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Composing Disability: Diagnosis, Interrupted


Writing is central both to the medical diagnostic codification of disability and to disabled people’s efforts to interrupt, complicate, or disrupt dominant medical narratives. This Symposium, like the George Washington University conference from which it takes its name, creates space for diverse modes and genres of claiming authority regarding diagnosis and its cultural and material effects. “Queer” and “crip” interrogations of diagnosis illuminate its status as a cultural phenomenon, embracing culturally disavowed embodiments and embodied experiences as tools for diagnosing inegalitarian social relations and opportunities for cultural interventions. This Symposium traces the workings of diagnostic normativity manifested in experiences such as “disruptive deafness,” unstable bodily materialities, pathologized grief and other forms of affective distress, and “surgical assemblages.” It presents a diverse array of compositions, articulated on each writer’s own terms, addressing a range of embodied experiences through multiple genres and voices, ranging from conversation transcript to scholarly essay, poetry, graphic memoir, and personal essay. Here, laypersons interrupt monologic medical diagnosis, claiming space to compose themselves. Together, the authors trace instances of corporeal “correction” back to the noxious agents, both environmental and political, that consistently breach the boundaries of corporeality.

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  1. 1.

    The editors wish to thank our conference co-organizers, including Cathy Eisenhower, who also gave a name to this iteration of the series (and by extension this Symposium) and Robert McRuer. We are particularly grateful for generous conference support provided by Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, Digital Humanities Institute, Disability Support Services, English Department, Gelman Library, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and University Writing Program; and the individuals who made this support possible, Derek Malone-France, Susan McMenamin, Terri Harris Reed, Rachel Riedner, Ben Vinson, and Christy Willis.

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    Limited exceptions are made for students who document successful completion of comparable courses elsewhere.

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    This is in addition to other learning specialists in the office, including another writing instructor with strong ties to UWP.

  4. 4.

    Though “Diagnosis, Interrupted” was formally held in April of 2014, the bulk of the event planning occurred as public and professional conversations about the DSM-5 were flourishing. We on the planning committee remained close to those conversations.


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Correspondence to Abby Wilkerson.

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Wilkerson, A., Fisher, J. & Fletcher, W. Composing Disability: Diagnosis, Interrupted. Bioethical Inquiry 13, 473–476 (2016).

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  • Composing
  • Disability
  • Diagnosis
  • Crip
  • Queer
  • Corporeality
  • Embodiment