Disability and Difference in Global Contexts: Enabling a Transformative Body Politic by Nirmala Erevelles (review)
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Reviewed by
Nirmala Erevelles. Disability and Difference in Global Contexts: Enabling a Transformative Body Politic. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 227 pp. $105.00 cloth/$39.99 paper.

The study and research of disability always provokes questions of presence and absence. Ten years ago, Robert McRuer asked, "Who haunts the margins of the work that we do, the margins of the feminist, queer, and disabled worlds? What would an ongoing commitment to those spectral presences entail?" Answers to these questions are found in Erevelles's personal and political piece of activist scholarship. Her work has been important to many of us in disability studies, not least through the ways in which she has bridged interests in education and sociology. Her writings have always challenged orthodox centers of scholarship to think again about those caught up at the peripheral edges of radical research. Her writing seeks to force her comrades out of their comfort zones and consider the possibility that critical studies of disability may, ironically, be in danger of reproducing the conditions of ableism on which the exclusion of the disabled are founded. Ableism works because it upholds the hegemonic power of the white, urban, bourgeois, male, heterosexual, working, and consuming citizen. And, Erevelles argues, disability studies can be accused of replaying these ableist imperatives when it fails to question the implied citizen at the heart of its theorizing. She seeks instead to "situate disability as the central analytic, or more importantly, the ideological linchpin utilized to (re)constitute social difference along the axes of race, gender, and sexuality in dialectical relationship to the economic/social relations produced within the historical context of transnational capitalism" (6). Specifically, Erevelles is interested in the spectral presences of class, race, and geographical space, seeking to make these real rather than apparitional. Her interrogation is both relentless and penetrating: How might we draw in analyses of poverty, globalization, race, and ethnicity and their close relationships with disability? How are queerness and disability reproduced in ableist frameworks of school and community? In what ways is care gendered and [End Page 246] structured in ways that disempower disabled people and people of color? How should disability studies theory respond to these complex intersectional relationships? How might feminist theory from the Global South be used to reinvigorate disability studies thinking? How can an intersectional study give opportunities for including the lives and ambitions of people with learning disabilities? How can we understand the meaning and reality of care? These are just some of the questions posed and addressed in this compelling book.

Erevelles describes her theoretical approach as one of historical materialism. Her analysis builds upon the foundational work of the social model of disability, a perspective with which many readers of this journal will be familiar. But her theoretical work goes further than this orthodoxy by explicitly engaging with writings from the Global South as well as more recent post-conventionalist and crip/queer approaches (that have been typically developed in the Global North). Chapter one makes a strong case for understanding the material relations of production that create disabled and enabled bodies. Erevelles provides a cautionary reading of recent critical disability studies attempts to rethink disability as a phenomenon created through horizontal relationships of becoming. While recognizing the potential of such work to render disability a product of desiring relationships, she also worries that this conception of desire ignores very real material conditions that operate to maintain white, male, and bourgeois privilege. Whose bodies are sidelined in our conception of desire? What dangers are created by post-materialist social theories? Chapter two gives an unnerving example of intersectional analysis by considering the "dirty politics" of schooling in the quarantining of black bodies and disabled sexualities. School curricula are analyzed as texts that reproduce disabling and racist discourses. These texts are haunted by ghostly ideas associated with the pathologization of race and disability as they seek to maintain childhood innocence, but instead do the opposite. Chapter three is a call for community that fosters collective resistance with respect to the politics associated with race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability. This is intersectionality as the fertile ground for a political multitude. The importance of such...