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The Matter of 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.

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Correspondence to David T. Mitchell.

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Mitchell, D.T., Snyder, S.L. The Matter of Disability. Bioethical Inquiry 13, 487–492 (2016).

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