Ddi 12 ss disabilities Neg Dartmouth 2012 Andrew 1 ddi 12 ss disabilities Neg Strategy Sheet



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Mawyer 05 (Rob, Heartland Community College, “The Postmodern Turn in Disability Studies,” Atenea, Vol. 25, No. 1.)

I see at least two limitations here. First, disability studies hopes to repair the status of disabled people within the framework of a global capitalist system. The politics suggested in Thomson’s work are at every point underwritten by notions of identity that are distinctly capitalist ways of knowing. Further, she underestimates the trenchant capacity for exploitation and oppression that capitalism fosters and needs. In fact, disability studies currently aims for the disabled to be slightly less exploited or, at worst, to join the ranks of exploiter, all of which seems incommensurate with a truly radical politics. Second, Disability Studies currently suffers from the logics of localization and particularization, which are also capitalist ways of knowing. In Empire Hardt and Negri write, In the decades of the current crisis of the communist, socialist, and liberal Left that has followed the 1960s, a large portion of critical thought, both in the dominant countries of capitalist development and in the subordinated ones, has sought to recompose sites of resistance that are founded on the identities of social subjects or national and regional groups, often grounding political analysis on the localization of struggles. (44) This localist position, Hardt and Negri maintain, must be critiqued, as must the “the social machines that create and recreate the identities and differences that are understood to be local” (45). Currently, the political project of disability studies suffers from the localization of struggles, which effectively prevents the plights of the disabled in overdeveloped areas of the world, say, from ever being theorized next to those of the disabled in disadvantaged areas. This is not to say, however, that disability studies does not enjoy a productive crosscontinental communication, for while clearly disability theorists in the US and abroad influence each other intellectually, as yet no political project has been posited linking the concerns of the disabled worldwide. 3 This lack is coterminous with currently insufficient accounts in disability studies of the complex sets of social relations determined by capitalist modes of production. At the heart of the matter, though, is a general abstraction of “disability” from its materiality—from its rootedness in daily life—and it is here that we must begin to make amends. Little is made, for example, of the “near total [economic] dependency” of the disabled and how that corresponds to the transformation in modes of production from agrarian to industrial, creating a workforce of interested individuals competing to sell their wage labor (Nibert 70). Or, for example, on how the concentration and centralization of wealth under capitalism underwrites the ideologies of the free individual while making increasingly difficult the possibility of self-reliance, social mobility, or true, lived equality (Nibert 75-76). To this end, I find promise in the works of Lennard J. Davis. In “Constructing Normalcy,” Davis too focuses on norms and analyzes the historical “invention” of “normalcy” in the nineteenth century.4 He locates the advent of body norms in industrialization and the concomitant set of practices and discourses linked to late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century notions of race, gender, sexuality, nationality, and criminality. Whereas before industrialization in the Western world, Davis asserts, images of the ideal body are bound to divinity and artistic traditions working to visualize the gods’ bodies, processes of modernization establish a link between the body and industry and eventually result in the formulation of a “common man” (11). The pre-modern ideal body is the divine body and thus “not attainable by a human” (10); the assertion of an “average” or “normal” body, rationalized, Davis suggests, by the field of statistics and then disciplined and enforced by medico-scientific fields like eugenics, “implies that the majority of the population must or should somehow be part of the norm” (13). The establishment of a “norm,” then, divides bodies into standard and nonstandard categories. This new knowledge in the nineteenth century that bodies can be normed and standardized, according to Davis, carries with it harsh consequences. Davis emphasizes the consequences of one particular field legitimated by modernity—fingerprinting. Modern systems of fingerprinting for personal identification are founded on the notion that physical traits could be inherited, and fingerprints themselves were often thought to be physical marks of parentage. The fingerprint, then, suggests a body’s identity, which, Davis concludes, “coincides with its [the body’s] essence and cannot be altered by moral, artistic, or human will” (15). He writes, By this logic, the person enters into an identical relationship with the body, the body forms the identity, and the identity is unchangeable and indelible as one’s place on the normal curve. For our purposes, then, this fingerprinting of the body means that the marks of physical difference become synonymous with the identity of the person. (15) With this new discourse on the body in place, deviance from the norm soon can be identified with weakness, uselessness, and criminality. Thus suddenly and quite easily in the nineteenth century, “criminals, the poor, and people with disabilities might be mentioned in the same breath” (17). Davis picks up this idea again in his more recent book, Bending Over Backwards: Disability, Dismodernism, and Other Difficult Positions. This time, however, he ties the construction of normalcy more explicitly to social relations overdetermined by capitalist divisions of labor. Once again he draws upon “knowledge” rationalized by the field of statistics, which, he claims, following the logic of capitalism severed notions of equality among citizens from ethical considerations and placed them more fully within quasi-scientific considerations. Using Habermas’s delineation of the fundamental paradox in Enlightenment thinking between the philosophical/ethical goal of establishing societies of equality, freedom, and liberty and capitalism’s drive to distribute wealth unequally, Davis traces how advances in math and science were used to rationalize this paradox. Statistics, which could posit the bell curve as a natural law, “proved” that the distribution of wealth must also fall along this same curve. Thus, “the very theory that allows the individual to be instantiated in the collective on an equal basis also allows for wealth to be unequally distributed” (111). Davis writes further that Once the ethical notion [of equality] is reconditioned by the statistical one, the notion of equality is transformed. Indeed, the operative notion of equality, especially as it applies to the working classes, is really one of interchangeability. As the average man can be constructed, so can the average worker. All working bodies are equal to all other working bodies because they are interchangeable. This interchangeability, particularly in nineteenth-century factories, means that workers’ bodies are conceptualized as identical. So the term “able-bodied” workers came to be interchangeable with able-bodied citizens. This ideological module has obvious references to the issue of disability. (111) Thus, in Bending Over Backwards Davis begins the much needed project in humanities-based disability studies of delineating how capitalism overdetermines social relations, bodily norms, and human ways of knowing. His work, like Hennessy’s in feminist studies, begins to theorize materiality as not just discursive and normative. While his theories are certainly open to critique—he consistently narrows his focus to deafness, which might suggest another instance of the localization of struggles—Davis steadfastly refuses to allow mere representations of disability to be the object of study.5 This aspect of Davis’s theories initiates, I believe, a truly progressive project. While Davis is among the best-known disability studies scholars, his conceptual framework is certainly not representative of the field as a whole. Indeed, Davis even repeatedly praises the work done by scholars like Thomson. Ultimately, I attribute this to the postmodern turn in theory, generally, and in disability studies, particularly, which would make causality problematic and unfashionable. Do I support a return to some of the nastier consequences of modernism’s totalizing logic? Of course not. What I propose, however, is a full and sustained critique of the limits of postmodern projects. Specifically, I want us to acknowledge, as Hardt and Negri and Hennessy suggest in various ways, how the localizing tendencies of postmodern thought effectively occlude the possibility of radical structural change. As Jameson writes, the unforeseeable return of narrative as the narrative of the end of narratives, this return of history in the midst of the prognosis of the demise of historical telos, suggests … the way in which virtually any observation about the present can be mobilized in the very search for the present itself and pressed into service as a symptom and an index of the deeper logic of the postmodern, which imperceptibly turns into its own theory and theory of itself. How could it be otherwise when there no longer exists any such “deeper logic” for the surface to manifest and when the symptom has become its own disease (and vice versa, no doubt)? (Postmodernism xii) The time has come for disability studies to cease mobilizing its historicization in a search for the present—which ultimately is what cultural materialist projects undertake—and begin indexing what in A Singular Modernity Jameson refers to as an “ontology of the present.” The time has come for disability studies to enact a truly radical project first by critiquing capitalist ways of knowing and then by recovering a Utopian narrative outside of the current structures of oppression and exploitation. Capitalism makes all people “bend over backwards”; a truly radical disability studies can help us acknowledge that.




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