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Disability Culture and Performance

cdabbott's picture

When reading Kuppers's introduction around disability culture, the portion that I had the most questions about, and that I'm most interested in discussing concerned the intersection of disability and performance. Kuppers begins the piece with a discussion of disability and dance, which opens up into a larger observation of disability culture as something that is performed or enacted. I think the idea of performance is often equated with acting or with lack of truth, but in actuality, Kuppers's language of performativity mirrors discussions in gender studies contexts, which define the term more as the notion that identity is enacted in a particular societal context rather than essential to the person. This, as Kuppers argues, acknowledges the very category of disability as fluid: she writes, "There is no breakdown of specific impairments or medical or personal diagnosis language in these chapters. My own form of embodiment does set the rhetorical frame for the book, though, so issues about the naviagation of space or the interiority of pain are often at the forefront of the discussions and analysis, and so are reflections on the painfulness of community performance" (6). Thus, as Kuppers articulates, disability culture is something that is enacted by a group, not a set of characteristics that one either has or does not have.

I'm really interested in the ways this discussion around performativity intersects, going back to our discussion of Eli Clare, with discussions of gender and sexuality, particularly queerness. Gender performativity was one of the first things I learned about upon taking a gender studies class at Haverford, and now so central to the way I understand gender and sexuality. It is important of course to acknowledge these two forms of identity as intersecting, rather than conflating the two as the same or parallel, and I'd love to discuss the ways in which performativity in the context of disability differs from performativity as we understand it in a gender studies context.