Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 487–492 | Cite as

The Matter of Disability

  • David T. MitchellEmail author
  • Sharon L. Snyder
Symposium: Composing Disability


By ruling out questions of impairment from the social critique of disability, Disability Studies (DS) analyses establish a limit point in the field. Of course the setting of “limits” enables possibilities in multiple directions as well as fortifies boundaries of refusal. For instance, impairment (the biological conditions of an organism’s inefficient attachment to the world) becomes in DS simultaneously a productive refusal to interpret disabled bodies as inferior to non-disabled bodies (i.e. pathologized) and a bar to thinking through more active engagements with disability as materiality. Disability materiality such as conditions produced by ecological toxicities serve as active switch-points for creative corporeal navigations of the interaction between bodies and environments.

In fact in this paper we want to propose a more “lively” definition of disability materiality to existing definitions of impairment as limiting expressions of non-normative bodies. We have no useful ways of explaining disability as adaptation and it’s time we begin the process of theorizing more active ideas of materiality that extend existing ideas of disability beyond simplistic conceptions of socially rejected biologies made available by social constructivist thought.


Biopolitics Disability studies New materialism Non-normative embodiment Crip/queer bodies Agential matter 


  1. Alaimo, S. 2010. Bodily natures: Science, the environment, and the material self. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bennett, A. 2007. Robert McRuer’s Crip theory: Cultural signs of queerness and disability. Disability Studies Quarterly 27(4).Google Scholar
  3. Berlant, L. 2007. Slow death (sovereignty, obesity, and lateral agency). Critical Inquiry 33(4): 754–780.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chen, M.Y. 2012. Animacies: Biopolitics, racial mattering, and queer affect. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Coole, D., and S. Frost. 2010. New materialisms: Ontology, agency, and politics. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari. 1987. A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  7. dePackh, S. 2013. They want us to die: You wouldn’t believe how many hate people hate those of us with autism. Pittsburgh Gazette, April 7.Google Scholar
  8. Erevelles, N. 2014. Crippin’ Jim Crow: Disability, dis-location, and the school-to-prison pipeline. In Disability Incarcerated: Imprisonment and Disability in the United States and Canada, edited by L. Ben-Moshe, C. Chapman, and A. Carey, 81–99. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  9. Floyd, K. 2009. The reification of desire: Towards a queer Marxism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  10. Foucault, M. 2003. The birth of the clinic: An archaeology of medical perception. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Haraway, D.J. 1990. Primate visions: Gender, race, and nature in the world of modern science. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  12. Kafer, A. 2013. Feminist queer crip. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Koshy, S. 2001. Morphing race into sexuality: Asian Americans and critical transformations of whiteness. Boundary 2 28(1): 153–194.Google Scholar
  14. Mbembe, A. 2003. Necropolitics. Public Culture 15(1): 11–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Mitchell, D.T. (with Sharon L. Snyder). 2015. The biopolitics of disability: Neoliberalism, ablenationalism, and peripheral embodiment. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  16. Patient. 2015. Oesophageal atresia. Last modified January 22. Accessed June 27, 2014.
  17. Puar, J. 2009. Prognosis time: Towards a geopolitics of affect, debility and capacity. Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 19(2): 161–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. ———. 2007. Terrorist assemblages: Homonationalism in queer times. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.English DepartmentThe George Washington UniversityWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Women’s Studies DepartmentThe George Washington UniversityWashingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations