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Panel Review: "Illness, Deformity, and Shock Re-Reading Disability"

  • Author(s): Davis, Vivian
  • et al.
Abstract

In 1995’s Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness and the Body, Lennard Davis famously defined disability as a “disruption in the visual field.”1 Over the course of the following decade, this theorization of disability as a “specular moment” would come to greatly impact the emergent field of disability studies.2 By emphasizing the disabled body’s potential for erasure, whether in scholarship or society at large, Davis’s work both opened new avenues of academic inquiry and readied a political agenda in which disability was figured as a transformative category of political identity. 3 However, as the papers presented during the Thinking Gender conference panel, “Illness, Deformity, and Shock: Re-Reading Disability,” suggested, structures of visibility and invisibility are but one of many ways of constructing disabledness. While the alliance between disability and issues of visibility has long given the field political traction, the set of papers which emerged from the panel indicated that many of disability studies’ core tenets require a fresh reexamination. As moderator Professor Helen Deutsch, Department of English, UCLA, noted, the aim of the panel was therefore to unsettle rather than cement the foundations of what has historically been a highly innovative and deeply interdisciplinary field. As such, the panel’s participants employed a broad range of analyses to engage in acts of communal re-reading.

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