Category Archives: Annotated Bibliography

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Queer Analogies and Crip Intersections: Ellen Samuels, “My Body, My Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming Out”

In this article, Samuels investigates analogies between the experience of non-visibly disabled people and queer people. While she explores experiences that these two groups share (such as their shared relationship to discourses of “passing” and “coming out”), Samuel’s main objective in this piece is to put pressure on the ways analogies of identity and oppression can oversimplify the complex differences between analagized groups. Rather than accepting easy analogies that tend to make all experiences seem equivalent (epitomized in sex-race analogies, for instance when white feminists have analogized their own oppression to the oppression of black civil rights activists), Samuels believes investigating analogies can provide a more nuanced understanding about of marginal identities like femme lesbian and nonvisible disabled person.

While it is commonplace to use language of “coming out” to discuss both queer and invisibly disabled experience, Samuels argues that the two kinds of coming out differ in significant ways. Within disability contexts as in queer contexts, “coming out” is often used with two different meanings. On the one hand, “coming out” as disabled can sometimes mean claiming a positive self-identity as disabled, rejecting internalized ablest beliefs about the inferiority of disabled people. For those who have invisible disabilities, especially chronic illnesses, coming out takes on a second meaning, most often in the sense of “coming out to” as in revealing oneself to be disabled to others. Here the analogy with queer identities is most concrete, as it is those who can “pass” as able bodied who are in a position to do this second sort of outing.

Within both discourses, queer and disabled, passing as normative is often seen as evidence of internalized oppression. To pass is to reject public recognition as disabled or queer. But for those whose disability isn’t written on the body, there exist limited options for publically performing their disability. And when disability is claimed in the absence of physical signifiers, it is often disbelieved by both disabled and nondisabled people alike.

Some have claimed that femme lesbian identity may serve a disruptive force to cultural gender norms by recasting traditionally heterosexual femininity within the context of lesbian erotic desire. However, there tends to be no disabled equivalent to the eroticism of femme identity. The one expeception to this limitation, Samuels argues, can be found in the border identity of the disabled femme. Samuels closes by examining the ways femme lesbians reframe their own self image to include their own disabled bodies.

* * *

I’ve thought about analogies between queerness and invisible disabilities before, especially in considering LD experience and gay male notions of coming out. In particular, I’ve thought about these issues in relation to Sieber’s idea of disability as masquerade, and I’ll likely think about them again when I dig into Sieber’s work in Disability Theory.

I take away from this reading a deeper anxiety about using analogies between different identity experiences. I am already wary about analogizing LD experience with other disabled experiences, particularly because I am so easily able to pass as able bodied in most social contexts. I am used to having to come out as LD, and to people being surprised. Because I am well acclimated to academic life, I usually know how to appear comfortable and at home in environments where other, more severely LD people would be conspicuous. Even if I accept that LD and other disabilities share analogous qualities in relations to the ideas of “normalcy,” as Davis-style disability theory would hold, I feel great unease approaching any analogies between my experience of LD and other disabilities that I (problematically) imagine as more real (because more visible), for instance disabled people who use wheelchairs or have sensory impairments.

One avenue where problematic analogies are most likely to emerge in my thinking about LD and literacy-related disabilities relate to issues of race and ethnicity. ESL students and people who speak with nonstandard (usually racially marked) dialects are often functionally disabled within mainstream literacy education. The stigma of illiteracy affects these populations in similar ways to how they effect LD people, and indeed, medicalized language often works its way into discussions about the deficiency of basic writers or the remediation of ESL students. However, as I ‘m sure I will discover when I investigate the histories of ESL and BW teaching over the last few decades, there are likely important distinctions between these populations as well. I will have to think about this further as I read Patricia Dunn’s Learning Re-Abled and George Otte and Rebecca Mlynarczyk’s history of basic writing–both of which are next on my lists for Jason and Mark, respectively.

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Disabling ideas: Douglas C Baynton, “Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History”

Douglas Baynton argues in this article that historians should see disability as a central issue in American history, rather than a special topic of interest only to those who study the lives of disabled people. To illustrate this point, he draws together historical narratives of three major political debates in American history that do not–on face value–seem related to disability: the women’s sufferage movement, debates over slavery and civil rights for black Americans, and the implementation of immigration restrictions. In each of these debates, Baynton argues that the concept of disability plays a key role in justifying the discriminatory practices laid out in law. For instance, politicians and scientists in the 19th century frequently argued that enslaved black Americans were constitutionally unfit for full civic participation; their bodies and minds were built for captivity. Similarly, women’s constitutional infirmities were used to justify excluding them from the franchise.

Interestingly, because disability is key to way social exclusion or disenfranchisement is justified, in order to contradict the logic of exclusion, women and ethnic or racial minority advocates often devoted their energy to proving that they were not in fact disabled, and thus didn’t deserve to be treated as such. Implicit in all of these arguments, Baynton argues, is a naturalized assumption that it is, in fact, logical and justifiable to exclude or keep disenfranchised people who really are disabled.

One project in this article is to show how negative stigmas deployed about race, gender, and nationality current throughout the 19th century all deploy tropes of disability. To get us here, Bynton summarizes the pre-19th century conception of “the natural” and “the monstrous” as opposing poles in relation to a perceived notion of what God intended humans and animals to be. In the 19th century, as Davis has argued, the concept of “the normal” and “the abnormal” emerged. The normal became a category that idealized white male virtues as the standard, and framed women, people of color, and foreigners as abnormal, often attributing their differences to some sort of hereditary deficiency.

This argument makes me recall debates about open admissions and the exclusion of racial and ethnic minorities from college education in America. Indeed, as I think further, I think of the kinds of justifications examined by Virginia Woolf regarding the exclusion of women from British universities as late as the early 20th century. She talks about this most concretely in A Room of One’s Own, and it would be compelling to read this piece for its engagement with disability arguments about women’s capacities for education.

In his article, “The Language of Exclusion” Mike Rose analyzes the language administrators use to talk about “remedial” students. Like Baynton, he shows that we tend to deploy metaphors of disability in order to justify our exclusionary stance toward people with racial or cultural differences from our own perceived “normal” position as white, middle-class educators and administrators. Rose argues that this is inappropriate: that our students are not disabled and are not illiterate, but that we use terms like this to discuss them because we hold an overly medicalized view of their differences. We see student difficulties as pathological, so that the student whose language and learning abilities make them a good fit for the university become cast as “normal,” and students who have trouble learning or performing in university sponsored literacy tasks possess abnormal or underdeveloped abilities. He argues that the history of basic writing and remediation are, in essence, histories of disability.

I will think more about this idea on Mark’s list, particularly in reading Rebecca Mlynarczyk and George Otte’s Basic Writing. I wonder if those who argued for including women, minorities, and foreigners on our colleges also had to distance the stigma of disability in order to do it. That is, did they have to maintain that there indeed are populations of people who need to be excluded from college life, but that women/black people/immigrants didn’t fit into this category? Something to follow up going forward.

 

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Institutions and Incarceration: Liat Ben-Moshe “‘The Institution Yet to Come’: Analyzing Incarceration Through a Disability Lens”

This article attempts to show the theoretical, historical, and pragmatic connections between systems of institutionalized confinement for mentally disabled people and for those in the criminal justice system. Ben-Moshe believes that recent analyses of the “rise of incarseration” do not sufficiently take into account the populations incarcerated within public and private institutions against their will.

Indeed, Ben-Moshe argues that the marked increase of imprisonment rates corelates to a related increase in the diagnosis of severe mental illness and the incorporation of costodial care for the mentally disabled with the prision complex. Both types of confinement are justified under a logic of exclusion, wherein perceived dangerous or uncontrolable individuals are sequestered for permanent segregation, rather than integration with the community. A disability studies influenced critique of the prison system would advocate for the mental care of those in prisons and for programs that work to redress economic inequalities that lead to poverty, crime, and often, disablement.

* * *

I initially chose this piece hoping it would give me insights for thinking about institutions that segregate and “serve” populations with cognitive impairment. It turned out that the article focuses much more strongly on tracking important trends in public policy surrounding demographic shifts in prisons and mental facilities.

The Foucaultian concept of the hybrid discourse may be useful. Ben-Moshe employs the term to refer to the cross-discursive matrix that surrounds imprisonment: doctors and judges collaborating in the “care” of these different sets of undesirable citizens. I wonder if the concept would help to think of the intersection of medical and educational discourses that characterize learning disability discourse.

*** Next up from the Disability Studies Reader: Douglas C Baynton, “Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History” and Elizabeth D. Emens, “Disabling Attitudes: U.S. Disability Law and the ADA Amendments Act”

*** Also reading: Cathy Davidson and David Theo Goldberg’s The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age.

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Coming to Terms with Madness, Illness, and disabilities of mind: Margaret Price, “Defining Mental Disability”

In this article, Margaret Price examines a range of different terms that are used to refer to “mental disability.” Her aim is to examine the different context in which each of the terms is used, examining the social and cultural function of each of the following: madness, consumer/survivor/ex-patient, mentally ill, neurodiverse, mental disability, and psychosocial disability. Price sees the business of examining names in this way to be integral to disability studies politics, as the names might often signify of inequality or oppression or alternately fuel coalition building and activism. Names teach us a great deal about the culture of our “here and now,” as much as they have potential to direct the future.

“Mad” offers the same kind of blanket appeal as “queer,” taking in huge diversity but also providing a coalition-building power, as in MindFreedom International and the Mad Pride movement. Emerging from this movement have come terms like “psychiatric system survivor” and other iterations that identify a person as a current or former recipiant of psychiatric medical “care.” Here people identify that they now or once held a patient role, and it is from this postition that they often argue agaisnt the oppressive treatment of the medical establishment.

The medical industrial complex (including doctors and insurance providors) use a definition of “mental illness” to conceive of madness, wherein individuals are seen as mentally unwell and in need of treatment to return them to a state of “mental health.”The mental illness paragigm is especially powerful because the mad person must comply with their diagnosis and submit to prescribed “care,” “which may include medication, incarceration, or electroscock.” One faction of doctors and activists, the postpsychiatry movement, have rejected this paradigm as inherently oppressive and argued instead argued for establishing a psychiatric care system that would serve the desires of c/s/x folks as well.

Mental illnesses don’t seem to fit within the paradigm of disability, since under this definition they are temporary and potentially curable. For instance, it seems as if the interests of c/s/x people and those in the neurodiversity movement may be incompatible. Price draws on the work of Cyntia Lewiecki-Wilson to offer the term “mental disability” to unite these disparte groups under one theoretical frame: as disabilities perceived to reside in the mind, these conditions, she believes, share a similar rhetorical disenfranchisement. Those believed to be mad or autistic or otherwise mentally impaired are disempowered as rhetors.

Price offers a final term that may be especially useful to my own discussions of cognitive difference in higher education. She argues that these disabilities are not “invisible” in the traditional sense, but instead “apparitional,” in that they appear through behavior and in specific circumstanses. This is essentially what I was trying to get at in my last post on stigma of mental illness in universities. She calls these conditions “psychosocial disabilities,” mental disabilities that emerge in relation to particular social conditions. It acknowledges that the experience of mental difference is embodied, but that it’s also rendered as disability not through inevitability but through social convention. While Price finds this last term most theoretically useful, she acknowledges that it is too theoretically complex for much coalition building. In the end, she settles on mental disability as the most practical and powerful term available for conceptualizing mental difference.

* * *

Price’s work continues to prove important to my thinking. The concept of mental disability may work well for helping me define academic disability, which is essentially a specific iteration of psychosocial disability. I’m aware that definitional distinctions like these work at an untennible level of abstraction without some kind of real-world applicability. What good is it, really, to fuss around with terms like this? Price claims that the terms we use have impacts on the power dynamics that end up surrounding the labled person. So, if the terms we accept are “mental illness” and the like, it–what? causes?–requires that those so labled accept their role as patient and submit to normalization under the guise of cure. Or, if we use terms like “mental disability” we are more prone to see these conditions for their social and cultural components, motivating those so labled to seek coalition with other disabled people.

I’m not sure I fully comprehend the relationship between terminology and change. That is, I’m curious about the connection between the discourse Price identifies and the contexts in which she sets it. She shows how the language we use to define mental disability often matches the social structure in which it has meaning, but I wonder if she’s saying there’s causality. That is, does using the term “mental illness” really perpetuate the system of psychiatric discrimination? Is the problem discursive, and thus best addressed through a discursive critique?

To be clear, Price states early on that she’s not trying to advocate one term over another. She only claims that the terms we use right now show us something about the social contexts in which they exist. That they explain, in some way, the workings of the psychiatric establishment or the mad power movement or disability activism. Still, I find the connection between the discourse and the social context as it’s actually experienced to be difficult to untangle.

Price spends a great deal of this essay modeling her own idea development process as she moved from one term to another; it’s pretty hard not to read her progression of terms as a development toward the most empowering and politically effective term. There’s a politics of activism behind this search, and experiences of activism and coalition building throughout the rhetoric of personal narrative used in this piece.  Indeed, this is one of the most admirable things about the piece, which I now realize I omitted completely from my summary. Price employs her personal experiences to walk us from her history of medical treatment, to seeing herself as a survivor as a possible participant in the s/c/x movement, to a moment of claiming disability at the end. It tracks her own journey for definition.

I was leading toward this method myself in my paper on learning disabilities I have been working on for Joe. This article might provide a useful model, since my work was trying to lead up to a definition of terms in this same way. I could explore how my own self definition of dyslexia, LD, and academic disability have evolved, and consider some of the contextual implications of each.

*** Up next from the Disability Studies Reader: Liat Ben-Moshe, “‘The Institution Yet to Come’: Analyzing Incarceration Through a Disability Lens”

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Stigma three ways: Brown, Coleman Lerita. “Stigma: An Enigma Demystified”

While stigma is a key term in disability studies, social scientist Lorita Coleman Brown argues that most scholars who employ the term are not aware of the multiple dimensions of stigma. Brown examines the “behavioral,” “cognitive,” and “affective” components of stigma and argues that social stigmitization emerges in response to “the dilemma of difference.”

Brown begins with Irving Groffman’s concept of stigma as a mark of difference that makes one undesired in a particular social setting. Stigmas might be marked by embodied qualities like skin color or sex, or they might be demarkated by religious or polotical affiliation. Which stigmas disqualify a person from access to social power (use of rights, access to wealth, protection from discrimination, etc) changes from one cultural moment to the next. As it is a part of the social order, stigma it affects everyone–regardless of whether the individual is marked with a negative stigma or not. For example, current social stigmas about fatness affect me and my self image, even though I’m thin.

Brown examines the way children learn to stigmatize socially undesired differences. She argues that through the process of social learning, children are taught to modify their in-born curiosity response to recognizing human variation to a fear response that they intuit from parental interaction. Children learn which sorts of differences identify a category of person, and they also learn which categories of people they should have negative or positive feelings about. Identifying someone as stigmatized or not can be seen as a form of social cognition that must be learned. (Not fully sure I understand what she means by social cognition. Perhaps a thinking task that’s part of being in social life?)

Beyond this cognitive component of stigma, further social effects are maintained when stereotyped beliefs about strigmatized populations work their way into accepted social behavior, especially when these beliefs justify social exclusion and lowered expectations for success for stigmazied people. This negative social status enforces the affective component of stigma, which is a felt desire to avoid or distance oneself from stigmatized individuals which brown identifies as “fear.”

Ultimately, Brown wants to show that social scientific research on stigma could have important implications for understanding a wealth of social phenomena, including the distribution of power/wealth along sex or race lines. She wants economists and anthropologists to investigate stigma and its relation to social power across cultures, economic systems, time periods, and reasons.

***

The first connection I draw between stigma and my interest in academic culture relates to stigmas against students with mental disabilities. The work of Margaret Price examines this element, so maybe I’ll go to her essay for my next post. If students are flagged as psychotic or seriously depressed, we see their position in the university change dramatically. Students who are marked different as “mentally unstable” in some way enter a medicalized wing of the university system: their continued presence on campuses becomes monitored by physicians and service providers, and lack of complaince can result in expulsion. (fix that syntax so it’s not terrible to read.) As Price discusses in her 2011 Mad At School, diagnosis of many so-called mental illnesses stands as legitimate grounds for expulsion in many American universities [citation needed]. These discriminatory practices are justified by legal necessity to avoid liability for knowingly allowing mentally ill people to harm themselves or others within their institution. In this, I could understand a good connection to Brown’s notion that stigma is connected to stereotyped fear.

At the local level in classrooms, stigma against mental illness is pervades the language of rationality and sanity, pervading academic discourse. See  particularly Bowers’s essay in this fall’s issue of Kairos for an interesting discussion on this point, where the argues against saneist language in the classroom: “Inclusive Language” See also my post on the Kairos webtext from the beginning of September. This language speaks to a cultural acceptance of beliefs that mental illness is goes along with deminished intellectual value and unacademic values.

The most interesting thing for me is considering mental disability in academia from the first quality of stigma that Brown uses. Unlike stigmas written on the body, mental disabilities are not typically visible, except on medical disclosure forms, of course. Instead, because mental illness is associated with “abnormal behavior” like acting emotionally volatile, depressed in productivity or motivation, or generally irrational [resisting scare quotes].

These behaviors often manifest themselves in relation to the performance of academic tasks, that is, doing the work students do: class discussions, homework, exams, while studying. I see possible connections here to the cognitive disabilities I’m concerned about elsewhere on Jason’s list. The behaviors associated with mental illness read as fundamentally inconsistent with participation in academic culture. They also sit as the flip side of the academic abilities valued by most academics, especially rationality and intellectual control. I’ll think about this further when reading Price’s work.

* * * Next up: Margaret Price: “Defining Mental Disability” from the Disability Studies Reader

 

 

 

 

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I say, therefore I do: J. L. Austin’s How to Do Things with Words

While I took great pleasure in reading Austin’s How to Do Things with Words, I am daunted by the task of summarizing and reflecting on it. Here I’ll try talking about what seems to me most important from Austin’s observations and what applications do I see for these theories for my work in composition.

I was initially drawn in by Austin’s distinction between the constative and performative uses of language. By offering a wealth of everyday examples (such as “I do” when said in a marriage ceremony or “I bet” when playing a card game) he convinced me quite quickly that there are many ways that we use words to do things. By examining how performative uses of language either fail or succeed to have their customary effect, Austin further distinguishes the ways performatives function within social and cultural contexts.

Neither of these points were revelations for me: Language is clearly an important tool we use to do things, like conduct business or set cultural laws. However, I found his taxonomy of infelicities–ways speech-acts can go wrong and fail in their effect–compelling, especially as he takes a joking tone when producing examples, occasionally absurd. I often felt dragged through his later taxonomizing, when he tries to evaluate grammatical heuristics for distinguishing performatives. The humor helps.

Austin finds no clear way to distinguish performative utterances from mere statements of fact.  Through his investigation, he establishes to three key senses in which to say something is to do something. In one sense, to say something is to perform a locutionary act–that is, to make noises (he’s not interested in gestural languages) that correspond to an accepted vocabulary and grammar. In another sense, to say something is sometimes also to perform an illocutionary act–that is, it’s a performative in the initial sense, like “I apologize” or “I object!”. Sometimes the sentences we make invoke a particular ritual force that performs a further action. Austin provides six major types of illocutionary acts, including utterances that pass judgment (“I judge you to be guilty of murder”) that commit oneself to further action (“I promise to bake you a cake”) or that enact a social  interaction (“I apologize for . . . ” or “I thank you for . . .”). Finally, he explains that sometimes when we say something we’re performing a perlocutionary act–that is, we affect an audience, often through complex, indirect means. The model here goes, “By saying X, I Y’d” as in “By saying ‘you’re so confrontational,’ I offended her.” Unlike the illocutionary act, which has its effects because it adheres to pre-determined (if sometimes hidden) social rules, in this case, my speech act is doing something out in the world that’s internal to my audience. I haven’t invoked a social ritual, but I have done something. To offend someone with my words is not to use any particular grammatical or syntactical structure, but it is one thing I can do when I perform an utterance. (Put I perform so much more than utterances!)

While I may not retain the particulars of Austin’s distinctions between, say, the types of infelicities to which performatives are vulnerable or the destinctions between the of illocutionary acts one might do (not so solid even for Austin), I am facinated his illusidation of the illocutionary and perlocutionary forces of speach-acts. I found myself reflecting on how this distinction applies to the kind of rhetoric I teach in my freshman composition course. It seems like an exceptionaly elastic way of considering how utterances function (whether in an argument or a story or a memo) : that is, without discussing rhetoric explicitly, Austin’s theory explains how rhetoric is possible.

I want to consider the pedagogical implications of each of these performative forces of utterances.

1. Locutionary– to teach students to be aware of the locutionary powers of their utterances is to focus on elements of grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary usage. We do this work frequently, and current-traditional pedagogies do this work above all others. Imperative here is training students to understand how to forge utterances that adhere to and exploit the capacities of (usually) standard academic English for making meaning. Prime concerns, then: spelling or capitalizing words conventionally (typographical version of Austin’s phonic act): or we might teach students how to choose the correct words and using them according to their proper meanings  for instance, the difference between affect and effect, and how to deploy them (Austin’s phantic act); we might also teach students about subject/verb agreement or about constructing sentences logically to make clear meaning (Austin’s rhetic act). Teaching students to level of sentence construction and correctness is to sensitize students to the locutionary forces of their speech-acts.

You’ll note that I’m trying to adapt Austin’s distinctions to suit the context of the writing classroom, where most utterances are written in prose For instance, I am rendering Austin’s phonetic act as equivalent to typographical distinctions like capitalization and unconventional spelling, which may have no phonetic effect at all, but seem roughly equivalent. I may be working in rough analogy here and thus overgeneralize. But for my purposes, I couldn’t help trying to extrapolate into what I know, which is writing instruction. At the end of this post, I’ll go further, and consider how these categories might work for other sorts of communicative acts we study and make in the classroom, including visual and digital performances. That will be pure speculation.

2. Illocutionary–what would it mean to teach students about the illocutionary force of language? This amounts, I think, to social constructivist pedagogy–showing students how to perform important rhetorical moves that make up our academic genres and teaching them how to avoid the particular infelicities to which those moves are vulnerable. The work I do with my students on discourse communities often wanders close to this model of literacy acquisition. Of the six styles of illocutionary act, some seem more applicable to thinking about teaching than others.

We often ask students to evaluate or assess another author’s point of view, essentially asking them to perform a verdictive. Verdictives pass a judgement. While other illocutionary acts might commit the speaker to some future action (“I swear to X”) or express the establishment of a social interaction (“I denounce you!”), verdictives speak from a position of authority and define something based on reason or evidence. Austin’s examples are an umpire calling “out” or a judge declaring that an accused person actually is guilty based on the evidence. Verdictives must come from those with clout and must corrispond to the accepted rules of evidence in order to work. Our job as instructors is to help students avoid the pitfalls of issuing verdictives, namely that the student doesn’t hasn’t established the authority to issue her assessment, that she’s basing her verdict on unacceptable reasoning or evidence, or that the assessment is vague. When we ask students to evaluate, estimate, assess, diagnose, describe, analyse, characterize (157) our role is often to help them see how their utterances may be sound or unsound, authoritative or amateurish.

The other most obvious category of illocutionary acts that correspond with what I teach fall into Austin’s category of expositives. An utterance is expositive when it involves “the expounding of views, the conducting of arguments, and the clarifying of usages and of references” (161) Here we see verbs like argue, describe, accept, agree with, begin by, conclude by, analyze, distinguish, illustrate, explain, etc. When I teach students to use these verbs consciously in their writing, I often think of it as teaching them to employ a distinctive argumentative voice, finding ways to make explicit the thinking process they intend their essay to perform with the reader. These kinds of performance are also subject to infelicities that we try to help our students avoid. So, when a student sets out to describe something and actually ends up summarizing instead, or when they set out to argue and do not actually present an argument. Or when they set out to disagree with an author’s perspective but don’t in fact offer a disagreement or merely deny or refute or reject the author’s position.

Since illocutionary forces rely on accepted convention, I think of approaches like Graff and Berkenstein’s They Say / I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Arguments method as essentially illocutionary pedagogy. Using templates, TS/IS shows students how to make the conventional moves that make up an argument in certain academic contexts. Within a social constructivists pedagogy, much of what it means to help students learn to write boils down to helping students understand the that rules govern a particular scholarly or professional discourse. Students learn how to employ conventional forms, how to perform “the moves that matter” without infelicities.

You will note that I’ve slid from talking about performances at the level of individual sentences or utterances to talking about them on a much larger scale–perhaps at the level of a paragraph or an entire essay. I’m uncomfortable with this elision, but I won’t go into it much here beyond giving a few quick examples of why I’ve done this. If students are going to use words to report the speech of someone else, for instance, academic conventions usually demand a more complicated ritual than can be performed in a single sentence. Strictly speaking, our students perform the act of quoting when they say, “I quote Austin, ‘these are all distinct from the producing of effects which is characeristic of the perlocutionary act’.” However, by itself, we as teachers would say that in order for the student to quote effectively (for it to be carried off “well”), he needs to perform other related utterances, like introducing and contextualizing the quotation to be presented, employing proper punctuation, analyzing or explaining the quotation’s relevance, altering the quotation with brackets to fit his own syntax, and so on. The act of performing a quotation in writing seems to be spread out over a great many individual sentences, as does the act of arguing or summarizing or describing. I wonder if in this sense a paragraph or an essay performs.

3. Perlocutionary–The truth is that I understand the perlocutionary much less well than I want to. Since it’s not the target Austin’s primarily aiming at, he doesn’t spend as much time elucidating it. An example:

In saying “I like other boys” I frightened my babysitter.

My language definitely did something: but what it did and why is a very difficult thing to figure out, and conceivably completely idiosynchratic to the babysitter. The exact same speech act could carry differing perlocutionary forces with different audiences (maybe the babysitter could have been delighted by the comment). If I understand the distinction he’s drawing, it seems like thinking about perlocustionary forces must lead down exceptionally complex theoretical terrain deeply wrapped up in the mess of affective experience, psychology, brain science. A connection to follow onward in the lists.

It seems a metaphor like “audience” is the pedagogical corrispondant to Austin’s perlocusionary performative. We train our students to anticipate the expectations of their readers, how their readers will likely react to what they’ve written. I often work with a model of peer review that focuses exclusively on familiarizing students with their audience and their audience’s responses to their work. My approaches largely derive from my experience with Sondra Perl and Mimi Schwart’s workshop model from Writing True, as well as my other research into cognitive comp folks like Peter Elbow. (He’s up soon on the list!). Most of the work in peer review is focused on the listeners explaining to the author exactly what their experience of the text was, exactly what it communicated and how. The idea is to help students make connections between their linguistic choices on the page and the effect it produced in an attentive audience. Over time, students use one another’s capacities to be listeners to hone their skills at effectively communicating ideas or feelings using their writing.

Well, not just their writing, of course. Or not in the traditional sense. In making these extrapolations, I’ve had to expand Austin’s scope pretty wide, and probably I’ve done a rough job of it. So, when I think of the possibilities if we include other sorts of textual performance in the mix, I feel certain I’ll stretch too far. However:

I don’t know a terribly large amount about visual rhetoric. I consider myself to be a visual thinker, and I’m certainly a voracious consumer of visual media, but I couldn’t tell you very much about what scholars have said about visual rhetoric. Dominique Zino has given me some idea, though, that it’s about analyzing and deploying non-verbal rhetorics, as visual artists or advertisers might do when composing an image for an audience. So, a Kara Walker image uses scale and size and medium and subject to communicate its message, to perform its desired effect. Since Walker’s an artist, it’s not trying to communicate facts, but a particular affective response–shame, intrigue, disgust, some admixture? Within the context of visual rhetoric, the communication relies almost wholely on that aspect of the perlocutionary performative that Austin attaches to non-verbal cues like gesture or expression. We teach students to read the visual cues in advertisements because we recognize the value of visual critical discernment in our present visual moment. Also, with the capacity for multimodal digital composing, students are able to experiment with performing utterances in formerly impossible of means. A cool example of something a student could conceivably make: http://pitchfork.com/features/cover-story/reader/janelle-monae/ (You know, but not so glossy and perfect and if I knew how to teach someone to make something like this.) I wonder: What would it mean to think of providing a hyperlink in a sentence as a quality of utterance? Another thread to track further, probably into the multimodal composing books on Mark’s list.

Other upcoming connections will probably come from the queer theorists and disability theorists on Mark’s and Joe’s lists. McRuer, Davis, Sedgwick, Halberstam (right?).

My next big reading, though, is Elbow’s Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process. It’s one of my texts with Jason looking at process-era interests in cognition and the mind-brain. That strand will take me forward into contemporary cognitive composition work, and maybe link me there to multimodality. We’ll see what shakes loose as I read and write here.

My secondary reading at the moment is Lennard Davis’s Disability Studies Reader (4th edition). I’ve picked out all the chapters I think will be worth reading for my interests, which is still, like, 25 chapters. Thankfully, this includes many I read for Joe’s Disability Studies class last term, so I should be done within the weekend. I’m not yet sure how I can productively blog about that one. Obviously, brevity isn’t one of my strengths, and I really don’t think I need to summarize many of the ones that are quite distant from my dissertation work. For instance, I’m very glad I’m reading Ruth Hubbard’s historical essay on early 20th century hereditary science (read: eugenics). If I teach a DS course soon, I’ll likely assign it. But I doubt it will come up in my publishing life unless my scholarly interests take a severe turn in the coming years.

I guess I’ll use that, then. Out of the DS Reader, which articles will I want to write about going forward?

Finally, a rogue sentence I like but didn’t find a home for:

The total speech act, which exists within concurrent socio-cultural matrices: language (phonetic, phantic, rhetorical structures), custom (conventions of performatives, such as the rules of in/felicity for a given utterance), and affect (how an audience receives an utterance, makes meaning of it, and has a reaction).

Something a bit less . . . lyrical next time, I think.

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Ableism, Retrofits, and Impediments to Access in Academic Spaces: Yergeau et al., “Multimodality in Motion: Disability and Kairotic Spaces”

This webtext brings together the work of eight scholars exploring various perspectives on multimodality as it and its relationship to ideas of disability . Much of the content was derived from a 2011 Computers and Writing panel featuring these authors, and throughout the piece C&W readers are identified as the primary audience.

On the design of the webtext: I have little experience working with webtexts as a reader. This one is broken into multiple mini-sections listen under each author’s essay–though any section can be explored independently of the overall essay into which it falls. While these mini-sections can be read linearly by clicking “next page,” the texts themselves are rich with links to other sections of the webtext, encouraging the reader to jump from author to author (or to the glossary section, which is not part of the linear progression of the essays). Each mini section is accompanied by a banner image that is not directly linked to the textual content, though many of the images, in focusing on archetecture, stairs, signage, and technology, resonate with the discussions in the main text. All in-text images are captioned with full visual descriptions.

Upon entering the webtext, I am met by a spalshpage that asks me to choose between entering, or accessing the document. This leads to an abstract and philosophical alignment with access.

Distinguised digital compositionist Cynthia Selfe, along with graduate student Franny Howes offer a general introduction to the webtext that justifies the relevance of disability to a non-specialist audience who might feel disconnected from the topic. Arguing that we are all only temporarily able bodied (if that), they assert an ethical imperative for all compositionists to examine how our work has ignored the experience of an entire class of individuals, an omission that has not only harmed our field, but also done real harm to those individuals we’ve simply forgotten to think about. For them, attending to disability pushes teachers and scholars outside of their “normal” ways of operating, allowing us more diverse “intellectual positions” from which to understand the potential work of composition. To not attend to disability is to accept our field’s ignorance about disability as natural and to perpetuate the continued exclusion of disabled people from our ranks on the basis of that ignorance, or worse, on the basis of a naturalized belief that disabled people simply don’t belong in universities.

Margaret Price’s essay, “Space/Presence” examines the notion of “kairotic space” and the normalized rules about presence and absence that tend to exclude disabled people from full participation there. Synthesizing work she published in her 2011 Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life, Price defines kairotic spaces as spaces within academe where “knowledge is produced and power is exchanged” in real time– spaces like academic conferences, department meetings, faculty social events, or electronic job interviews. Within kairotic spaces, high-stakes professional interactions occur in real time and these interactions rely on pervasive (though often occluded) social conventions that tend to assume an able-bodied participant. Price focuses especially on the social conventions surrounding “presence” that govern kairotic spaces, observing how we assume as natural the superiority of face-to-face instantaneous interaction when, in fact, this mode of engagement allows participation only for those who are able-bodied enough to (say) fly to MLA or keep up with a skype’d job interview. We can think of an analogy between the professional kairotic spaces Price examines –which have a baseline expectation of normative “presence”–and the kairotic space of the classroom–which uses naturalized notions of “participation” that reward the ways some students participate in class (big talkers), but not others (perhaps they’d be better if they could tweet their comments?). Price argues that while we are willing to include disabled people in these spaces, we tend to forget that the ways we expect people to work in these spaces may put some people at an unacknowledged disadvantage; so, when a meeting or a panel discussion only employs sonic modalities, deaf people may be “present” in the room where the conversation is happening, but they are simultaneously absent from the conversation itself, invisible within the kairotic space. Price wants us to recognize and question the hidden normative assumptions that govern conduct in kairotic spaces and to more thoughtfully explore ways of employing multimodality and technology to render these spaces more accessible to disabled people.

Stephanie Kershbaum’s essay, “Modality” centers on the notion of “multimodal inhospitality,” which results when the the modes of communication employed in either a multimodal text or a multimodal space (like a classroom or a website) do not offer full usability to a user. She argues that compositionists have been quick to explore the ways added communicative modes characteristic of multimodality benefit  able-bodied users, while the experiences of disabled users have been largely ignored. For instance, in conference talks where some information is given visually, the primary mode of communication remains sonic, and thus inaccessible to deaf participants. Kershbaum argues that designers of multimodal texts and spaces rarely think to build redundant primary modes of communication, instead only adjusting their inaccessible designs after the fact, in the form of a retrofit to an already created artifact. Indeed, Kershbaum questions why it is not seen as a design flaw when a text employs only one primary mode of communication. Rather than advocating multimodal designers to try to accommodate for each possible impairment they might imagine in their users, Kershbaum insists that they must design in a way that allows users to adapt the text to their own needs and preferences.

Unlike the first two articles, which discussed multimodal inaccess mostly using examples related to sensory impairments, Elizabeth Brewer’s “Community” essay focuses on psychiatric disabilities and the unique access issues that arise with this population. Not strictly an issue of access (of “getting in” the door), Brewer addresses how “fitting in” to academic spaces is especially difficult for psychiatrically disabled people because of persistent and pernicious biases within academia against so-called mental illnesses. She advocates a practice of social reform wherein instructors are taught to rethink prejudiced language and beliefs about mental illness while at the same time working to establish “safer spaces” on campuses to provide non-academic support for people with psychiatric differences. Brewer bases her model of support and advocacy on the peer-support systems used within the consumer/survivor/ex-patient movement.

In “Reason,” Melanie Yergeau extends the attitude-level intervention Brewer proposes by reflecting on the attitudes surrounding the notion of “accommodation.” She observes that accommodations tend to be granted only once normate authorities judge the accommodation is no threat to the community and the perceived rigor of the institution. She claims that this dynamic produces an environment in which disabled people feel shame at asking for “special help” to fix the perceived deficiency located in their (and only their) bodies. As Yergeau writes, “Within disability contexts, much of our scholarship positions access(ibility) as a project of rehabilitation. That is, there is a set of able-bodied us’s eagerly waiting to rescue a few, rare disabled thems who are in dire need of help.” This essay veers strongly toward the polemic, especially in calling for a politics of mutually supported self advocacy, a position that would work against the commonplace of “access” discussions that imagine using technology to “[reconfigure] disabled people, dismantling their ways of being and knowing and reinventing them, as best we can, into normate clones.” She calls for further attitude shifts related to disability, namely that we should see fighting disability stigma as a long-term project for the field.

Sushil K. Oswal’s essay, “Ableism” addresses the effects of retrofit-style technological designs for the disabled, examining in particular two real-world scenarios in which retrofits leave blind people at a disadvantage because their experience was not included in mainstream considerations. Drawing from U.N. and E.U. resolutions, Oswal defines “ableism” as “a form of discrimination based on the perception that being able-bodies is the normal human condition” (qt from Hehir); this bias toward assuming that all audiences and users are able-bodied unless otherwise stated, Oswal argues, allows designers to make products for “mainstream” audiences that later must be adapted for use by a minority of Others who lack the capacities to engage with the product in the intended way. Oswal examines an example from her own experience where, as a junior faculty, her department chose to take on a new courseware that at time of launch was inaccessible to those who use screen readers (like herself). While omissions like this seem minor by the department administration and publishers, Oswal argues that they create an unacknowledged burden for disabled people who must do extra uncompensated and unrecognized work to access materials not made with them in mind. Because departments tend to think of accessibility as a secondary concern, it falls on disabled individuals themselves to advocate for less ableist policies, often putting junior faculty in difficult political terrain in kairotic spaces like department meetings. Oswal argues that it is the designers of mainstream technology who are deficient, not the disabled people, because when they design they are incapable or unwilling to imagine that their user might be blind or deaf. Oswal wants deaf and blind people to have a “full place at the table in this new media feast,” which remains impossible as long as designers and administrators segregate their needs as special, minority, or low priority.

Michael Salvo concludes the webtext with “Over Here,” an essay that echoes Selfe and Howes’s introduction in emphasizing the the importance of disability concerns for all of us who may be temporarily able bodied. He rejects top-down models of accommodation, insisting that in their insistence that accommodation be “reasonable,” these models operate within a matrix of able-bodied privilege wherein the able-bodied authority judges the value and risks of including disabled concerns in his considerations. Rather, Salvo draws on the work of Graham Pulman (Design Meets Disability, 2009) as he advocates a practice of “resonant design,” a practice of creating artifacts that are “responsive, use-centered, stake holder involving, and context-sensitive.” He believes that this practice of design is the only sure way to create a world in which disability is respected as a natural part of the human condition and where disabled people are truly included as full participants in our academic communities.

 

***

This webtext seems to be speaking primarily to those who hold optimistic beliefs about the benefits of multimodal and new media practices for disabled people. The overall aim of this webtext seems to be to effect an attitude-level shift in designers of multimodal technology and advocates of multimodal practices within composition. While the pieces do offer some examples of moments when inaccess occurred with specific texts or technologies, the main work of the webtext is to help readers unfamiliar with disability theory to understand the stakes and scale of access problems that emerge from naturalised ableist assumptions held by tech designers and academics alike. Most of the suggestions the pieces make boil down to calls for those who don’t care or think about disabled perspectives to be more critical about their assumptions, and to understand the stakes for disabled people if they do not.

Another key move this webtext makes is shifting the conversation about disability and access from being focused on undergraduate students toward an analysis of access as an issue for graduate students and faculty as well. Key to this move is Price’s notion of “kairotic space,” a label she gives to informal environments where high-stakes interactions occur in real time, such as department meetings, conference presentations, and job interviews. Within these spaces, as the testimonies in this webtext show, disabled people are required to emulate the naturalized professional behaviors of non-disabled people or else be rendered absent. For instance, when the business-as-usual structure of department meetings relies exclusively on sonic modes of interaction, deaf colleagues are forced to find ways to participate up to the normative standard. While this notion of kairotic space has direct implications for teachers to think about the occluded ableist expectations they employ in their classrooms, the focus here is on professional access–on uncovering the impediments to participation that have become normalized within academic culture.

A second trend across these pieces relates to the connenction between ableism as a cultural bias and the continuing design of multimodal spaces, technologies, and texts that prioritize only the needs of “normal,” able-bodied users. Many of the authors argue that designers must start assuming disability as a reality for their end users, taking on design philosophies that prize adaptability, flexibility, and modal redundancy as ideal qualities in their products. The authors universally reject any kind of “retrofit” or any perspective that approves of leaving disabled experiences to be dealt with as special cases after the mainstream population has been served. The practice of retrofitting, for them, is evidence of the kind of internalized abelism that breeds inaccess in the multimodal spaces this webtext discusses.

One section that offers potential overlap with my interests is the piece that doesn’t directly address “access” in its traditional sense–that is, Brewer’s argument that social advocacy and support for students with psychiatry disabilities should be a long-term concern of compositionists. Unlike most of the essays, Brewer looks at disabled students’ experience, rather than larger professional ones. Interestingly, she argues that access discussions are insufficient for truly integrating these students; instead she pushes academics to think about issues like the presence and accessibility of counseling services–issues that are not strictly academic. In doing so, she argues that thinking about access will require those of us who work in writing programs to widen our view of how we should support the participation of disabled people on our campuses, even if it means getting our feet wet in issues we’d usually feel more comfortable leaving to professionals in disability services. This kind of re-focus seems like a hard sell to faculty professionalized as writing teachers, who might see emotional support for students with psychiatric disabilities as beyond their purview.

I’m not sure Brewer presents a convincing argument for why compositionist should care about creating safe spaces and eradicating offensive language about mental illness. Indeed, most of these pieces aim their critique at broad, abstract targets–biased priorities held across academia, abelist design or administrative practices carried out every day in large and small ways. The main argument for why we should care about these concerns remains that a) we all agree that it’s a problem if an entire class of individuals is disadvantaged by our pedagogical or administrative practices, and b) that working for access for the disabled benefits everyone who might one day become disabled. While I understand the importance of this universalizing move, I feel it perhaps dulls the real insight of these pieces, which I feel rests in the ways they lay bare the stakes and scope of inaccess faced by disabled people.

 

 

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Here we go!

I’m looking forward to spending the next nine months writing on this blog as I prepare for my second doctoral exam. I have been a frequent blogger throughout my adult life, but only recently have I begun trying to blog about my academic and professional interests.

My plan is to write posts about each of the pieces on my oral exam reading lists, a total of about 90 books, articles, and chapters. (The full lists are available here, for anyone interested.) I don’t have a particular format for these response posts yet, though I imagine I’ll try a few different methods over time. When the occasion strikes, I will also write about other non-orals scholarly projects that seem related.

I imagine much of what I write here won’t be of interest of a general audience. Those who study disability or composition or pedagogy might find individual posts useful, and if so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Because it’s a functional blog for me, I imagine my primary audience as myself, months and years from now, trying to write more formal pieces based on the initial ideas I preview here. More concretely, I imagine my audience as Mark McBeth, Joe Straus, and Jason Tougaw–the three professors who are advising me and examining me in this process. The tone may, as a result, veer toward the functional as well.

I have a few goals in this labor. On a basic level, I believe writing about the texts I read will help me better internalize their content, and that by rehearsing my responses in writing I will develop more sophisticated understandings of my lists as a whole. In other words, I hope writing here will help me perform better on the exam itself. More than that, I believe writing frequently and informally about my ideas will help me produce material that I can later revise for more formal purposes, including conference talks, articles, and my dissertation. I often have a great deal of difficulty producing formal pieces (and I have the incompletes to prove it). I hope this blog will help me learn to produce more writing and to feel better about sharing it with the world.

I welcome feedback on anything I write here, whether it’s encouragement, suggestions, or questions. If you’re not the type to leave public comments, feel free to message me directly at a.j.lucchesi@gmail.com.

 

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