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Questioning Normalcy

Emily Kingsley's picture


One concept that has really caught my attention in our discussions and readings these past few weeks is the idea of a socially-constructed normal. I am interested in exploring further how a disability studies framework can be used to push back against the hegemony of normalcy—how it forces us to look beyond the artificial assumptions and limitations that we have built to delimit the normal, acceptable human experience. This idea of pushing back on deeply-engrained rules and norms was something that came up during our CCW discussion last week in the context of the bioart lab and how it felt to have some of the typical constraints placed on art and science revoked. I had a similar experience during the social situations with the CCW participants—particularly eating in the dining center. I tend to get very anxious about living up to the social norms that govern everyday interactions—when to make conversation, how much to talk, what kind of small talk to make. Working with the CCW participants, though, forced me to question some of these conventions that I had grown so reliant on. At lunch, for example, some of the participants did not seem very interested in making conversation; they ate their lunches quietly and carefully but without much extra commentary. This new social space was uncomfortable for me to navigate, as it challenged my notions of what makes for a ‘normal’ lunch time interaction. Could this silent eating of lunches, side by side in the DC, be in itself a productive and valuable form of socializing?  


This theme of challenging norms is something that I would like to keep thinking about as our class continues. I want to keep asking: In what other areas of our lives does a disability studies lens cast doubt on things that we had assumed were normal, intuitive standards? Thinking about this in the context of education has felt especially fruitful for me. Margaret Price does this in her work by inviting us to question and complicate norms of academia like participation, productivity, rationality, and coherence. Taking this line of questioning in other directions, we could use the disability studies approach to consider: What does it mean to be smart? What does it mean to experience friendship? What does it mean to feel love and attraction? In each of these cases, the disability studies perspective encourages us to think beyond the limited perspective that we so often cling to.