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This seminar will use Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell’s Cultural Locations of Disability to examine issues related to disability and the body in the modern world. Published in 2006, this monograph examines the history of eugenicist ideologies in the United States from the 19th century to the present day, drawing on Foucault’s concept of ‘technologies of the self’ (among other theoretical constructs) to consider how modern societies frame the body as either normal or ‘deviant’. Snyder and Mitchell argue that modernity promises the eradication of physical suffering, but often results in the violent extermination of those considered ‘different’. In this seminar, we will discuss Snyder and Mitchell’s attempt to fill the ‘historiological gaps’ in the field of disability studies, and consider the multiple frames – institutional, cultural, locational, academic – through which they examine the management of disabled bodies and selves. We will also consider what is at stake in writing activist history, which seeks to return marginalized bodies and experiences to the centre of the historical record.

Core Reading:

Sharon L. Snyder and David T. Mitchell, Cultural Locations of Disability (University of Chicago Press, 2006).

Seminar Questions:

Which theoretical frameworks of disability and the body do Snyder and Mitchell set out in their work? Where do they situate their work within this field?

What is meant by a ‘cultural location of disability’?

How, according to Snyder and Mitchell, do modern state practices contribute to the exclusion of disabled bodies and selves from society?

Where do they identify the legacies of eugenicist thought in the present day?

What is at stake in writing an activist history of disability?

Further Reading:

Paul K. Longmore and Lauri Umansky, ‘Introduction: Disability History: From the Margins to the Mainstream’, in their book The New Disability History: American Perspectives (New York University Press, 2001), 1-32. If you have time, this whole book is very useful.

Lennard Davis, Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness and the Body (Verso, 1995).

Henri-Jacques Stiker, A History of Disability, trans. William Sayers (University of Michigan Press, 1999)

Lennard Davis (ed.), The Disability Studies Reader (Routledge, 2013). Several editions of this work exist. Chapters by Douglas Baynton, Paul Longmore, Tom Shakespeare and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson are all worth reading.

Lilya Kaganovsky, ‘How the Soviet Man Was (Un)Made’, Slavic Review, Vol. 63, No. 3 (Fall 2004), 577-96.

Essay Questions

'Difference comes to be devalued in modernity'. Discuss.

How does the 'cultural model' change the ways we think about disability?