Accessible futures? Disability, feminist and queer theory, and progressive politics

2005 2005

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Abstract (summary)

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.

Indexing (details)

Womens studies;
American studies
0453: Womens studies
0323: American studies
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; Cyborg; Disability; Feminist; Progressive politics; Queer theory
Accessible futures? Disability, feminist and queer theory, and progressive politics
Kafer, Alison
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 66/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
0496927477, 9780496927470
Samantrai, Ranu
The Claremont Graduate University
University location
United States -- California
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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