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The End of Normal

Identity in a Biocultural Era

Lennard Davis

Publication Year: 2014

In an era when human lives are increasingly measured and weighed in relation to the medical and scientific, notions of what is “normal” have changed drastically. While it is no longer useful to think of a person’s particular race, gender, sexual orientation, or choice as “normal,” the concept continues to haunt us in other ways. In The End of Normal, Lennard J. Davis explores changing perceptions of body and mind in social, cultural, and political life as the twenty-first century unfolds. The book’s provocative essays mine the worlds of advertising, film, literature, and the visual arts as they consider issues of disability, depression, physician-assisted suicide, medical diagnosis, transgender, and other identities. Using contemporary discussions of biopower and biopolitics, Davis focuses on social and cultural production—particularly on issues around the different body and mind. The End of Normal seeks an analysis that works comfortably in the intersection between science, medicine, technology, and culture, and will appeal to those interested in cultural studies, bodily practices, disability, science and medical studies, feminist materialism, psychiatry, and psychology.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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Preface: Biocultural Identities

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pp. vii-xii

The End of Normal attempts to bring together speculations on identity in the early part of the twenty-first century. In our age it is less and less possible to think of human identity, indeed even animal identity, without grounding what we know in the terrain of the biocultural. I use that term, coined...

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One: The End of Normal

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pp. 1-14

I begin with not only a counterintuitive claim but also one, for those familiar with my work, that will seem a form of self-heresy. If we are now living in an identity-culture eschaton in which people are asking whether we are “beyond identity,” then could this development be related in some significant...

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Two: Dismodernism Reconsidered

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pp. 15-30

James Boswell, the eighteenth-century biographer of Samuel Johnson, records a conversation in which he and Johnson “stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that everything in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible...

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Three: Disability in the Media; or, Why Don’t Disabled Actors Play Disabled Roles?

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pp. 31-42

Perhaps every theory has to contradict itself. If I’ve been saying that dismodernism allows for a flexible and malleable sense of identity in relationship to disability, then when I think about the notion of actors playing disabled characters, it would seem I would be open to any kind of actor playing any...

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Four: Depression and Disability

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pp. 43-67

Another aspect of identity strikes us—the idea that one identity can transform radically into another. Perhaps the most common transformation is for a person to become depressed. We routinely see ourselves and our friends take a turn from “normal” to depressed. And so a logical question...

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Five: Stumped by Genes: DNA, Disability, and Prosthesis

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pp. 68-81

A new field of thought is emerging that, for want of a better term, is being called biocultures—the study of the scientificized and medicalized body in history, culture, and politics. Biocultural approaches have been used to explore various kinds of phenomena from the out-of- boundary1 disciplines of the humanities, social sciences, medical sciences, and so on. Biocultural...

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Six: Diagnosis: A Biocultural Critique of Certainty

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pp. 82-94

The social model of disability ultimately relies on the distinction between disability and impairment. That model has been very useful in defining the nature of oppression and the social construction of disability. One leg of the analysis, the impairment one, relies on a medical diagnosis to confirm the nature of the impairment. While medical diagnosis is the bedrock of...

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Seven: A Disability Studies Case for Physician-Assisted Suicide

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pp. 95-107

There has been a curious, in my mind, linkage between disability identity and the fraught area of physician-assisted suicide (PAS). In some circles of disability activism it has become a truism that you can’t be for disability and for PAS along with euthanasia.1 There is a strong pressure in our field...

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Eight: Transgendered Freud

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pp. 108-120

In speaking of identity as biocultural, I want to emphasize the link between body, mind, and culture. Among the newest identities coming into social consciousness are ones related to transgender, and the roots of that identity both go deep into history and culture and yet seem relatively new. One...

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Nine: The Biocultures Manifesto (cowritten with David Morris)

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pp. 121-128

It was still a radical premise when New Literary History, in which this chapter first appeared, stated in 1969 that the analysis of literature needed to consider history and culture. The stand-alone, value-free model of New Criticism made earlier attempts to historicize literature or to place specific literary works in their cultural context seem old-fashioned. Today,...

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Ten: Biocultural Knowledge

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pp. 129-136

Anyone with the slightest understanding of biopower might have had a moment of hesitation as well as relief when Barack Obama said: “The truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources—it’s about protecting free and open inquiry. . . . It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It’s about...


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pp. 137-148


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pp. 149-156

E-ISBN-13: 9780472029655
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472052028

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2014