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Being/Living/Creating: Disability Studies and the Arts

by | Jul 27, 2017 | Uncategorized

This post is part of a series of blog posts written by incoming and second-year graduate students in the Early Graduate Fellowship Mentoring Program. Students were asked to provide a brief description of their research interests and how they came to those interests. 

My research explores ways of being and living as or in our bodies. Every day I ask myself: what is this body? What does it mean that this is my body? Are there other ways to be a body, or have a body.

You can see: the research is always personal; the stakes are always quotidian. Research here is a practice of attentiveness to bodies (my own, other people’s) outside the normative voyeuristic or objectifying gaze. Bodies are not the objects of study, but instead are sites of knowledge production.

As a scholar, I am able to ask these questions through the ethics and interests of Disability Studies. While I can look back and say that I have always been interested in bodies, encountering Disability Studies my junior year of undergrad gave me new frameworks through which to discuss issues of accessibility, bodily difference, illness, and impairment. Although my academic background and current program are formally located in the field of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, I synthesize WSG’s interest in power with a deep concern with bodily difference as a potential site of being otherwise.

Currently, the most rigorous work on the relations between disability, race, and sexuality explores macro-level social formations. My research instead delves into more humanistic sites of analysis: forms of artistic expression. I aim to describe ways, tools, or tactics of living as/in bodies from simultaneously materialist and artistic frames. I am specifically interested in embodied experiences of disability, race, and gender. How is disability always-already read through race? What does gender identity mean to someone living in an institution who is never even given the opportunity to choose their own clothing?

In my research, I use the framework of “de/formity” to bring together discussions of power’s impact on bodies, normative ideas of bodies or living, lived experiences of difference, and ‘form’ as artistic convention. I explore the ways people use art to explore both the forms and de/forms of genre as well as the forms and de/forms of living as a marginalized subject. Here de/formity serves as a tactic for being. In this project I specifically focus on the first-person essay, poetry, and dance as de/formed genres that complicate accepted frameworks of disability, and of the relations between disability and race, within the nascent field of Disability Studies.

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