Social Justice Usage
Source: Goodley, Dan. Dis/ability Studies. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition, p. 4.[W]e are entering a time of dis/ability studies, when both categories of disability and ability require expanding upon as a response to the global politics of neoliberalism and hyper-capitalism. Disability is re-sited as a moment of celebration and desire that radically challenges the preferred desire to be non-disabled. Crip and disability politics are combined as dis/ability politics. One of the reasons that I came to write this text lay in a sense I had that (certain kinds of) disability studies (at least in Britain) were in danger of backing themselves into a theoretical and political cul-de-sac. While disability is, of course, the master signifier for many disability studies activists, scholars and researchers, we have witnessed the occlusion of concerns from equally transformative political movements. Race, gender, age, sexuality, class intersect with dis/ability in many complex ways but, too often, they are sidelined in pursuit of trying to understand the master signifier of disability.
Source: Goodley, Dan. Dis/ability Studies. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition, p. 4.
Disability is normatively understood through the gaze of medicalisation: that process where life becomes processed through the reductive use of medical discourse. This is not to say that medicine necessarily limits our thinking about disability. Indeed, as Couser (2011) comments, medicine has given many (disabled) people their lives. Simultaneously, medicine ‘tends to demystify and naturalise somatic anomaly, stripping away any supernatural or moral significance and characterising physical variation solely as a matter that science may investigate and attempt to remedy’ (Couser, 2011: 23). Herewith lies the problem. During those moments when disability is phrased through medical knowledge it threatens to be read solely through biological, genetic, hormonal, neurological and physiological language. Too often disability is found and medicalisation aroused. The study of disablism reacts to the ubiquitous individualisation of the problems of physical, sensory or cognitive impairments. Disability studies take as their bread and butter an oppositional stance to the ubiquitous individualisation of disability within the solitary individual.
New Discourses Commentary
Disability (or dis/ability) studies is founded upon the idea that disability is something that is unjustly done to people rather than something they happen to experience or be as a result of a disabling problem. That is, rather than seeing disabilities as certain kinds of deviations from normal human functioning that are or can be impairing, critical studies of disability view the issue socially and in terms of systemic power (see also, ableism).
Specifically, disability studies posit that society is set up by the able-bodied in ways that enable some people (the able-bodied) to access it, but, by failing to fully accommodate people with impairments, they are disabling certain people (those with disabilities) from being able to access it (equally or equitably, depending on who is writing). This arises from what is called the Social Model of Disability, which in its beginnings wasn’t radically constructivist and contributed to useful and important changes that improved accessibility for the disabled in society (see also, disableism).
This Social Model of Disability, which originated around 1980 with the scholar and activist Michael Oliver, places the responsibility of society to enable everyone equally, often by increasing accessibility through reasonable improvements like increasing the availability of handicapped parking spaces, access ramps, elevators, handicapped bathroom facilities, subtitles and/or transcripts of video or audio information, and so on. There is something to this, of course, as most people in contemporary advanced societies would fully agree, and the changes it led to in accessibility and accommodation are generally seen by nearly everyone as improvements (see also, progress). The Social Model largely replaces an earlier understanding of disability, which saw it as an individual or medical issue that needs to be addressed by the individual and her doctors. As noted, there was much value in this shift of responsibility, at least until it got Theorized more recently in accordance with Social Justice beliefs.
Dis/ability studies today are almost entirely dominated by the Social Justice approach, which draws heavily upon Michel Foucault’s work on social constructions around madness and sexuality. As such, most of the work in dis/ability studies today argues that unjust power dynamics about disabilities are socially constructed by scientific and medical discourses that assume it is preferable if all one’s body parts work and seek to cure or mitigate conditions in which they don’t function. Drawing upon Foucault’s postmodern analyses of power-knowledge and biopower explicitly—specifically, that just as homosexuality was once thought to be a disorder needing treatment due to moralistic prejudice against LGBT people—this approach theorizes that we also perceive disability as a problem to be treated because of moralistic prejudice against disabled people. For this reason, dis/ability studies today draws very significantly upon queer Theory and tends to see being disabled as just another way to be queer, i.e., to subvert and disrupt normativities.
This produces ableism—the belief that it is better or more normal to be able-bodied than not to be—and disableism—prejudice against disabled people, including especially as a function of systemic power. These are theorized as being akin to racism, sexism, and, as mentioned, homophobia (see also, heteronormativity). Further, it is also sometimes argued that the belief that a fully functioning body is preferable to one with an impairment is merely a product of a neoliberal society that wants all people to be able to work to further its capitalist and consumerist goals.
Dis/ability studies and the activism pertaining to it is most concerning when it seeks to discourage disabled people from seeking treatment for treatable conditions by attributing this to internalized ableism. Under this doctrine, a disabled identity is made central to disability, and a desire to be able-bodied is cast as a type of false consciousness that supports and perpetuates ableist views in society—that it is better or more normal to be able-bodied rather than disabled. In this way, disability studies combines ideas from queer Theory and critical race Theory in adopting an anti-normative (queer Theory) identity-first (critical race Theory) model of disability (for the purposes of advancing identity politics). At the extremes of this model can be found activists who argue most unhelpfully and from a place of profound confusion that the desire to remedy disabilities is a form of genocide, in that if all the disabilities of a certain type were cured, no such disabled identities would exist (and thus, the disabled identity in question would be systematically eradicated by powerful outsiders, i.e., a “genocide”).
As concerning as this is, one even more concerning aspect of disability studies is its potential encouragement of and support for transableism. Transableism is the idea, which some people have acted upon, that some people identify as disabled but live in an able body (mind notwithstanding, it is likely fair to say here), and are thus justified in intentionally being disabled (e.g., blinded, rendered deaf, having limbs or appendages amputated, etc.), usually with the assistance of medical professionals. Disability studies would, in general, support transableism and the right for people who identify as disabled (without being disabled) to have disabling surgeries.
Ableism; Audism; Biopower; Body; Capitalism; Crip theory; Critical; Critical race Theory; Dis/ability; Disableism; Discourses; Disrupt; Equality; Equity; False consciousness; Foucauldian; Genocide; Heteronormativity; Homophobia; Identity; Identity-first; Identity politics; Individualism (ideology); Injustice; Internalized ableism; Intersectionality; Medicalization; Narrative; Neoliberal; Norm; Normativity; Postmodern; Power (systemic); Power-knowledge; Progress; Queer (n., adj.); Queer Theory; Racism (systemic); Science; Sexism (systemic); Sexuality; Social construction; Social constructivism; Social Justice; Social Model of Disability; Subversion; Theory; Transableism
Revision date: 7/13/20