Disability History Month: Desiring Disability

Education Matters
Dec 9, 2016 · 4 min read

On 23rd November, doctoral researchers in the School of Education presented papers as part of an afternoon session held in partnership with iHuman (the newest research institute of the Faculty of Social Science). Desiring disability is part of the University of Sheffield’s Disability History month. Dan Goodley introduced the session, offering some brief thoughts taken from a chapter Marek Mackiewicz and he have written for a new collection on Polish disability studies.

Dan argued that disability is not an insular matter that affects only those considered and/or constructed as disabled; disability is a matter of not only human curiosity, but also human activism; disability studies have never been more needed than today: “We are writing this from the geopolitical space of post-Brexit Britain, reflecting on the continual and ever-evolving global fallout that is now exacerbated as a consequences of the US President-Elect.” Dan asserted that disabled activists have much to contribute to a regrouping of left politics post-Trump: “We know where there is poverty then we will find disability. But, more affirmatively, we have never needed one another more than today — and crip politics has much to teach us in these desperate times. So the hope was to attend to the problematics of today whilst offering affirmative possibilities for the future.”

Holly Burkinshaw and Antonios Ktenidis discussed the importance of place and its role in shaping the lives of disabled people. Too often, they noted, physical spaces are designed with preferred, idealised, non-disabled users in mind. We might call this, ‘ableist space’. Disabled people risk being rendered marginalized, as outsiders in this space. When they are included, disabled people are sometimes only included as objects of display: whether as the focus of public, or professional curiosity. Holly and Antonios argued that space is always being recreated, and here there is possibility for social change: remaking space that fit a variety of bodies and minds.

Marek Mackiewicz talked about the importance of analysing films as cultural artifacts. He made clear that ableism is rife within popular culture: the idealised body and mind fit and are willing to work with capitalism. In analysing film, he provides a close reading of the kinds of ‘lazy’ ableist, disabling stereotypes that film-makers draw on. He also illuminates the ableist narrative that exists in the background of the film: disabled people are presumed asexual in contrast to the assumed active sexualities of non-disabled people. Such representations risk making disability undesirable: only when disability mimics ability is it allowed to be desirable.

Victoria Mann gave a paper on students’ lived experience as a learning resource to transform learning in relation to higher education; this had a specific focus on the tutorial space. She drew attention to the minor accommodations made by universities to aid disabled students to ‘fit in’ to the ableist curriculum and culture, and suggested deeper systemic problems that remained unaddressed. As a way of ‘transforming’ the university, Victoria recasts disability as an opportunity to rethink pedagogy, support, assessment and curriculum: and considers the tutorial space to be a liminal space with huge potential.

Lindsay Miller’s presentation started with a dedication to those struggling for an end to the Dakota Access Pipeline in the US, a situation where indigenous peoples’ land has and continues to be colonized by big corporations and government. Lindsay’s paper explored positionality in theory, and research through unsettling positionality, recognizing one’s place as a settler and the complicity that all settlers have in the on-going process of dispossession. This unsettling approach was adopted further through questions including: How did rituals of categorising disability and ability become naturalised? When did we come to accept a human-made category as a natural? When did an act become a fact of disability? How does disability rely on indigenous people to reproduce its settler authority? How might disability offer opportunities for collective resistance to disabling and racist societies?

Michael Miller asked if we should merely unlearn desire or smash it to pieces. In asking this question, Michael talked of a desire to rethink and smash the social construction of normative desire in the educational setting, school and classroom — to ask again, what is education for? Here queer and crip ideas were drawn upon in order to think non-normatively about education: of pleasure, joy, interconnection and becomings.

One might view the Disability History Month as a time of opportunity to challenge old stories of disability and education and their relation.

Our Research

Disability Studies is a key element of research in the Centre for Critical Psychology and Education. This work builds on a long tradition of inclusive education research in the School of Education, dating back to the 1990s. For more information about our research, please visit the Centre webpage.

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Research at the School of Education, University of Sheffield. For more information about us, visit www.sheffield.ac.uk/education.

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Research at the School of Education, University of Sheffield. For more information about us, visit www.sheffield.ac.uk/education.

SoEResearch

Research at the School of Education, University of Sheffield. For more information about us, visit www.sheffield.ac.uk/education.