Tag Archives: book review

Review: Resistance & Hope, Edited by Alice Wong

Illustration by artist Micah Bazant featuring a midnight blue sky with little white stars. Below is a log with mushrooms growing out of it in multiple shapes and colors. “Text reads: Resistance & Hope, Essays by Disabled People, Crip Wisdom for the People, Edited by Alice Wong, Disability Visibility Project.” The ‘o’ in ‘Hope’ looks like a full moon
Illustration by Micah Bizant

The term “resistance” has gotten plenty of traction in 2018, most notably by people on the left who are alarmed at the Trump Administration’s continued disregard for the humanity of immigrants, disabled people, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and pretty much anyone else who is not a wealthy, conservative white man.

Resistance as a concept is particularly important for disabled people; after all, resistance and the act of resisting oppression can be seen in many parts of disability history and activism, such as the 1990 Capitol Crawl and other direct action events. A new anthology edited by Alice Wong (of the Disability Visibility Project), Resistance & Hope: Essays By Disabled People, makes the case that a vibrant, vital disability justice movement will include not just resistance, but hope for the future as well.

The essays in this 80-page collection cover a lot of different topics, and one of the strengths of Resistance & Hope is in the variety and depth of topics explored. Standout pieces include Cyree Jarelle Johnson’s complex analysis of Barron Trump’s “alleged autistic childhood” and President Trump’s anti-vaccination tweets; DJ Kuttin Kandi and Leroy Moore’s collaboration on krip hop as a musical movement; Mari Kurisato’s powerful piece on colonial violence, eugenics, and the 2016 Sagamihara murders; Victoria Rodriguez-Roldan’s personal examination of disability activism and respectability politics; Vilissa Thompson’s personal essay on the role that hope plays in her activist and advocacy work; and Maysoon Zayid’s hilarious, sharply intelligent essay on the many, many ways in which the Trump Administration has made life more uncertain for people with disabilities. It is difficult for me to anoint “favorites” here, since each writer in Resistance & Hope offers their own unique take on the interconnected nature(s) of resistance, hope, and disability justice for people with all sorts of disabilities. If you’re looking for inspirational or sentimental narratives about people with disabilities, you will not find those sorts of narratives in Resistance & Hope, making the collection both a great read and extremely refreshing. 

As a voracious reader who is also multiply disabled, I have read countless disability anthologies. Not all of them have been quality reads; some are heavily academic in a way that distracts from the salient points being made, and others lean way too much on the whole “inspiration porn” deal. Resistance & Hope is an impressive, diverse collection that deserves a wide audience across the spectrum of (dis)abilities. I would recommend Resistance & Hope to seasoned disability activists, but also to people who are confused by what “disability activism” means, or who do not know that disability activism and justice is its own progressive movement. It is a beautifully written, sometimes intense, and provocative collection that shows the diversity of our community while inviting the reader to think critically about ability, ableism, and more.

Resistance & Hope is available for purchase or free download here.

The Ivory Fortress: Reckoning With Academic Ableism

Photo of a walkway at Stanford University. Photo by Jan Andersen; used under a Creative Commons license; https://www.flickr.com/photos/janandersen_dk/2790039889/in/photolist-5fxFE2-tAQzY-5fxF5H-5z6TQJ-4ZtC3k-5B1LbE-4cxpVb-4ctrDp-5B1V2N-3ozGC-abdcNM-69BcXF-a9JhDz-cdjgC-aKRk-5B1HXd-5AWWva-5AWoWc-5B1WAd-5B22sy-6LVxLb-6SKRVM-4cxt97-8jPWCY-4NAvgW-uuA49-5B1K7C-jDRp8-3SUcbp-9AV1Y7-8jPTxC-7ZvmLR-nM4G1-7pdqKW-4ctoZr-e6jkar-77UMoK-J1R4m-8jLX1R-jDQrb-q3bGEv-35KjL-5fxQaT-cENkS9-5fC9nq-5B1ExA-6LRoEt-dMyPCA-8oMKGY-cVZUYN/

At one point in my life, I wanted to get a PhD in Cultural Studies. This did not work out for a whole bunch of reasons, the biggest of which was that my experience getting my MA in Women’s Studies was generally horrific.

In my undergraduate years at UC Davis, many professors and grad students with whom I studied told me that I excelled at media/cultural studies, and my brain somehow interpreted this to mean that I absolutely should get a PhD.

This interpretation was, I realize now, very wrong.

Continue reading “The Ivory Fortress: Reckoning With Academic Ableism” »

Book Review: The Biopolitics of Disability by David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder

The term “biopolitics” was first ushered into wide use in a variety of academic fields of inquiry by French theorist Michel Foucault during his lecture series “Society Must Be Defended,” delivered at the College de France in the late 1970s. In a nutshell—and a simplified one at that, for the purposes of this review—biopolitics refers to the overall control of citizens’ bodies and states of being by state apparatuses, and the ways in which this control shows up.

A biopolitical lens can be applied to a variety of current and political events that have to do with bodies, the state, and control—from U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump’s fixation on building a wall between the U.S. and Mexican borders to keep “illegal immigrants” out, to the recent panic in the U.S. over the so-called “opioid epidemic” that (conveniently) leaves out the perspective(s) of people with chronic pain who depend on opiate medications to have some semblance of a normal life—the effects, positive and negative, of biopolitics are everywhere.

George Washington University Professor of English David T. Mitchell and his co-author Sharon Snyder convincingly and aptly examine the implications of 21st century, neoliberal biopolitics for people with disabilities in their new book The Biopolitics of Disability: Neoliberalism, Ablenationalism, and Peripheral Embodiment. The book’s central thesis argues that neoliberalism in the 21st century–which, in Mitchell’s words, “involves strategies of the seizure of the very materiality of life at the level of the individual” (8)—has made space for the acceptance of certain kinds of disabled bodies, but this comes at the direct expense of other disabled and marginalized bodies.

This conditional acceptance and welcoming “establishes a form of biopolitics within which nationalism and ableism come together.” Of course, some may argue that any acceptance—however conditional—of people with disabilities into the mainstream is good for all people with disabilities.

However, Mitchell and Snyder strongly contend that this is not the case. The conditional acceptance of people with disabilities who also happen to uphold certain neoliberal and abled norms—especially those regarding capitalist ideas of productivity, appearance norms, and ways of functioning—serves to push disabled people who cannot uphold those norms further past the margins of society. The conditional acceptance of disabled “heroes,” hyper-enabled sports stars, and the “Supercrip,” who is great at one thing and so inspiring to nondisabled people, are just a few examples of a neoliberal embrace of some people with disabilities, to the ultimate exclusion of others.

Mitchell and Snyder’s first chapter, “From Liberal to Neoliberal Futures of Disability,” outlines how this acceptance/exclusion process works, and how biopolitics influences who gets left out and who is accepted by state apparatuses, the media, and systems of nationalism.

A “conditional acceptance” of specific disabled bodies also has implications for people whose disabilities are unpredictable, not visible to the naked eye, or cast aside by nondisabled people in ways large and small because they are thought to be “not really disabling.” For example, think of the many jokes regarding Restless Leg Syndrome and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that every hack comedian thinks are just hilarious, and the many internet comments arguing that fibromyalgia is not a real illness.

Mitchell and Snyder’s points about which kinds of disabled bodies get included in the nationalist project versus which do not were extremely compelling to me, both as a longtime reader/student of Disability Studies and as a person whose disability (fibromyalgia) forces me to walk a fine line—often with my cane—between a kind of conditional acceptance in certain settings and outright dismissal in others.

The book’s second chapter, “Curricular Cripistemologies; or, Every Child Left Behind,” is its strongest; here, Mitchell and Snyder critique academia’s overall silence when it comes to disability and disability studies—except for when universities or individual departments are able to use students or professors with disabilities to check the box for “diverse” or “multicultural” funding or hiring initiatives. Conditional acceptance rears its monstrous head again in said initiatives; some people with disabilities are accepted, but some are not.

As the authors explain, their critique in this chapter “centers on inclusionism as a neoliberal gloss on diversity initiatives that get some disabled students in the door while leaving the vast majority of crip/queer students behind” (80). The questions that Mitchell and Snyder ask here are not simply hypothetical or theoretical. There are some very real boundaries that keep the majority of people with disabilities from accessing—or thriving in—higher education.

Various chapters in The Biopolitics of Disability cover such wide-ranging topics as “disability futures” in the classic film Midnight Cowboy, the politics of disability film festivals, disability representation in independent films, online support groups for rare health conditions and the navigation of the medical industry, the labeling of certain people with disabilities as “unproductive,” and the implications of said labeling for modern capitalism.

I found this book both informative and a great call-to-arms for Disability Studies, the academic Humanities, and the disability rights movement. If you’ve had trouble understanding terms like neoliberalism, biopower, and biopolitics in the past, you should think about taking a look at this book—Mitchell and Snyder provide comprehensive definitions of these terms and real-world examples of these ideas in action. If The Biopolitics of Disability seems like a book that you would enjoy due to its content and subject matter, I’d encourage you to check it out.

The Biopolitics of Disability (ISBN: 9780472052714) is available now from the University of Michigan Press. Image via University of Michigan Press.