Accessible futures? Disability, feminist and queer theory, and progressive politics
This dissertation traces how progressive political visions, from cyborg theory to ecofeminism to feminist utopian fiction, rely on a medical model of disability; depicting disability as an individual problem requiring medical, rather than political, solutions. I argue that these visions are characterized by a normalizing impulse, erasing or marginalizing bodies marked as defective, disabled, or deviant. Focusing on the United States from 1990 through 2004, I draw on a mixture of feminist, queer, and disability theories in my analysis of popular culture and theoretical discourse. Through my examination of the representation of disability and able-bodiedness in progressive politics, I situate disability squarely within the realm of the political. My intent is to contextualize the meanings typically attributed to disability, thereby positioning “disability” as a set of practices and associations that can be contested and transformed.
Chapter One traces cyborg theorists' tendency to present disability as a metaphor for hybrid bodies, a representation that assumes that disabled bodies exemplify the human/machine interface. This pervasive use of the disabled body as an illustration of cyborgism presents a medicalized image of disability and perpetuates ableist ideologies of wholeness, rendering the cyborg figure problematic for disability politics. In Chapter Two, I argue that ecofeminist political visions are often predicated on an “engagement with nature,” an experience that typically assumes a nondisabled body. I note in Chapter Three that representations of possible genetic futures are characterized by a debate over the appropriate use of technology: technological attempts to eliminate disability are met with widespread support because they are assumed to mark progress toward a better future, while refusals of such “healing” technology are condemned as backward and dystopic. What these three bodies of knowledge have in common is a failure to recognize disability as political and disabled people as political agents. In Chapter Four, I articulate an alternative political vision, a “politics of access” that counters this erasure of disability from the political. Building on the work of queer disability activists, I propose a politics that relishes disability and difference, a politics grounded in coalition work, one that is committed to both solidarity and dissent.
0323: American studies