- Beyond Accommodation: Disability, Feminist Philosophy, and the Design of Everyday Academic Life
“Knowledge . . . is made for cutting” (Foucault 1998, 380). With this proclamation, Michel Foucault calls us to a “slanted perception” (382) whose “deliberate” aim is to “appraise, to say yes or no, to follow all of poison’s traces, and to find the best antidote” for it (382, trans. modified). A cutting knowledge cuts to the chase, cuts the crap, occasionally cuts up with laughter. In that cutting spirit—touché!—we are pleased to introduce here a new regular feature of philoSOPHIA: “Short Cuts.” As the title implies, this section of the journal provides a forum for brief, incisive, explicitly slanted commentaries that cut: reflections, ruminations, rants, appraisals, and agitations on theoretical issues that speak directly to contemporary concerns. We hope these “Short Cuts” will agitate you, our readers: arouse your interest and, as the Latin agitare suggests, set things in motion for other exchanges and short cuts. We encourage you to write your own “Short Cuts” (maximum three thousand words) for consideration in future issues of the journal. [End Page 259]
Disability has become a hot topic for feminist philosophy in recent years. Special issues of Hypatia and Disability Studies Quarterly, multiple conference keynote addresses, and a growing cadre of scholars are exploring the intersections of feminist and critical disability thought. As a disabled feminist scholar, I perceive these trends as a signal that the field of feminist philosophy is taking up disability concepts and theories in valuable ways. There is certainly much that feminist philosophers can learn from disabled scholars and critical disability scholarship and activism. Unlike dominant medical models of disability, which treat disabled minds and bodies as objects of knowledge for science and biomedicine, critical disability theories foreground disabled peoples’ knowledge and lived experiences. Often in conversation with feminist theories, they define disability as a valuable form of human variation, cultural diversity, situated knowledge, and a basis for relational ethics that should be preserved, and even desired (Mitchell and Snyder 2006; Kafer 2013; Garland-Thomson 2011).
Like the feminist imperative to consider the personal as political, a central feature of critical disability scholarship and activism is the integration of our scholarly principles into material practices of access-making, whether in the classroom, at conferences, in web space, or in our writing. To do justice to disabled people’s existence, knowledge, and politics, feminist philosophers [End Page 260] should avoid making disability a mere theoretical resource for their work. Simply developing feminist philosophy with reference to disability is not meaningful or accountable unless feminist philosophers transform the material and cultural arrangements, real-time interactions, and physical spaces in which feminist philosophy takes place. To work toward meaningful access, feminist philosophers could follow Shelley Tremain’s statistical and interview-based documentation of structural inequalities that disabled philosophers experience, and Laura Davy’s suggestion that philosophers “redesign” the questions they ask about disability (Tremain 2013; Tremain, 2016; Davy 2014). To build upon this work, I argue that feminist philosophers must understand their labor as the design of everyday academic spaces and interactions, and accordingly become more accountable for material practices of accessibility.
Access, Academic Space, and Material Labor
As numerous sources have documented, the lack of meaningful access is particularly severe within the real-time interactions and physical spaces in which academic conferences, including feminist philosophy conferences, take place (Tremain 2013; Perry 2015; Bain 2016b). Disabled philosophers attending or presenting at conferences where disability is a focus of inquiry have found themselves excluded by seemingly neutral and normal physical aspects of the built environment, as well as norms of academic presentation. For instance, the presumption of conference presenters and audiences with normative cognitive, sensory, and physical characteristics governs the norms of oral speech, visual aides such as slides, the presentation of logical arguments, the assertion of expertise, and the analysis of texts—particularly when scholars practice these norms without providing multiple means of accessing their content. The norm that scholars are nondisabled and not chronically ill (and frequently also people with race, economic, and gender privilege) materializes in the ways that we hold conferences within particular types...