First Year Assistant Professor

Today was my first day teaching as Assistant Professor of Professional Writing at UCA. As a new academic year starts and I make the transition from Ph.D. student to junior faculty, I thought I’d share a few links that I’ve collected recently that are useful/affirming/reassuring.

  • “The 7-Year Experiment: Tenure-Track without Losing My Soul” // Conditionally Accepted: There’s so much good stuff here about institutional value vs. personal value, being a whole (or I might say “real”) person, and having fun with both academic and non-academic friends. Eric writes, “Beginning today, I have decided to work toward obtaining tenure without compromising my health, happiness, authenticity, or politics.”
  • “Start the Semester off Right: Make a Weekly Template” // Get a Life, PhD: Lists are very much a form of self-care for me. They help me feel (and be) organized, and they help me visualize the larger picture. When I started my Ph.D. program, I had an intense weekly calendar to organize the four classes that I was taking as a fellow. This year, I have finally decided to try out Google Calendar, and my color-coded dreams are coming to life.
  • “Self-Care #withaPhD)” // Storify: I participated in this Twitter chat last December, and I think it’s a good one to reflect on the multiple ways that folks across disciplines try to incorporate self-care into their academic (and personal) lives.
  • “30 Vegan Dinners You Can Make in 30 Minutes” // Buzzfeed: I am such a strong advocate of self-care, but actually practicing self-care is hard. My main personal goal for this year is to eat well. It sounds like such a basic thing, but sometimes those basic things are the ones that we forget to prioritize.

If anyone wants to throw other useful articles (or first-hand experience/advice) my way, please do!

ode to syracuse

Yesterday, movers came and packed up all my belongings in a mere three hours, and I’m sitting on an air mattress looking out at my empty flat. My heart hurts as I think about leaving the place that has been my home for four years. Lots of people have been asking me if I’m excited for my move to Arkansas, and the answer is without a doubt yes. I’m excited to start my new job, to get to know my new colleagues, to explore a different part of the country. But right now, I’m sad to leave Syracuse.

It goes without saying that the university—more specifically, the Writing Program and the Composition and Cultural Rhetoric program—has been so important to me as I pursue my Ph.D. But it’s not just that. Syracuse itself has been important to me. I’ve lived in different cities and states each time I go to a different school, but it’s not the same. In college, I was sick and depressed that my mom was dying, and in my Master’s program, I was sick and depressed that my mom had died. It wasn’t until I moved here that I started healing, coming to terms with myself, thriving.

So this is my ode to Syracuse–not to Cuse Nation but to the Salt City.

Because Syracuse helped me get through four years of a Ph.D. program.

Because even though people at the university crap on the city, the people here are genuine, the living is cheap, the access to fresh food and gorgeous parks is excellent, and the seasons are unbelievable.

Snow is heavy on the trees, on the sidewalk, and piled up beside the sidewalk. My dog wears a brown coat in the bottom of the photo.

Queenie in the snow // March 13, 2014

When I was accepted to the program here (in January 2011), my family members took turns calling me to bug me about the horrible winters. I’ve learned the value of good, waterproof snow boots (both for me and my dog). And I’ve learned the beauty of walking outside at midnight right after a good snow and just listening to the stillness in the air and watching the millions of glittering snowflakes sparkling under the streetlights. The still beauty of a fresh snow is difficult to capture in words.

And although this past winter was too much (-30 and 4 feet of snow?), the springs and summers are perfect. Syracuse is the first place I’ve lived where the people in my neighborhood have flowering trees. The first spring I walked through the Westcott neighborhood, I felt like Snow White as I tried to tip toe across petals lining the sidewalks from trees that had become too heavy with blossoms.

Despite complaints from friends from larger cities, Syracuse has given me so much delicious food: Indian (Dosa Grill), hipster faux-Mexican food (Alto Cinco), tapas (Laci’s Tapas), donuts (Serres Donut Shop), lemon custard and sea salt ice cream (Gannon’s), vegan milkshakes (Strong Hearts), and the absolute best coffee (Recess). Syracuse taught me the joys of getting fresh vegetables delivered once a week through a CSA and consequently ruined grocery store produce for me. And the most delicious peaches I’ve ever eaten can be found at the CNY Regional Market.

Syracuse has shown me beautiful lakes, parks, and outdoor festivals. Every time I go to Green Lakes, I find myself taking the same photo from the same spots along the leisurely walking trails because it always seems more beautiful than the time before. Even just the rose garden in Thornden Park by campus is worth going to again and again. I have looked forward to going to the Lafayette Apple Festival every October, which is nestled into a valley and is home to the most delicious apple fritters you could ever hope to eat. And I’m thankful to be within driving distance of so many great state parks (Chimney Bluffs, Letchworth, and Robert H. Treman are definitely worth checking out).

a panoramic view of the rose garden at dusk--trellises are framed by pink and red and white and yellow roses against a dark blue sky

E.M. Mills Memorial Rose Garden // July 18, 2015

Syracuse showed me a community of nurturing activists who proudly display “Don’t Frack NY” signs in their yard, who stand up for what they believe in regardless of whether that means getting arrested, and who work to educate community members during events like the Westcott Cultural Fair.

Syracuse showed me a community of incredible crafters and artists, and I’ve loved following the works of these folks at the Salt Market, Pepper Market, the Westcott Art Trail, and the Syracuse Arts and Crafts fair.

Syracuse showed me a community of the most dedicated pit bull and dog advocates I’ve ever seen. The people who dedicate their time at Helping Hounds, Cuse Pit Crew, and the CNY ASPCA are angels without wings. I am forever thankful to Helping Hounds for rescuing Queenie who I was then able to adopt three years ago.

I am thankful to Camille at the Bed N Bowl in Chittenango for opening her home to board dogs. I took Q to The Bed N Bowl for the first time two years ago when I flew to Minnesota. I was intimidated by all the dogs barking from inside the house, the cluttered yard, the barn with a screwdriver holding the door in place. But Camille was immediately a calming presence, and I was so grateful for all the text updates about all the friends (and boyfriends) Q was making. When I couldn’t take Q home with me this past Christmas, it hurt, and I knew Camille was the only person who would understand that I wanted Q to have a nice Christmas, too.

I am thankful to Renee and Sarah at Best Paw Forward for taking Q into their daycare and helping her feel safe around other dogs again after she was attacked by a dog on a trip to Michigan last year.

I am thankful for the folks at Mother Nature Pet Supply for often knowing better than my vet and for one time spending an hour trying to fit Q for a new harness.

I am thankful for the evenings I have spent sitting on my porch watching dogs play in the field across the street, sipping a cold drink, and feeling the breeze blow. I am thankful for my neighbors who stop and talk to me when I walk to and from campus. I am thankful to have been part of such a weird and interesting community of students and teachers and activists.

I am thankful to have lived in a place that allowed me to become comfortable with myself as a teacher, scholar, dog-owner, neighbor, and parallel parker. A place where I felt safe coming to terms with myself and my anxieties and my depression and my needs, to advocate for myself and to others.

Improving Feminist Philosophy and Theory By Taking Account of Disability

The past few days I’ve been lazy/leisurely in my summer reading and identified a few articles to read from the 2013 special issue of Disability Studies Quarterly: “Improving Feminist Philosophy and Theory By Taking Account of Disability.”

In the introduction to the special issue, Shelly Tremain notes that this issue—and the articles that comprise it—is an effort to show the connections between “the marginalization of philosophy of disability within feminist and mainstream philosophy, the underrepresentation of disabled philosophers (however gendered or racialized) within the profession of philosophy, and the subordinated status of disabled people in society at large.”

I decided to read four: Melanie Yergeau’s “Clinically Significant Disturbance: On Theorists Who Theorize Theory of Mind,” Heather Rakes’s “Toward a Theoretico-practical Accountability to Difference and Relationality,” Sami Schalk’s “Metaphorically Speaking: Ableist Metaphors in Feminist Writing,” and Aimi Hamraie’s “Designing Collective Access: A Feminist Disability Theory of Universal Design.”

***

In “Clinically Significant Disturbance: On Theorists Who Theorize Theory of Mind,” Yergeau offers an autie-ethnographic (auto + autistic) narrative that both beautifully incorporates her own autistic experiences and pointedly critiques Theory of Mind (and the folks who subscribe to ToM). ToM has been used by philosophers, narrative theorists, even rhetoricians as a way to understand the autistic brain—more specifically, to understand how the autistic brain lacks empathy, an understanding of audience, the ability to connect to oneself and to others. ToM has been used as a measure of humanity, which creates the following dichotomy: “Humans are human because they possess a theory of mind, and autistics are inhuman because they do not.”

Yergeau turns to the body—the site where (folks commonly argue that) theory is actualized—to explore the violence that theory of mind enacts on autistic bodies. She considers what it means not in theory but in practice to “deny the autistic’s capacity for empathy, for perspective-taking, for self-reflection.” For rhetorical agency. In the vicious cycle of ToM that posits the existence of an autistic mind but not an autistic human, the autistic body is erased. Thus, the violence done to the autistic body is erased:

My argument here is that theories about ToM impact the autistic bodymind in material and violent ways. My argument here is that denying autistic selfhood and denying autistic corporeality and denying autistic rhetoricity reifies systemic abuse and ableism.

In line with the larger theme of the special issue, Yergeau identifies feminist rhetorical studies a space where we can identify and work to dismantle the oppression of ToM, and as she weaves this narrative of ToM, Yergeau also weaves a narrative of rhetoric.

So to circle back, Yergeau begins the essay by stating, “I am getting used to not existing, rhetorically speaking. I study rhetoric for a living. I teach it. I have a PhD in it. I breathe it. Rhetoric is everything and everywhere, many of my colleagues say. The exception to rhetoric’s everythingness and everywhereness is, of course, autism.” The autistic voice, she notes, is the “ultimate oxymoron” because autism has consistently been equated and conflated with the inability to communicate. Following this “logic,” autism denies folks rhetorical agency, the ability to understand and narrate others’ and their own experiences (“As a rhetorician, I am supposed to understand that autism prevents me from being a rhetorician).

Part of the beauty of this essay is the wonderful way it’s structured: circling and non-linear, refusing traditional structures, performative and hyper-aware of the way that the disjointed and self-focused nature of the essay mirrors the critiques of autistic narrative as “idiosyncratic, self-focused, ephemeral.” Thus, I see no reason to summarize the article from beginning to end, or to end with the conclusion. Instead, I’d like to end with this quotation (that falls somewhere in the middle of her article) about the collapsing of the rhetorical triangles because I think it forces those of us in rhet/comp to think critically about how we define the rhetor as a particular type of bodymind:

I interpret philosophical essays on autism as the collapsing of rhetorical triangles. In this reading, I am bombarded by representations of autistic people as non-rhetors—as non-rhetors who cannot emote (goodbye pathos), as non-rhetors who cannot recognize the mental states nor visualize the needs of the people around them (goodbye ethos), as non-rhetors whose logics are so mechanistic and rigid that their only comparable non-rhetor analogues are robots and chimpanzees (goodbye, logos).

***

The next article I read is “Toward a Theoretico-practical Accountability to Difference and Relationality.” Rakes argues that feminist philosophy and theory needs to pay attention and be accountable to disability (and power, normativity, and oppression). Importantly, she notes that disability has routinely been ignored in feminist theoretical practices and not included in the gender/race/class (or gender/race/sexuality) trio that is most commonly addressed. Feminist theoretical practices aren’t purposely exclusive to disability but are, instead, a product of how we relate our experiences to others.

In order to make this argument about accountability to difference, disability, and privilege, Rakes points to Eli Clare as a model of deeply accountable theory and self-reflection:

“Gender reaches into disability; disability wraps around class; class strains against abuse; abuse snarls into sexuality; sexuality folds on top of race…everything finally piling into a single human body. To write about any aspect of the body, means writing about this entire maze” (Clare 123).

Clare avoids a universal subject and privileging one type of oppression over another, instead showing how different oppressions relate and belong to each other. Rakes concludes by arguing, “Every thought and affect about who is here, in a given space, must be accompanied by acknowledgment and understanding of who is not, and why—of how gender, sexuality, disability, race, class, national origin, and age matter bodily and relationally.”

This is important in the context of Rakes’s argument, and it’s also important more broadly in the context of the work we do in higher ed—for example, who we invite and exclude into the university (both students and professors) and who we draw from and work with in the research that we conduct (who we cite and who/how we engage in our research).

***

In “Metaphorically Speaking: Ableist Metaphors in Feminist Writing,” Sami Schalk addresses the multiple ways in which disability is used as a metaphor in feminist texts. Schalk argues “that when feminists use metaphors of disability to represent the negative effects of patriarchy, they conceptually and theoretically position feminism and disability in opposition to each other and thereby imply that the goals of feminism are two-fold: to end patriarchy and to erase disability.”

The problem with metaphors, she notes, is that they assume a shared (universal) understanding of embodied experiences. And as is the problem with any presumption of universality, that presumption is almost always a nondisabled experience. Drawing on Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By, Schalk notes that the problem with cognitive metaphor theory is that it assumes we have universal experiences of embodiment that inform our understandings and uses of metaphor. We evoke universal understandings of the body instead of actual, lived experiences of the body. An example is blindness (e.g., turn a blind eye, blind review). It’s a popular metaphor but not one that many people have experience with, so when it’s used as a metaphor, the metaphor is “based on the presumption of what the experience of blindness must be like, rather than the lived experience of blindness itself.”

Even metaphors that once had medical connotations that are now part of mainstream metaphors (e.g., retarded, lame, crazy) are still connected to “more widespread negative conceptions of disability.” No one says, “This party is lame” in a good way. No one describes “crippling pain” as a positive experience. Even though these words may be detached from their original meanings, they’re still imbued with (negative) values about disability.

Schalk ultimately advocates for an approach to metaphor that is critical of these mainstream assumptions and that rejects a universal experience:

An approach to metaphor that counters dominant assumptions and misunderstandings about disability, while simultaneously advancing the social and political values of disability studies and disability rights communities through new and innovative writing and reading of disability metaphors, must be informed by the lived experiences of disabled people.

A feminist philosophy of language, then, rejects figurative language about disability just as feminist theorists have rejected figurative and universal notions of woman.

***

The last article I read (more truthfully, revisited) was “Designing Collective Access: A Feminist Disability Theory of Universal Design.” In this article, Hamraie addresses the ways in which UD gets positioned as the most inclusive form of disability access but is often co-opted as a marketing strategy. Her goal is to articulate a theory of accessible design that takes a social justice activism approach rather than consumer-oriented approach to accessibility.

To do so, she identifies three core ideas that undergird UD: accessibility by design (“design that prioritizes accessibility”), broad accessibility (“accessibility for the greatest number of people possible”), and added value (“design that benefits disabled people also has benefits for nondisabled people).

So, there are a few terms that emerge from these core ideas that are important to define. First is the claim that built environments are material-discursive:

Barad uses the term material-discursive to refer to practices that both produce physical phenomena (such as buildings) and communicate meaning about what kinds of material and social relations should be possible (148).

This is similar to Henri Lefebvre’s claim that the physical spaces we inhabit affect our actions within those spaces (and, in turn, our actions and social practices impact those spaces). Built environments impact who is included or excluded from the space, control what kind of actions the space affords or prevents, etc.

The other concept, parti, comes from architecture:

Parti is the “grammar” of architecture, or the material-discursive expression of layout, style, and theme as evident in the design of a building.

Parti refers to how buildings make and convey meaning. Taken together, the two terms illustrate how “buildings actually produce lived and embodied experiences for spatial inhabitants and, at times, for physical boundaries that produce and reinforce structural inequalities.”

Then there’s value-explicit design:

Value-explicit design theories render overt and apparent the values, ideologies, and partis of physical structures, assuming that design is never ideologically neutral. Whether explicitly or implicitly, built environments always reference and imagine bodies and spatial inhabitants.

Okay, so UD is a value-explicit design theory that “critiques the false value-neutrality of inaccessible environments.” Design is never value-neutral, although some design is value-implicit (in that folks don’t purposely create inaccessible buildings, but it still happens, and this communicates particular messages about disability as not valued). For example, what does a sign that reads, “Accessible entrance in back” communicate about how disability is de/valued?

Hamraie argues, then, “The task of a feminist disability theory of UD is to make parti explicit, hold designers accountable for what appears to be disability-neutral design, and show how this neutrality is a constructed form of ignorance.”

In its current articulations, UD tends to get critiqued for ignoring the differences between individuals and instead relying on “universal” needs that tend to get articulated either as broad accessibility or as added value.

Broad accessibility acknowledges that every person who inhabits an accessible built space has a stake in that space. This is the argument of curb cuts, which were created for folks who use wheelchairs but that are also accessible to strollers, rolling suitcases, bicycles, etc. The problem with broad accessibility, as Hamraie notes, is that its vagueness move away from disability accessibility: “Because design is a value-based activity, however, not all human variations straightforwardly count as part of the universal. When the content of the universal is unspecified, UD can slip into vague notions of ‘all’ or ‘everyone’ that assume normate users and de-center disability.”

Added value is similar to broad accessibility in that it also makes the argument that accessible spaces are also of benefit to nondisabled users. Hamraie notes an important distinction between them, though:

What distinguishes broad accessibility from added value is that although the former (broad accessibility) focuses on the social justice implications of segregation and exclusion from the built environment, the latter (added value) emphasizes (often to nondisabled consumers) the market value of accessible designs.

So to move away from consumer-oriented approaches to accessibility that focus on neoliberal notions of flexibility and the marketability of universal yet individualized design, Hamraie advocates for thinking about (and enacting) interdependence and collective access: “UD practitioners and theorists, building upon the theory outlined here, could continue to develop strategies for participatory design, shifting from value-explicit design for disability to design with and by misfitting bodies more generally.”

***

Although these articles are all very different in focus, I love the threads woven between them: the critical attention to language and the material (and bodily) consequences of abstract theories and words, the critique of “universal” design and embodied experiences, the importance of being accountable to difference and disability and including disabled voices in our theories, research, metaphors, and design processes.

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Improving Feminist Philosophy and Theory By Taking Account of Disability. Spec. issue of Disability Studies Quarterly. 33.4 (2013). Web.

The Bodymind Problem

After I read Wendell’s The Rejected Body and blogged about it yesterday, I knew that the next up in my summer reading list queue had to be Margaret Price’s “The Bodymind Problem and the Possibilities of Pain.” In The Rejected Body, Wendell discusses both an ethic of care and theorizing disability more inclusively to account for folks with pain—two key takeaways from Price’s piece.

In her conclusion to the book, Wendell spends time thinking about what it might mean to transcend the body—an unpopular concept in feminist theory, she notes, because transcendence seems to devalue women’s bodies and women’s bodily experiences and create an unproductive dichotomy between mind and body (165). But as she argues, we need a feminist theory of bodily suffering (of pain):

We need to recognize that much of the appeal of philosophies of life that recommend some form of transcendence of the body lies, not in elevation of the mind and derogation of the body, but in the rational (as opposed to pathological) desire to make one’s happiness, or at least one’s sense of self, independent of illness, pain, weakness, exhaustion, and accident. (166)

And this, I think, is a nice prelude to Price’s article about pain—although they talk about different kinds of pain (one the physical pain of chronic illness, one the bodymind pain of mental illness). Price is following a call (made by folks like Andrea Nicki, Anna Mollow, and Elizabeth Donaldson) for more attention to mental disability in feminist disability studies (FDS) by theorizing bodyminds and what a crip politics of bodyminds might be.

So first, some definitions for clarity:

Price’s use of bodyminds is from Babette’s Rothschild’s work on trauma:

According to this approach, because mental and physical processes not only affect each other but also give rise to each otherthat is, because they tend to act as one, even though they are conventionally understood as twoit makes more sense to refer to them together, in a single term. (269)

And then there’s crip politics (which I wrote about here with McRuer’s Crip Theory):

By crip politics, I mean a way of getting things donemoving minds, mountains, or maybe just moving in place (dancing)by infusing the disruptive potential of disability into normative spaces and interactions. (269)

More specifically, Price aligns with both Alison Kafer’s imagining of crip politics as “an attempt to signal a belief in potentiality and flexibility, an effort to occupy a more ‘contestatory’ space that merges activist and academic work, as well as hope for coalition across disability categories” (15-16, qtd. in 270) and Nirmala Erevelles’s notion of the body as “a sociopolitically constituted and material entity that emerges through both structural (power- and violence-laden) contexts and also individual (specific) experience” (271). That is, a crip politics of bodyminds necessarily merges academic/intellectual/activist/political/personal while recognizing both how they emerge and are experienced structurally and individually.

Price turns to Rosemarie Garland-Thomson and her articulation of the misfit and misfitting as a way to think through a theory of the bodymind. Misfit “directions attention to ‘the co-constituting relationship between flesh and environment’” (594 qtd. in 271) and has both material (physically not fitting in a space) and metaphorical potential. The concept of misfit is useful in discussions of mental disability to “emphasize the way that such disabilities are not exactly ‘visible’ or ‘invisible,’ but intermittently apparent” (272).

Okay, so what does that mean? Price offers two examples. The first is stimming, which can be read differently to different people (i.e., as pathological, rude, soothing, or an expression of identity) but whether viewed positively or negatively (or ambiguously) does not fit into normative expectations. These different interpretations highlight “the shape-shifting nature of the misfit” because stimming is contingent upon “the affective response of those who observe and interpret it” (272).

So then a more complex, abstract example is two people in a room: one who wants to inflict pain on herself and one who wants to stop that person from pain. Price writes, “Both subjects are fully immersed in their own realities. And each one is occupying a reality that is real, important, and complete. Who is the misfit here?” (273). It’s easy to determine the misfit when the affective value is bad, but what happens when it is less clear? What is “good” or “bad” in the situation of the person who wants to self-harm and the person who stops her?

What is the desirable action or outcome?

This is a difficult question because then we have to assess the behavior, which means asking: “Are some disabilities worse than others?” and then that leads to “Is disability sometimes bad?” (273). And as Price (and Wendell, and FDS and DS scholars argue), those aren’t productive questions because disability is not inherently bad (but oppression based on it is) nor is it a competition. But then, how do we come to terms (as a field, as individuals) with impairment as something that involves pain—that’s sometimes just really and truly bad (274)?

And this circles back to Wendell and how we develop theories of disability that more inclusively account for pain and chronic illness. Or, as Price asks, “What shall we do with pain?” (274). The issue here is similar to the issue that Wendell outlined with feminist theory’s rejection of the derogation of women’s bodies and bodily experiences. That is, disability studies has historically rejected the idea that disability is undesirable, which raises the question(s): “To what degree does the turn toward desire in DS move too quickly past the question of undesirability? Of pain? Of, well, badness?” (275). Because even though we (as a field, as individuals) want to celebrate difference, positioning difference in terms of desirability necessarily creates understandings of undesirability.

And as I struggled to think through these questions and what it means not just to describe but to evaluate difference, Price returned to the example of the two people in the room. And everything clicked. Instead of thinking about who is the misfit or what action is desirable, Price asks us to think about pain through the lens of an FDS ethics of care:

[C]are means moving together and being limited together. It means giving more when one has the ability to do so, and accepting help when that is needed. It does not mean knowing exactly what another’s pain feels like, but it does mean respecting each person’s pain as real and important. Finally, care must emerge between subjects considered to be equally valuable (which does not necessarily mean that both are operating from similar places of rationality), and it must be participatory in nature, that is, developed through the desires and needs of all participants. (279)

I quote this at length for a few reasons: I’m not particularly theoretically minded, and, as I became frustrated trying to think through a crip politics of bodymind and what it means to evaluate the desirability of difference, this passage suddenly concretized all the theoretical ideas floating around in my head. They clicked at the theoretical level.

But as Price argues, bodymind is both structural and individual, and this passage nearly brought me to tears as it hit me at the affective level. It hit me after a particular painful interaction I had earlier today. It hit me a week after thinking deeply and carefully and not very carefully and manically about why for the first time in my life people were marking my non-normative behaviors as mean. It hit me months after sharing that I’m suicidal and being told that was either 1) not true or 2) not appropriate to share if true. It hit me years after burning a cigarette into my forearm the first time someone in college called me crazy. (The list goes on and on.)

It hit me hard as I’ve been trying to think through the possibilities (desirability?) of depression and what it does for me as a person. I like to think it makes me more careful, more thoughtful, more aware. But then I butt heads with the pain of it when I’m crying during Q&A at a conference or screaming at 3am in my bathroom with the sink and shower running at the same time. Those actions don’t make sense to me together, but this—this concept of care and an understanding that these experiences are harmful but that they have and communicate meaning—made sense to me. When my knuckles are swollen and purple and my face is red and splotchy, those actions are harmful but they matter because they communicate something that I can’t.

Price concludes by writing, “Being witnessed and cared for, even in the midst of unbearable pain, makes me think there may be some hope for all of my bodymind” (280).

This article was exactly what I needed today (as an individual) and—more broadly—what we need (as academics) for more inclusive theories of disability and (as humans) more reciprocal understandings of how we experience and share pain.

***

Price, Margaret. “The Bodymind Problem and the Possibilities of Pain.” Hypatia 30.1 (2015): 268-84.

The Rejected Body

It’s been a long time since I read a book (really read a book) for no reason other than I was interested in it and had time to savor it. In some ways, this is a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of Susan Wendell’s The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability, and in some ways it’s just a smattering of ideas that really interest me, so this isn’t a comprehensive review—although since I’m 18 years late to the game, maybe that’s not necessary!

***

I use the terms “rejected body” and “negative body” to refer to those aspects of bodily life (such as illness, disability, weakness, and dying), bodily appearance (usually deviations from the cultural ideals of the body), and bodily experience (including most forms of bodily suffering) that are feared, ignored, despised, and/or rejected in a society and its culture. (85)

Wendell comes to disability studies as a feminist theorist with a chronic illness who, upon her diagnosis, realized that feminist theory was largely geared toward nondisabled experiences and that the wealth of knowledges about disabled experiences could usefully inform feminist understandings and theories of the body.

She begins (in Chapter 1) by calling attention to the advantages and disadvantages of naming, categorizing, and identifying disability. Clearly defining disability can positively influence social policies, allow people access to educational and economic resources, build political solidarity, draw attention to cultural conceptions and misconceptions of disability, and help the disabled “receiv[e] the acknowledgement and confirmation of her/his reality, so essential for keeping a person socially and psychologically anchored in a community” (12). When nondisabled folks have a clearly defined, recognizable term, they more readily acknowledge and support disability and disabled experiences. As someone with a chronic and often invisible illness, this fear of not being seen or recognized as disabled is particularly pertinent (and overlaps with discourses of mental illness).

Disability is dynamic and highly contextual, and Wendell argues, “Failure to recognize that standards of structure, function, and ability are socially relative could be dangerous to people with disabilities” (14). That is, a diagnosis for a middle-class, middle-aged academic White woman is different than the same diagnosis for a child of color living in poverty. She writes, “Eyeglasses, hearing aids, good prostheses, and other products of medical technology optimize the abilities of some people, while others, who have identical physical conditions but do not have access to the technology, lack the same abilities” (16). How we define disability is contextual to the physical, social, and cultural environments in which we live.

Something I appreciate about Wendell—and feminist disability studies more broadly—is that she doesn’t draw arbitrary lines between medical (biological) and social (constructed) models of disability, operating instead under the assumption that “disability has biological, social, and experiential components” (23). Even in her discussion of the social construction of disability (Chapter 2), she draws attention to the interaction between social and biological/material realities of disability:

I maintain that the distinction between the biological reality of a disability and the social construction of a disability cannot be made sharply, because the biological and the social are interactive in creating disability. They are interactive not only in that complex interactions of social factors and our bodies affect health and functioning, but also in that social arrangements can make a biological condition more or less relevant to almost any situation. I call the interaction of the biological and the social to create (or prevent) disability “the social construction of disability.” (35)

Following this interactivity between the material and social, Wendell considers the different ways we’ve discussed disability (in Chapter 3): as stigma, Other, and difference—settling on difference as a more value-neutral concept with more possibility for understanding disability (stigma and Otherness, she notes, deny pride in difference and subjectivity, respectively).

But, I’m not sure I’m on board with that discussion. In talking about difference, Wendell advocates for emphasizing similarity. I initially thought she was advocating for drawing similarities across disabled experiences, but she’s actually talking about drawing similarities across disabled and nondisabled experiences:

Emphasizing similarities between people with and people without disabilities seems to hold the promise of reducing the ‘Otherness’ of those who are disabled by enabling the non-disabled to identify with them, recognize their humanity and their rights, paving the way to increasing their assimilation into all aspects of social life. (74)

Here I read resonances of Universal Design: arguments that we all have particular needs and that we can all benefit from accessibility. And I read resonances of critiques of Universal Design and (as Aimi Hamraie argues) refocusing attention back on the nondisabled body. Granted, this is absolutely a rhetorical strategy—I’m thinking here of Burke and identification and consubstantiality—but I would have liked to see some more time spent dwelling in this area because, as she notes later, placing this responsibility on disabled folks can result in tokenization and, on a different note, assimilation may not be a goal for many disabled folks.

Wendell moves from this discussion of difference and similarities to the idealization of a normal body (in Chapter 4) and the myth of control. Our society idealizes a particular ideal of the normal body, and (drawing on Foucault here) we discipline bodies that do not (cannot) meet those ideals and that cannot be controlled:

When people are blamed or made to feel responsible for having nonideal bodies despite their reasonable care, when unprovable theories are generated to explain how someone could have avoided becoming ill, when people with disabilities are seen as having their psychological, moral, or spiritual failures written upon their bodies, and when every death is regarded as a defeat of human efforts, the myth of control is at work. (94)

I just read Karen Kopelson’s “Risky Appeals: Recruiting to the Environmental Breast Cancer Movement in the Age of ‘Pink Fatigue’” yesterday, and she spends a lot of time thinking carefully about the way we (society, doctors, Western medicine, family members, media, individuals) position cancer as something that can be controlled through individual choices and environmental changes.

In analyzing the rhetoric of the Breast Cancer Fund (BCF), Kopleson argues that “the message that there are easy things we can do to reduce our risks and begin the process of prevention aligns BCF’s rhetoric with the larger culture’s most familiar, cherished, best-selling rhetoric of all time: the rhetoric of individual agency” (119). That is, if women only take the time (read: energy and money) to rid their homes (read: domestic spheres) of every single available toxin, they will have total control of their environments and, thus, their bodies.

Kopelson’s argument that controlling cancer is a myth (an echo of many other, such as Sandra Steingraber’s “The Myth of Living Safely in a Toxic World”) resonates with Wendell’s critique of the myth of control, which medical discourse perpetuates.

This critique of medicine—and the inability in medical discourse to acknowledge uncertainty—feeds into the next chapter (Chapter 5), which addresses how medical discourse delegitimizes individual’s lived experiences and bodily knowledges, particularly when those experiences don’t match up with a prescribed set of symptoms for a particular condition. Wendell argues that the authority of scientific medicine to describe individual’s bodies causes alienation, epistemic invalidation, and social abandonment.

I frequently think about the usefulness of diagnoses and the somewhat feverish demand for them. In discussing the social abandonment of someone with an unrecognized (undiagnosed) disabling experience, Wendell notes, “The diagnosis, however grim, restores [the individual] to society” (130). Before my brother had a diagnosis, he didn’t have access to any services. It was only with an official diagnosis that he was able to receive institutional support: an IEP, music and physical therapy.

And I think of this demand for institutional (medical) authority all the time with accommodation letters in higher ed. Without them—and the cognitive and social authority that they carry—students’ needs are dismissed, the students themselves abandoned (particularly if we’re talking FYC and retention). It is only with the institutional letter and the authoritative weight it carries that students’ needs are legitimized.

Wendell ends by considering a more reciprocal ethics of care (in Chapter 6) and calling for a feminist theory of bodily suffering (in Chapter 7). It’s clear here how this text gets positioned as an early feminist disability studies text. Feminist disability studies pushes against the material rejection of the body, and Wendell argues that, in its rejection of the biological, feminist theory idealizes the nondisabled body and erases material experiences of disabled bodies (and bodies that suffer and are in pain). She concludes quite beautifully by arguing for a more careful balance and acknowledgment of experiences:

We cannot speak only of reducing our alienation from our bodies, becoming more aware of them, and celebrating their strengths and pleasures; we must also talk about how to live with the suffering body, with that which cannot be noticed without pain, and that which cannot be celebrated with ambivalence. (179)

***

Wendell, Susan. The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Multimodal Listening

So when we do listen to each other, it’s unbelievably important for us to really test our listening skills, to really use our bodies as a resonating chamber, to stop the judgment. —Evelyn Glennie, “How to Truly Listen”

I was pumped to start off my reading list with Steph Ceraso’s College English piece, “(Re)Educating the Senses: Multimodal Listening, Bodily Learning, and the Composition of Sonic Experiences.” It almost feels like watching a really popular movie a year later because so many folks I know were talking about this piece when it first came out, but I’m actually glad I read it a little later because so much of what Ceraso argues really resonates with the conversation I had with Brenda Brueggemann in our most recent This Rhetorical Life episode: “Transcription // Translation.”

This article combines my love of multimodality, disability studies, and multisensory experiences into a lovely argument about the importance of thinking about sound not simply as an act of listening with the ears but as a felt, embodied sonic experience. As Ceraso argues, we often teach listening in writing classrooms as a text: “sound is simply more content to be interpreted” (102). And in this way, sound and listening are situated within a semiotic framework of making meaning that we often use to discuss multimodality. And although Ceraso highlights the usefulness of analyzing and interpreting sound, she takes a different approach, focusing instead on “the affective, embodied, lived experiences of multimodality in more explicit ways” (104). Or, as Crystal VanKooten argues in the “Transcription // Translation” episode, sound is extra-discursive: it’s felt in your body.

So here’s the overarching goal of the article:

This essay is an attempt to reimagine the ways that we teach listening to account for the multiple sensory modes through which sound is experienced in and with the body. I offer the concept of multimodal listening to expand how we think about and practice listening as a situated, full-bodied act. (103)

Positioning sound this way allows students not only to become more thoughtful consumers of sound but also more thoughtful producers of sound, and the goal is not only to show how multimodal listening can help us more consciously attune to sonic experiences but also to apply multimodal listening to the composition classroom.

Because sound operates through vibrations, Ceraso argues that it’s a perfect example for illustrating the multiple ways we experience (see, hear, feel) it and—unlike listening that is dependent on ears (“earing”)—thinking about sound through multimodal listening draws attention to both the material and environmental factors that shape our experiences with sound (105). She writes, “Unlike ear-centric practices in which listeners’ primary goal is to hear and interpret audible sound (often language), multimodal listening amplifies the ecological relationship between sound, bodies, and environments. Broadly speaking, multimodal listening is a bodily practice that approaches sound as a holistic experience” (105).

multimodal listening and disability

Moving away from listening as something we do with our ears opens up possibilities for thinking more inclusively about sound. I feel like a lot of times (and even I make this argument), we think of sound in terms of closing off access. Indeed, when I make arguments about podcasts, I talk about how they can be inaccessible for deaf or hard-of-hearing audiences, folks who don’t process auditory information well (e.g., me), people who are in a time crunch for whom skimming a transcript is a more effective use of time than listening to the audio, or for people with unstable internet connections who may benefit more from downloading a PDF than streaming audio. But I rarely think of them as providing access. When I visited the Belfer Audio Archive on campus a couple years ago, Jenny Doctor noted that she teaches a lot of sonic writing courses that attract LD and ESL students. And in the podcasting roundtable I was part of last week at #cwcon, Courtney Danforth noted that podcasts are an avenue of accessibility for folks who struggle to process visually.

But, again, these arguments all hinge on the presumption that listening is an ear-based activity and, as Ceraso notes, sonic assignments like podcasts often simply reproduce the narrative elements of a written essay without asking students to experience sound more holistically.

Ceraso’s in-depth example of solo percussionist and composer Evelyn Glennie (quoted in the epigraph) is interesting for thinking about sound from a disabled experience but also for thinking about how Glennie’s experiences with sound can be translated and taught (as more of a UD approach). Ceraso focuses on Glennie not to highlight her difference as a deaf percussionist but instead to illustrate how “multimodal listening practices are learned bodily habits that can be reproduced in any individual regardless of where he or she falls on the hearing continuum” (107). Glennie is a famed percussionist who has talked at length about experiencing sound at the bodily level, and her “body listening practices provide her with experiential knowledge about how sound works as an affective mode of communication” (108).

This part of the article reminded me of Brenda Brueggemann’s interview for This Rhetorical Life and her reflections on how sound is not merely heard but is also visual and felt:

I have a good friend and colleague [Benjamin Bahan] who’s a very famous deaf storyteller, and he has a line in an essay he wrote—one of my favorite lines of all time—he says, “sound has a way of bouncing off visual cues.” When someone’s cell phone rings in class, I don’t hear the cell phone, but I know immediately a cell phone has rang because it’s registered all over their bodies, and they’re eyes are darting and they’re doing that things where [laughs], they’re trying to pretend. And sound does that. People say well, like a siren coming. I can tell a half-mile back because the traffic just changes. There’s this pause, there’s this shift.

Ceraso describes these visual experiences as an opportunity to make sense of a soundscape without depending solely on auditory input (108). And earlier in our interview, Brueggemann discussed how actually seeing sound waves in a program like Audacity helps her fill in some of the gaps in pitch and discrimination. When we think of sound this way—as a multisensory experience—it becomes much more holistic, inclusive.

bodily memory and unlearning

Ceraso’s attention to bodily memory and the act of acquiring knowledge through our sensory experiences is also useful for thinking about sound more inclusively because it positions the body and bodily experiences as dynamic. Just as we constantly learn and experience, though, we also need to unlearn. Because we’re met with so many low-quality sonic experiences, we begin to tune out and our senses dull. Ceraso argues that we need to unlearn these mundane, everyday sonic experiences in order to attune to multimodal listening and esthetic experiences: “Thus, multimodal listening instruction requires a feedback loop of teaching students to develop new listening habits and helping them unlearn old listening habits that have come to feel ‘natural’” (110).

Ceraso draws on Cathy Davidson in this discussion of unlearning, which I think further reinforces the possibilities of multimodal listening as a way to rethink ableist notions of sound. Throughout Now You See It, Davidson argues for unlearning conceptions about disability and which students can (and cannot) succeed within the classroom. Unlearning is “required when the world or your circumstances in that world have changed so completely that your old habits now hold you back” (Davidson 19). For me, unlearning is also required when our cultural narrative devalues certain abilities.

This is partially why Davidson’s notion of “collaboration by difference” is so important. She writes, “Collaboration by difference respects and rewards different forms and levels of expertise, perspective, culture, age, ability, and insight, treating difference not as a deficit but as a point of distinction” (Davidson 100). Instead of devaluing students who lack particular abilities, collaboration by difference places students with different abilities together in settings where they work together on a project that requires all of their particular abilities. I think of this when I think of sonic assignments that ask students to take different roles in a project and saw resonances of this in Ceraso’s prompt for students to collaboratively compose soundscapes of Pittsburgh.

In order to enact this kind of participatory collaboration, though, and move toward a more holistic understanding of sound as embodied, we have to unlearn our pedagogical practices:

The main challenge of multimodal listening instruction, as I see it, is for teachers to design the kinds of productive, quality sonic experiences that will continue to build on and expand students’ past sonic experiences. For multimodal listening instruction to be effective, teachers need to resensitize students who are most likely unaware of their desensitization from repetitive, low-quality sonic interactions. 112

This piece offers a lot of great arguments for thinking about sound holistically, for unlearning not only our listening practices but also how we privilege certain types of listening, and makes really smart arguments for incorporating multimodal listening practices into our composition classrooms in order to encourage students to be more thoughtful, rhetorical consumers and producers of sound.

***

Ceraso, Steph. “(Re)Educating the Senses: Multimodal Listening, Bodily Learning, and the Composition of Sonic Experiences.” College English 77.2 (2014): 102-23.

Summer Reading List 2015

I figure this summer is the last one in a while that I’ll have lots of “free” time (in between prepping three courses, working on some new research, splashing around in CNY lakes with Q dog, and packing and moving down South), so I’m putting together a reading list of all the things I’ve been wanting to read but haven’t (because dissertating). And I’m sharing them here because I’ll hopefully end up blogging about some of them. Some of them are things I’ve skimmed or started to read, but most of them are totally new to me, which is exciting in an incredibly nerdy way. First are some “easy” things: academic articles. These are a mix of multimodal (/digital) rhetoric, technical communication, and disability studies.

  • Alexander, Jonathan, and Jacqueline Rhodes. “Flattening Effects: Composition’s Multicultural Imperative and the Problem of Narrative Coherence.” College Composition and Communication 65.3 (2014): 430-54.
  • Bowdon, Melody A. “Tweeting an Ethos: Emergency Messaging, Social Media, and Teaching Technical Communication.” Technical Communication Quarterly 23 (2015): 35-54.
  • Buck, Elisabeth H. “Assessing the Efficacy of the Rhetorical Composing Situation with FYC Students as Advanced Social Media Practitioners.” Kairos 19.3 (2015): Web.
  • Ceraso, Steph. “(Re)Educating the Senses: Multimodal Listening, Bodily Learning, and the Composition of Sonic Experiences.” College English 77.2 (2014): 102-23.
  • Frost, Erin A., and Michelle F. Eble. “Technical Rhetorics: Making Specialized Persuasion Apparent to Public Audiences.” Present Tense 4.2 (2015). Web.
  • Hurley, Elise Verzosa, and Amy C. Kimme Hea. “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media.” Social Media in Technical Communication. Spec. issue of Technical Communication Quarterly 23 (2014): 55-68.
  • Kopelson, Karen. “Risky Appeals: Recruiting to the Environmental Breast Cancer Movement in the Age of ‘Pink Fatigue.’” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 43.2 (2013): 107-33.
  • Lauer, Claire. “Expertise with New/Multi/Modal/Visual/Digital/Media Technologies Desired: Tracing Composition’s Evolving Relationship with Technology through the MLA JIL.” Computers and Composition 34 (2014): 60-75.
  • McNely, Brian. “The ‘When’ of Rhetorical Literacies.” Kairos 19.3 (2015): Web.
  • Pigg, Stacey. “Emplacing Mobile Composing Habits: A Study of Academic Writing in Networked Social Spaces.” College Composition and Communication 66.2 (2014): 250-75.
  • Purdy, Jim. “What Can Design Thinking Offer Writing Studies?” College Composition and Communication 65.4 (2014): 612-41.
  • Price, Margaret. “The Bodymind Problem and the Possibilities of Pain.” Hypatia 30.1 (2015): 268-84.

Next are some collections and books that are all situated within disability studies.

  • Improving Feminist Philosophy and Theory by Taking Account of Disability. Spec. issue of Disability Studies Quarterly 33.4 (2013). Web.
  • Kafer, Alison. Feminist, Queer, Crip. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2013.
  • Sequenzia, Amy, and Elizabeth J. Grace. Typed Words, Loud Voices. Autonomous Press, 2015.
  • Wendell, Susan. The Rejected Body: Feminist Reflections on Disability. New York: Routledge, 1997.  

And then finally are some for-fun books (with links to their reviews).

I don’t know if I’ll make it through them all, but I’ll be happy even if I just get through half. Getting to read articles and books slowly (and not just because I need to read them for a particular project) is such a luxury. What are y’all reading this summer? *** Edited to add: Although I found the NY Times summer reading list totally uninspiring, I would recommend checking out “Honoring Black Writers: 25 Books for Your Summer Reading List” and “9 Books That Redefine ‘Crazy.'”