- Conference Report: Theorizing Normalcy and the Mundane—3rd International Annual Conference, University of Chester
Jointly hosted by the University of Chester, Manchester Metropolitan University, and Sheffield Hallam University, the third international conference of Theorizing Normalcy and the Mundane was held on 26–27 June 2012. After two years of success, taking over the mantle at the University of Chester was no easy task but this year’s theme “Cripping the Norm” once again attracted a diverse, impassioned, and eclectic mix of delegates and papers. As it becomes more established, Theorizing Normalcy still maintains its original objective to create an interdisciplinary and actively inclusive environment to engage critically with notions of the “norm.” The philosophy of the conference was summed up beautifully this year by Dan Goodley: “If you think achieving ‘normality’ is either desirable or possible, then perhaps you are in the wrong place.” The opening address further consolidated the motivation behind the yearly event by a purposively provocative and precarious introduction to the notion of “cripping” by discussing the subversion of the “disabled” gaze as highlighted through one of the last scenes of the Channel Four series Cast Offs (Eleven Film, 2009). Disrupting notions of what should be and what is remained a theme throughout a myriad of papers over the course of the conference, through a variety of different contexts including politics, bodies, disability, sexuality, and culture.
I was the first keynote speaker and wasted no time with formalities or false ideas of decency. I introduced the room to musings on the leaky body in an attempt to dispel the myths of the body controlled. By highlighting the convenience of the forced ideas of “naturally” controlled bodies to neo-liberal regimes and consumerism, I attempted to challenge the audience to overcome notions of embarrassment and shame associated with bodily waste products. I utilized the work of Shildrick and Bauman to form my theoretical foundations. Through the location of society as liquid modern, the possibilities of rejecting the [End Page 105] fallacious imaginary of the controlled body were discussed. In our differences we find sameness and, as Bauman states, it is only through making the familiar unfamiliar that understandings can be achieved. I attempted to blur the boundaries of normalcy through the specific example of leaky corporeality, and many more interesting interrogations of normalcy were scheduled.
Panel sessions on the first day offered a choice of papers about diversity, bodies, life, narrative, and culture. Personal highlights included a fellow critical sociologist, Damian Milton, who delivered a paper critiquing dominant professional ideas on neurodiversity that ended in a call for “autistic solidarity” and the realization of the “normalcy” of diversity. This paper provided an important reminder of the possible dangers of the sociological theory offered by Parsons and Durkheim, who built their understanding of society on notions of normalized behaviour and personality. Within critical disability studies, Milton asserted, the critical sociologist is often overlooked. He addressed this problem further by highlighting parallels between psychiatric work and that of renowned sociologists.
Disruption and disobedience were the focus of Anat Greenstein’s paper on inclusive education. A self-professed dreamer, Greenstein called for careful strategic planning of resistance to overcome barriers against inclusion and participation in education. Greenstein’s strong social analysis, which was in part informed by ethnographic data, convinced the audience that these dreams could possibly come true, by valuing expressions of resistance in a democratic education system. This strong start to the culture panel was particularly fitting as Alex Tankard and Eimir McGrath made their Theorizing Normalcy debuts. Reflecting the inter-disciplinary nature of the conference, Tankard cast a critical cultural eye over the life and work of Aubrey Beardsley and posed the question of what “crip pride” might look like pre-disability movement. The Victorian perceptions of disability were far from enlightened and set the foundation for oppression of disabled people. Yet Beardsley refused to rise to the accusations thrown at him and transformed his tuberculosis and, in turn, his disabled identity into stylized portraits of himself. McGrath’s exploration of physical disability in dance demonstrated another way to explore “cripping.” Using Garland-Thomson’s concept of the baroque stare, McGrath explained how dance offers...