Ableism is deeply tied into our everyday language. There are countless examples of where disabilities are used to imply negativity very explicitly. Today, though, I want to write about a more deeply entangled case; I am asking people to stop (and I’m only using this term once) saying “blind peer review”.
This is not a new request. However, the term is so persistent in my academic environment that it took me until today to realise that I more fundamentally need to change my own use of language to encourage others to revisit commonly used terminology with me. While some of that is due to the sheer ignorance my sighted privileges allowed me to have, I have a sneaking suspicion that I might not be the only person who needs a refresher — given that just today, I found the term used casually on a conference website related to my field.
So, in revisiting previous debates let me draw on them. A succinct argument for using ‘anonymous review’ instead has been made by Tremain, 2011:
The phrase is demeaning to disabled people because it associates blindness with lack of knowledge and implies that blind people cannot be knowers. Because the phrase is standardly used in philosophy and other academic CFPs, it should become recognized as a cause for great concern. In short, use of the phrase amounts to the circulation of language that discriminates. Philosophers should want to avoid inflicting harm in this way.
Ultimately, I’d assume, that not just philosophers are in this responsibilities, but rather everyone who is engaged in research from a simple perspective of being considerate about people around us. It requires sighted researchers to actively engage with the epistemological consequences of tying ‘seeing’ to ‘knowing’, or as Rodas, 2009 puts it:
Our language bespeaks our unconscious belief that blindness is automatically agnostic, unknowing. Whether we speak of a blind trust or of trusting blindly, the symbolic foundation is the same. Our language depends on the common understanding that not seeing equals not knowing.
Using blindness metaphorically, even in a presumed positive context, then is not helpful either given that the metaphors are built, established and reinforced predominantly by sighted people.
[M]etaphors of blindness are based upon the presumption of what the experience of blindness must be like, rather than the lived experience of blindness itself. (Schalk, 2013)
The damage perpetuating such language does to the blind members of our communities takes form in epistemic violence, to say the least. It ties into powerful dynamics fueling a neglect in terms of making publications, conferences and practices more accessible. This actively excludes blind people from the academy or requires them to put up with extra effort to participate. Both is unacceptable. I have been guilty of this and need to learn how to do better myself. I call on my sighted colleagues to do the work with me. It starts with language. Let’s talk about “anonymous peer review” from now on, shall we?
Rodas, J. M. (2009). “On Blindness”. Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, 3(2), 115–130.doi:10.1353/jlc.0.0013
Schalk, Sami. “Metaphorically speaking: Ableist metaphors in feminist writing.” Disability Studies Quarterly 33.4 (2013).
Tremain, Shelley. “Ableist Language and Philosophical Associations.” New APPS: Arts, Politics, Philosophy, Science. July, 2011.