- Theorizing Normalcy and the Mundane:Second International Conference
It is the night before Theorizing Normalcy and the Mundane 2010. I am in the third year of my undergraduate degree. Tomorrow, I am going to my first proper academic conference, with proper grown-up academics.
"What do people wear to conferences?," I ask my friend.
"I dunno", she answers, "maybe a suit?"
"You reckon? I don't have anything like that!" I bumble something together, and hope nobody will notice the hole in the elbow of my "smart" jumper.
To my relief, surprise, and delight, I did not have to worry: my first taste of an academic conference was a bloke whipping off his shirt to make a point about the diversity of bodies. Nobody was looking at my holey jumper.
Come forward 16 months, I am now a PhD candidate at Manchester Metropolitan University and fond memories of the 2010 conference mean my hopes for Theorizing Normalcy and the Mundane 2011 are high. It does not disappoint.
Theorizing Normalcy and the Mundane was held in Manchester, 14-15 September, jointly hosted by Critical Disability Studies (Manchester Metropolitan University), University of Chester, Centre for Disability Studies (University of Iceland), the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (University of Toronto), and the Disability Research Forum (Sheffield Hallam University). The call for papers stressed that activists, postgraduates, and undergraduates were all welcome. A general theme throughout was the timely importance of those within academia uniting with activists in struggles against, and within, an increasingly rightist Neoliberal Britain and world where disability (and difference) is continually devalued. The conference ran alongside Asylum 2011, which brought together activists and academics to meet and discuss issues around democratic psychiatry, psychology, and mental health. The transdiciplinary nature of the conference meant the importance of considering other intersections of race, gender, sexuality, age, and so on, also remained pertinent. The all-female keynote line-up kicked off with Rebecca Mallett warning us of the dangers of [End Page 227] "buying new normals"—a sentiment echoed later in the day by Alison Wilde's paper, "Almost Normal?" Mallett noted the prominence of autism, both inside and outside disability studies and the academy, and relating this to theories of commodification, issued us with a call to arms: we should be troubling normativity rather than buying into new axes of normativity. This was a fitting start and a gauntlet readily taken up over the next two days.
The only downside to such a rich programme of speakers is the difficult decisions about attending parallel sessions. Getting my chairing and speaking duties out of the way early, however, my first choice was made for me and I attended the Child, Youth, and Family session. Harriet Cooper began by giving a fascinating paper detailing the late nineteenth-century construction of the "normal child." Using the example of Channel 4's documentary series Born to be Different, she argued the continuing prevalence of normativity in relation to childhood, and the paper given by James Rice showed how similarly normalizing discourses surround the family. He detailed the reaction stirred in the online message board responses to an interview with a pregnant disabled woman in Iceland and stimulated much debate. I rounded off the session, taking inspiration from the recent exploration into commodification by Rebecca Mallett and Katherine Runswick-Cole, considering how the commodification of youth sits alongside sociocultural constructions of disability. The last word of the session, however, went to John Rees, who reminded us of the necessity of acting upon our academic talk by uniting in struggle against the British government (furthered in his brilliantly passionate paper the following day). This seemed an appropriate end to a thought-provoking hour and a half.
Donna Reeve was next in the exciting line-up of keynote speakers. The numerous citations of her work in presentations throughout the conference, as well as in mid- and post-conference chat (especially by doctoral candidates and those newer to the world of disability studies), demonstrated the importance of Reeve's work on psycho-emotional disablism and internalized oppression. At the crux of her argument was the point that the perception that the impaired body is outside the...