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Disability Culture

ncordon's picture

Well, now I am more confused than ever. I expected Petra's introduction to resolve my incomplete understanding of disability culture, but it certainly did not do that. To begin with, Petra asserts that there is no singular disability culture; disability cultures are numerous and exist in different capacities and spaces. Disability culture is not exclusive to disabled people alone and can include non-disabled "allies" (not a fan of this word) of the disability community. Disability culture is also a process, that evolves and shapes itself to historical times and cultural environments. Nonetheless, disability culture tries to eliminate other forms of exclusion –race, class, sexuality, etc.– to focus on the corporeal self alone. Perhaps this is my biggest concern with Petra's notion of disability culture. I think it is exciting that she envisions a culture where these complicated identity markers do not exist, but it is not realistic in my opinion. Our identities affect our bodies and our relationships with them, therefore, to pretend these identities do not exist for the purpose of reducing exclusion in disability culture, is ridiculous. Disability does not exist in a vacuum and intersecting identities should not be ignored for the sake of simplicity. Petra acknowledges the importance of acknowledging intersecting identities and identity-based priviledges in conversations about disability but seems to only want to do so when the conversation is positive. Petra wants disability culture to "safeguard against perpetuating or erecting other exclusions", nevertheless, these exclusions exist in other cultures, and part of disability culture ought to include having conversations about them. Honestly, Petra does not discuss this for long enough in her introduction for me to believe I have a thorough understanding of her idea about this topic, however; from what I did read, I did not agree with it. Let me know if you read it differently because perhaps I missed something... something tells me I might have because the rest of her introduction seems fairly agreeable. 


ekoren's picture

I totally hear where you're coming from- I think Petra Kuppers herself would feel your discomfort, even as I believe she responds to your valid critique. She mentions on page 4 that there is a challengingly elusive distinction to be made between "exclusive essentialism" (something I read as meaning narrow definitions of disability culture that do exactly what you're afraid of, eliminating complex identities) and "the desire to mark the differences that disability-focused environments... offer to mainstream ways of acknowledging bodies and their needs". So, while there absolutely are ways that disability culture (or, more specifically, attempts to define disability culture) can and do erase important identities, there are also ways that elements of disability culture can be named in a liberating way for various intersectional identities. I personally think that Kuppers' definition of disability culture is broad enough to encompass all of these complications, including the specific worries you've brought up. For example, she frequently refers to disability culture as a process, or even a "laboratory", which I interpret as an acknowledgment that her conceptualization of disability culture is only her interpretation and that "true" disability culture is a far more complex product of experimentation and action than what she alone can communicate. So, I absolutely agree that Kuppers at times speaks in contradiction, mentioning that, while disability culture should be in opposition to the various "isms" that oppress so many, there are also many elements of disability culture that are inherently exclusive due to the incompatibility of different cultural norms with each other. (I'm thinking, for example, of the woman who took issue with the use of Hatha Yoga practice in a disability space). Yet, I think Kuppers is also clear that she is confronting these contradictions in an effort to further the process of disability culture (the Hatha Yoga anecdote ends in an "interesting discussion" when it easily could have been ignored). My understanding is that because Kuppers understands disability culture as a process, these contradictions and their resulting conversations/actions/resolutions are actually in and of themselves part of the culture- your own "incomplete" understanding of disability culture actually well sits within Kuppers' conceptualization. (At least, that's my interpretation. I'd love to hear other thoughts!)