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Who "deserves" the academy?

nbarker's picture

In looking at the readings for this week, I'm constantly reminded of what makes for a "suitable" member of the academy or not--and just how many prominent people in the history of the academy might be considered mad. Look even at so many of the Greek philosophers upon whose philosophies we rely were considered mad or "slandered" as being mad even in their own lifetimes!

I can't help but think of how many of my comrades here at BMC have gone on "medical leave" due to various concerns--many of them to do with mental illnesses. Very few of these people would have ever called themselves "disabled", as they still see so much stigma attached to the label. Many say "I'm just sick"--and many have never even considered the social model of disability. These people are effectively silenced by the structures of the academy--their struggles muted by shame. I'd love to have the opportunity to read more of Price's work on the subject, and I'm eagerly awaiting the results of the research she's working on with Stephanie Kerschbaum at the moment.

In all of these readings runs the common theme of "worthiness": who is worthwhile to be a contributing member of society? It's only recently, and as Davis so persuasively argues, by the advent and codification afforded by eugenics and standardized measures, that the "normal" has even been named, and codified, and that so strongly have all the "undesirables" been lumped together--regardless of any "empirical" association those traits might have. Some cultures did have this idea of a "normal"--but it was more constructed as two separate entities: the "ideal" and the "common". The conflation of the two--that the ideal should become common--is the recent development. What if instead we had taken the model that Nielsen describes in the first chapter of A Disability History of the United States, in which she draws together common themes across many different Native American cultures: that bodies are myriad and always changing, and that it is instead purpose that ascribes meaning to personhood--not their bodymind's state?