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Disability and Mothering

Liminal Spaces of Embodied Knowledge

Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson is professor of English and affiliate in women’s studies at Miami University, where she is also Director of Graduate Studies in English. Among other publications, she is the coeditor of Disability and the Teaching of Writing and Em

Publication Year: 2011

The editors survey the theoretical frameworks of feminism and disability studies, locating the points of overlap crucial to a study of disability and mothering. Organized in five sections, the book engages questions about reproductive technologies; diagnoses and cultural scripts; the ability to rewrite narratives of mothering and disability; political activism; and the tensions formed by the overlapping identities of race, class, nation, and disability. The essays speak to a broad audience—from undergraduate and graduate students in women’s studies and disability studies, to therapeutic and health care professionals, to anyone grappling with issues such as genetic testing and counseling, raising a child with disability, or being disabled and contemplating starting a family.

Published by: Syracuse University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-viii


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pp. ix

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pp. xi

This volume is truly a collaborative effort whose roots extend back many years to a graduate seminar on the body and the rhetoric of science where we, the editors, first explored and shared ideas about disability and women. As we took on the project of editing...


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pp. xiii-xvi

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Introduction: On Liminality and Cultural Embodiment

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pp. 1-15

This book has both personal and academic roots in the lives of its editors and contributors. We are academics and activists interested in feminism and disability studies: mothers; mothers with disability; mothers of disabled children; disabled...

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Part One: Reproductive Technologies in the Disciplining Bodies

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pp. 17-78

The four essays of part 1 examine how social and cultural discourses— for example, “beauty,” “fitness,” or “choice”—work together with advanced technologies, such as in vitro fertilization, genetic testing...

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1. “Healthy, Accomplished, and Attractive”: Visual Representations of “Fitness” in Egg Donors

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pp. 19-33

Eugenic discourses and rhetorics popular during the “race betterment” movement in the early twentieth century have not disappeared but instead have found purchase in new sites for discussion: in debates about current and emerging reproductive...

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2. Negotiating Discourses of Maternal Responsibility, Disability, and Reprogenetics: The Role of Experiential Knowledge

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pp. 34-48

Women with disabilities have long experienced constraints on their reproductive choices and rights. For women with genetic disabilities, new technologies have increased these constraints. They, and their relatives, are compelled to consider explicitly...

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3. Stalking Grendel’s Mother: Biomedicine and the Disciplining of the Deviant Body

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pp. 49-62

In the ancient tale Beowulf, it is the monster’s mother, rather than the monster itself, that is the hero’s true nemesis. If Beowulf figures as the harbinger of a stable new sociality, the retreat from the nomadic tribalism of old, then Grendel’s mother...

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4. Uneasy Subjects: Disability, Feminism, and Abortion

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pp. 63-78

Scene: A disability studies forum at Miami University in 2004. The room was filled to capacity with over 175 students, faculty, and staff spilling out the back doors. At the front, a panel of seven faculty and graduate students presented a short video on disability...

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Part Two: Refusals: Contesting Diagnoses and Cultural Scripts

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pp. 79-126

The four essays of part 2 address and resist the power of stock stories—for example, cultural scripts about who should mother or how one must mother, or medical diagnoses that may or may not result in helping...

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5. “What Does It Matter?” A Meditation on the Social Positioning of Disability and Motherhood

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pp. 81-87

There was a conversation-ending silence as these words tumbled out of the mouth of the woman painting my nails on a bright Saturday morning at a local spa.1 We had run out of things to talk...

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6. Reconceiving Motherhood

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pp. 88-97

In September 2005, a twelve-foot-high marble statue entitled Alison Lapper Pregnant was installed temporarily on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, joining permanent statues of Admiral Nelson, King George IV, and two generals. This...

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7. Refusing Diagnosis: Mother-Daughter Agency in Confronting Psychiatric Rhetoric

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pp. 98-112

My daughter Lauren has a sizable cynical streak, but there are injustices against herself or others that she will not tolerate, even when the odds are stacked against her.1 In her adolescence, her talent for art extended to her own self-presentation, which was unique...

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8. Diagnosable: Mothering at the Threshold of Disability

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pp. 113-126

I am at a meeting of my son’s preschool co-op, and I have my fellow cooperators in stitches.1 I’m good at getting people to laugh—it’s one of my strongest social skills, but the joke of the moment is a little complicated. During the past year, our teeny...

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Part Three: Narrativity and Meaning-Making: Rewriting Stories of Mothering and Disability

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pp. 127-178

Whereas the essays in the previous section disassembled or countered many of the restrictive cultural scripts of parenting and disability, the essays of part 3 seek to recast stories of mothering and disability. These authors...

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9. Mothers as Storytellers

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pp. 129-139

Motherhood and disability have always been inextricably intertwined for me, as I was born into a family where disability was already present in my sister’s and therefore my parents’ lives. You might say that I was born “wise,” to use Erving...

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10. Sharing Stories: Motherhood, Autism, and Culture

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pp. 140-155

We tell stories, my son and I.1 We read them, we write them, and we talk them. It is our way of making sense of our life together, our separate experiences having sometimes seemed so far apart. The son who once rode in my body, a little circle within...

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11. Nurturing the Nurturer: Reflections on an Experience of Breastfeeding, Disability, and Physical Trauma

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pp. 156-163

For months, I felt that this pregnancy was going so well. However, I have been in the hospital for a week now, subjected to numerous tests to find out why my body is experiencing such severe symptoms that appear to be related to my...

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12. Vulnerable Subjects: Motherhood and Disability in Nancy Mairs and Cherríe Moraga

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pp. 164-178

Motherhood is idealized in modern American culture (as in most cultures), but being a mother deviates from the ideal modern American subject. Motherhood is not conducive to individual integrity, self-reliance, or reason. Pregnancy, birth, and...

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Part Four: Reimagining Activism: A Politics of Disability and Mothering

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pp. 179-239

Parental activism is one of the most fraught aspects of the disability- rights movement, and this is not a new phenomenon. Several generations ago, parents of the disabled were expected to let go of their children...

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13. From Surrender to Activism: The Transformation of Disability and Mothering at Kew Cottages, Australia

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pp. 183-202

This oral history of mothering at Kew Cottages, Australia,1 provides an understanding of the ways in which mothering roles evolved and changed over time as attitudes toward parental involvement in the lives of institutionalized children...

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14. History Examined: One Woman’s Story of Disability and Advocacy

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pp. 203-209

The door opened; my mother was home from the hospital. I was four and ran downstairs to meet her asking: “Where’s the baby?” A horrible hush fell, broken moments later by my mother’s sobbing. It felt like my fault; I had been warned not to ask...

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15. My Mother’s Mental Illness

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pp. 210-217

My mother has run away from home.1 She is hiding in a bathroom stall in a department store basement. “How did you manage to call me?” she asks. “My phone doesn’t work. It’s in emergency mode.” She talks quickly, breathlessly, stringing...

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16. A Schizo-ly Situated Daughter: A Mother's Labor

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pp. 218-221

At one time I agreed with the theory on “schizophrenogenic mothers,” insisting I had one to all who would listen to my expertise about the etiology of my creative brain. Prior to that, I thought “Munchausen by proxy” caused my psychiatric...

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17. Motherhood and Activism in the Dis/Enabling Context of War: The Case of Cindy Sheehan

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pp. 222-239

US peace activist and mother Cindy Sheehan built her authority as a peace activist by yoking her antiwar mission to her role as a mother of a dead soldier son. In a statement addressed to Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defense during the war...

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Part Five: Multiple Identities, Overlapping Borders

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pp. 241-301

The essays of part 5 highlight the problematic concept of identity. In both disability studies and feminist theory, identity is a contested concept. While a singular group identity can be claimed for political...

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18. The Political Is Personal: Mothering at the Intersection of Acquired Disability, Gender, and Race

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pp. 245-259

The social model of disability urges us to define disability as a category of identity that is socially constructed. In the classic version that was developed by the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS and Disability Alliance 1976), an...

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19. “You Gotta Make Aztlán Any Way You Can”: Disability in Cherríe Moraga’s Heroes and Saints

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pp. 260-274

Heroes and Saints (first staged in 1989 and later published in 1994) is the most frequently staged play by Chicana feminist writer Cherríe L. Moraga. Moraga’s work has long been recognized for its critique of heteronormative family structures...

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20. Intersecting Postcolonial Mothering and Disability: A Narrative of an Antiguan Mother and Her Son

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pp. 275-288

On September 30, 2007, I became a mother. My transition into motherhood has helped me in understanding my own mother and how she has dealt with my brother’s disabilities. My mom and I share many qualities, but there are three major...

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21. Mothering, Disability, and Poverty: Straddling Borders, Shifting Boundaries, and Everyday Resistance

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pp. 289-301

In this chapter I draw upon original research, in-depth interviews with disabled single mothers living in poverty, and detail their resistance to dominant social constructions of themselves as suspect because they are both disabled...

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pp. 302-313

With a nod to Raymond Williams (1976), who collects and analyzes a vocabulary of culturally charged words, and Evelyn Fox Keller and Elisabeth Lloyd (1992), who assemble keywords of evolutionary biology, we have chosen to conclude...


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pp. 317-339


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pp. 341-348

E-ISBN-13: 9780815650805
E-ISBN-10: 0815650809
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815632849
Print-ISBN-10: 0815632843

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 4
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1