Feminist Review

, Volume 111, Issue 1, pp 42–58 | Cite as

debilitating times: compulsory ablebodiedness and white privilege in theory and practice

  • Kay Inckle


In this paper I take up a critical position in regard to the theme of debility around which this collection is framed. I argue that theorisations of ‘debility’ do little to progress theory and policy in regard to disability and share many of the problems inherent to the social model. I also suggest that the theorisation of debility is rooted in and reinforces ablebodied privilege. I begin with a critical analysis of the social model of disability and explore the dualisms by which it either negates the body altogether or can only conceive the disabled body in negative terms. I then go on to explore how Puar’s work on debility continues this negation of the disabled body. From this position I use the work of Inahara to excavate the foundations of ablebodied privilege. In Inahara’s work gender is the analytic starting point, but for me white privilege is a much more effective mechanism through which to understand the impact and reproduction of ablebodied privilege—what McRuer refers to as ‘compulsory ablebodiedness’—which I argue underpins Puar’s work. I conclude with some reflections upon how a critical analysis of ablebodied privilege might function and I reiterate its importance for a critical theory that goes beyond the mere repetition of binary structures of ablebodiedness and disability.


compulsory ablebodiedness debility disability impairment social model white privilege 


  1. Barnes, C., Mercer, G. and Shakespeare, T., 1999. Exploring Disability: A Sociological Introduction. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  2. Barnes, C., Oliver, M. and Barton, L., 2002. Introduction. In C. Barnes, M. Oliver and L. Barton, eds. Disability Studies Today. Cambridge: Polity Press, pp. 1–17.Google Scholar
  3. Barry, A.M. and Yuill, C., 2012. Understanding the Sociology of Health. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  4. Berthold, D., 2010. Tidy whiteness: a genealogy of race, purity and hygiene. Ethics & the Environment, 15(1), pp. 1–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Charlton, J.I., 2000. Nothing About us Without us: Disability Oppression and Empowerment. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  6. Davis, L.J., 2014. Introduction. In L.J. Davis, ed. The Disability Studies Reader, 4th Edition. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 1–8.Google Scholar
  7. Dottolo, A.L. and Steward, A.J., 2013. 'I never think about my race': psychological features of white racial identities. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 10, pp. 102–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dyer, R., 1997. White: Essays on Race and Culture. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), 2010. Hidden in Plain Sight: Inquiry into Disability Related Harassment. London: EHRC.Google Scholar
  10. Fawcett, B., 2000. Feminist Perspectives on Disability. Harlow, Herts.: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  11. Grech, S. and Soldatic, S., 2014. Introducing disability and the global south. Disability and the Global South, 1(1), pp. 1–4.Google Scholar
  12. Gustafson, D.L., 2006. White on whiteness: becoming radicalized about race. Nursing Inquiry, 14(2), pp. 153–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hughes, B. and Paterson, K., 1997. The social model of disability and the disappearing body: towards a sociology of impairment. Disability & Society, 12(3), pp 325–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hughes, B., 2009. Wounded/monstrous/abject: a critique of the disabled body in the sociological imaginary. Disability & Society, 24(4), pp 399–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Inahara, M., 2009. The body which is not one: the body, femininity and disability. Body & Society, 15(1), pp 47–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Inckle, K., 2007. Writing on the Body? Thinking through Gendered Embodiment and Marked Flesh. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
  17. Inckle, K., 2014. A lame argument: profoundly disabled embodiment as critical gender politics. Disability & Society, 29(3–4), pp. 338–401.Google Scholar
  18. Jeyasingham, D., 2012. White noise: a critical evaluation of social work education's engagement with whiteness studies. British Journal of Social Work, 42(4), pp. 669–686.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Landes, J.B., 1998. Feminism: The Public and the Private. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Leonard Cheshire Disability, 2008. Disability Poverty in the UK. London: Leonard Cheshire Disability.Google Scholar
  21. Lennox, C. and Waites, M., 2013. Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in The Commonwealth: Struggles for Decriminalisation and Change. London: Institute of Commonwealth Studies.Google Scholar
  22. Livingston, J., 2005. Debility and the Moral Imagination in Botswana. Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Marmot, M. and Siegrist, J., ed., 2006. Social Inequalities in Health. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. McRuer, R., 2006. Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. New York and London: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  25. McRuer, R., 2014. Compulsory ablebodiedness and queer/disabled existence. In L.J. Davis, ed. The Disability Studies Reader, 3rd Edition. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  26. Miller, M.K. and Summers, A., 2007. Gender differences in video game characters: roles, appearances and attire as portrayed in video game magazines. Sex Roles, 57, pp. 733–742.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mohanram, R., 2005. Dermographia: written on the skin or, how the Irish became white in India. European Journal of English Studies, 9(5), pp. 251–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Morris, J., 1996. Feminism and Disability. London: Women’s Press.Google Scholar
  29. Naseem, S.K. and Lawthum, R., 2015. Positioning disability in the academy? Transcending experiences of an MSc and embracing theory and practice. Conference paper presented at Disability and Disciplines Conference, July, Liverpool Hope University, Liverpool.Google Scholar
  30. Niehuis, S., 2005. Helping white students explore white privilege outside the classroom. North American Journal of Psychology, 7(3), pp. 481–492.Google Scholar
  31. Oliver, M., 1996. Understanding Disability: From Theory to Practice. Basingstoke, Hants.: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Puar, J.K., 2009. Prognosis time: towards a geopolitics of affect, debility and capacity. Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory, 19(2), pp. 161–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Puar, J.K., 2012. Coda: the cost of getting better: suicide, sensation, switchpoints. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 18(1), pp. 149–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rich, A., 1987. Compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian existence. In A. Rich, ed. Blood, Bread and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979–1985. London: Virago.Google Scholar
  35. Saxton, M., 2014. Disability rights and selective abortion. In L.J. Davis, ed. The Disability Studies Reader, 4th Edition. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 87–99.Google Scholar
  36. Shakespeare, T., 2014. The social model of disability. In L.J. Davis, ed. The Disability Studies Reader, 4th Edition. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 214–221.Google Scholar
  37. Shakespeare, T., Gillespie-Sells, K. and Davis, D., 1996. The Sexual Politics of Disability: Untold Desires. London and New York: Cassell Press.Google Scholar
  38. Skeggs, B., 1997. Formations of Class and Gender. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  39. Szasz, T., 2007. The Medicalization of Everyday Life. New York: Syracuse University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Thomas, C., 2000. Female Forms: Experiencing and Understanding Disability. Buckingham, Bucks.: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Weeks, J., 1997. Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality since 1800. London: Longman.Google Scholar
  42. Wendell, S., 1996a. Towards a feminist theory of disability. In L.J. Davis, ed. The Disability Studies Reader. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  43. Wendell, S., 1996b. The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  44. Wilkerson, A., 2002. Disability, sex radicalism, and political agency. NSWA Journal, 14(3), pp. 33–57.Google Scholar
  45. Yuval-Davis, N., 2006. Intersectionality and feminist politics. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 13(3), pp. 193–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Feminist Review 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kay Inckle

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations