions of the viewers in a subtle and non-subtle ways, arguing that “An important caveat here is that these rhetorics seldom occur discretely from one another. Instead, they are typically co-present in individual images and inform in varying manifestations the representation of disability throughout modernity.” To look at Ghimire’s visual representation, how is this interplay between different rhetorics at work?

I found the reading quite interesting as it traces the history of the Western ontology and epistemology and discusses how we are trapped within the watertight compartments of our own ontologies that prevent us from looking at things critically and sceptically. His argument that the study of disability studies should begin with the philosophical ratiocination of the Western metaphysics from the very beginning sounds very logical. However, I have come up with the following queries for general discussion:

1. At one point in his essay he says, “Disability refers to a value judgement that something is not being done in a certain, acceptable way. Just as race is not a viable biological term and has no ‘scientific’ definition, disability has no ‘scientific’ or even a commonly agreed upon definition.” He is absolutely right when he points out the lack of unanimity in defining the term; however, to what extent can we equate the notion of race with disability? Is having a black skin not different from not having a hand or a leg? Is disability an absolute sociocultural construct? 

2. The author criticizes all the nine versions of the disability paradigm; what then could be the ideal model? Pfeiffer further talks about using ‘critical epistemology’ in order to free oneself from harmful stereotypes and further points out its complexity saying that “language guides thinking (Minkel, 2002) and English is fundamentally Platonic in its ontology and epistemology.” Does this statement imply that we are trapped in a sort of ontological determinism or impasse?