Disability Theory Quote of the Day

“Constructing the axis on which disabled and nondisabled fall will be a critical step in marking all points along it.”

–Simi Linton, “Reassigning Meaning,” in Lennard J. Davis, ed, The Disability Studies Reader (New York: Routledge, 2010), 235 (originally in Simi Linton, Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity (NYU Press, 1998)).

Today’s seminar topic was identity and identity politics, and many of our authors considered at length the politics of the term disability and their discomfort with it. Part of the dissatisfaction (notice the function of dis here) is that the term describes a particular position along an axis of difference rather than the axis itself. It is akin to “women” “black” “native” “gender queer” etc. What disability theory lacks, I think, is a name for the continuum on which disability exists, something that functions like race, gender, coloniality, sexuality–all these terms relativize their dominants (white, male, European, straight) by placing them in a cultural field. “Embodiment” is a candidate but much too fraught because it has already been the subject of so much theory, and because disembodiment is itself an operative concept (one cannot be disgendered, deraced or declassed and “desexualized” does not mean escaping the cultural complex of sexuality).

Perhaps there’s an answer somewhere in the disability theory literature I don’t know. But if there isn’t, there should be.

One reply on “Disability Theory Quote of the Day”

  1. Sounds like a really interesting class! I think the closest I’ve heard, and I think this comes out of activist spaces around ablism, is the attempted resignification of “ability” as the name for the axis itself–degrees of ability, as opposed to able/disabled). But of course the problem with this is is it’s still within the positive range, forcing you to talk about negative degrees of ability once you pass some theoretical ability zero point. Definitely an important discussion to watch.

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