Keywords for American Cultural Studies

[O]ne of the problems in using disability as an organizing trope is that it often artificially consolidates a wide array of physical and mental differences under a single term. Like other keywords that organize identity-based legal and cultural fields, the current use of the term helps to politicize our understanding of disability, but it also tends to create an abstract concept in which the particularities of peoples’ histories are erased. In order to recuperate a more embodied reference point for disability and claim a more visible social space in the public sphere, a number of disability scholars have begun to address the importance of reclaiming individual bodily experience through art, performance, and literature (Corker 2001; Mitchell 2001; Snyder and Mitchell 2001; Siebers 2004; Kochhar-Lindgren 2006). With regard to the fields of American studies and cultural studies, the ongoing challenge will be to identify disability as a discrete category, while also pluralizing our understanding of its manifestations. Considered as a keyword that indexes this challenge, “disability” has newly problematized and invigorated work on the body by naming an identity category that enables us to understand the diverse lived experiences of bodies and their many sensorial differences.


This is an excerpt from Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren’s entry in Keywords for American Cultural Studies (pp 87-88).