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  • Metanarratives of Disability: Culture, Assumed Authority, and the Normative Social Order ed. by David Bolt
  • Alex Tankard (bio)
David Bolt, ed. Metanarratives of Disability: Culture, Assumed Authority, and the Normative Social Order. Abingdon: Routledge, 2021. Paperback. ISBN: 9780367523190. £34.99. 258 pp.

The last big event in our field that I attended before Covid-19 was D4D Futurity: Disability Today and Tomorrow at the Centre for Culture and Disability Studies, Liverpool Hope University. A conversation arose—I think in relation to Tanvir Bush’s novel Cull—about the need for more disabled stories and disabled voices to make themselves heard if disabled people are to resist dehumanization. I found myself arguing that disabled people have been speaking and writing for centuries, but not even an avalanche of disabled stories could counteract an ableist society’s determination to silence or discredit those narratives that challenge its prejudices. Metanarratives of Disability examines that dilemma of disabled voices speaking out but continually rejected, and does so with powerful critical force and precision. Each chapter focuses on the dominant social meanings attributed to a particular form of impairment or disability—the “metanarratives” designed to occlude, silence, and undermine the meanings disabled people themselves find in their own experiences. Each chapter is authored by a scholar with a personal experience of disability, or in collaboration with people with lived experience, enabling disabled voices to critique those oppressive metanarratives explicitly. For example, Sonya Freeman Loftis’s chapter shows, with absolute clarity, that the real impact of metanarratives of autism goes far beyond the frustration of feeling unheard and misunderstood in “the perception of autistic people as passive characters [End Page 124] in neurotypical stories” (105); it even goes beyond how misrepresentation of autism as a childhood illness “can drive the search for a cure and also lead to the blaming of those of us (all of us) autistics who fail to find it” (105). In fact, Loftis identifies a stark material expression of these oppressive metanarratives in the refusal of maternity healthcare services to imagine that an autistic person might ever give birth—let alone that such a person should be entitled to appropriate care: “my husband began to joke (with increasing levels of seriousness) about delivering the child himself, perhaps on the floor of our kitchen” (97).

The limitations of simply being a disabled voice, or of simply stating disapproval of a metanarrative to which ableist society will continue to cling regardless—are addressed by different contributors in unique ways. Angela J. Kim’s chapter on OCD, and Danielle Kohfeldt and Gregory Mather’s chapter on chronic pain, both discuss not only the epistemic violence by which disabled people are persistently silenced, but also the fact that, when popular metanarratives trivialize their experiences, disabled people trying to communicate their needs are forced to “privilege medical diagnoses as most valid and thus feed into the medical industrial complex which has historically been rooted in violent and curative practices” (Kim 73). Thus, an ableist society that allows disabled people to speak can still block them from challenging oppressive narratives by denying them an alternative language, or by refusing to accept an alternative to biomedical discourses. Heather R. Walker and Bianca C. Frazer’s chapter on diabetes turns these discursive limitations into remarkable insights: unlike many other disability experiences, the fact that disability metanarratives “are shrouded in blame of the individual” mean that “existing cripistemologies have yet to expand enough to capture the particularities of diabetes as a disability” to counteract those metanarratives (166). Yet this chapter also suggests an ingenious way of manipulating the limited terms of resistance available to diabetic people: “[s]elf-management as performance becomes not only a form of physical liberation but also an act of defiance” against the metanarrative’s insistence that “the diabetic” is, by definition, someone incapable of self-management (166).

However, Owen Barden and Steven J. Walden’s chapter on learning disability offers one of the most exciting answers to the question of “what would actually change if nondisabled people heard disabled people’s voices?”—by changing the terms of this question altogether. This chapter is able to ask what happens when disabled people are allowed to...


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pp. 124-127
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