Hello, I’m Shelley Tremain and I’d like to welcome you to the first-anniversary installment of Dialogues on Disability, the series of interviews that I am conducting with disabled philosophers and post here on the third Wednesday of each month. The series is designed to provide a public venue for discussion with disabled philosophers about a range of topics, including their philosophical work on disability; the place of philosophy of disability vis-à-vis the discipline and profession; their experiences of institutional discrimination and personal prejudice in philosophy, in particular, and in academia, more generally; resistance to ableism; accessibility; and anti-oppressive pedagogy.
During the past year, I conducted landmark interviews for Dialogues on Disability with twelve disabled philosophers who are variously situated with respect to disability, race, gender, institutional status, age, culture, nationality, and sexuality, and whose philosophical work covers a wide range of areas of specialization and research interests. This first-anniversary installment of the series is designed to highlight insights and lessons that each of the twelve philosophers offered the philosophical community and to reflect upon the implications of these contributions to philosophy. Bryce Huebner, who was my first interviewee of the series and who has generously provided technical support over the course of the year, has returned today to assist me in this celebratory retrospective installment of the series.
Welcome back to Dialogues on Disability, Bryce! We started off the year, and indeed, the series, with your interview which was hugely popular on Facebook and got quite a number of comments here on the blog. My interview with you very effectively set the tone of Dialogues on Disability and the shape of subsequent interviews in the series. One passage of your interview, in particular, stands out for me in this regard. In response to my question about the contributions that philosophy of disability has the potential to make to cognitive science and philosophy of mind, you said:
I think it’s much harder to defend depoliticized, un-embodied, and de-worlded approaches to studying minds when you think about disability. Strangely, even the research on embodied cognition has neglected the ways that different kinds of embodiment affect cognition. …I think there are at least two ways that research on disability can and should inform philosophy and cognitive science. First, research on disability often reveals patterns of entrenched bias in the formation of hypotheses and in decisions about what counts as a signal and what counts as noise. …Second, research on disability clarifies the ways in which human action can be scaffolded by, and inhibited by, different material and social environments. This is a fairly obvious point, but I think that it has the potential to reshape the ways that philosophers and scientists approach questions about agency, freedom, and responsibility.
I especially appreciated these remarks, Bryce, because they seemed to propel the direction of future discussions insofar as they underscored the fact that any given choice that philosophers make about which questions to ask and which approach to inquiry they should take is a political act. I’m sure that your remarks in this context challenged many philosophers of mind and cognitive science to recognize that there are philosophical and political questions that can be asked about disability which the fields of philosophy of mind and cognitive science have hitherto neglected.
Thanks for having me back, Shelley. I think you’re right that many philosophers are starting to be more attentive to disability. But ideologies change slowly, especially where entrenched thought-patterns shape the empirical and conceptual terrain. What I hoped to express in my interview was my emerging sense that philosophy needs a deep ideological shift toward a situated and anti-essentialist view of personhood, agency, and freedom.
That's not going to be a simple or quick change. And it's going to take a lot of ongoing work for us to move ahead as a discipline. Ron Amundson has long argued that we should stop assuming that “normal” functions are part of the primitive furniture in the world; Jesse Prinz also addressed this point in his interview with you. But most people find it easy to impose teleology and essentialist thinking on the world, and philosophers are going to have to work hard to entrench the recognition that nature doesn't build well-behaved hierarchies.
Put differently, I think we need to develop a more deeply Darwinian perspective that acknowledges variation as primary and as pervading every form of biological aggregation, and we need to adopt an ideology that is more like Nick Walker’s neurocosmopolitanism. To my mind, Shelley, one of the most salient and significant upshots of this series has been the way that it opens up strategies for thinking about difference as difference. That seems to me to be a very good thing! And I think that this point came out clearly in Zara Bain’s understanding of the wide variety of ideologically imposed constraints on how research unfolds, and how we do philosophy. As she said:
We talk and think ourselves into part-truths…and we are especially prone to do so when we’re advantaged with respect to a situation, whether in terms of race, gender, or dis/ability. We really need at least to construct a model for how that works and how “we”—as in, the historically-privileged interlocutors in philosophy especially—might stop thinking this way, sooner, rather than later. …It seems to me that moral and political philosophy really needs to get its act together by engaging perspectives from marginal voices in philosophy and in the world at large. If we really are concerned with problems central to moral and political philosophy—problems of rightness, goodness, justice, and freedom—then, a failure to engage with those on the receiving end of injustice, experiencing a systematic lack of freedom, etc., seems like a glaring omission, with consequences for the probable success of our project. Worse, it may even be a symptom of systematic privileged-group ignorances operating within how we do philosophy at all.
I think Zara is right that most of us are complicit in the construction and entrenchment of group-based ignorances. And we should work to move beyond these ignorances in the classes we teach and the papers we write. But I think this is an uphill battle, and I wonder, Shelley, if you have any thoughts about these issues.
Bryce, the remarks you cited combine to make up one of my favorite passages from Zara’s splendid interview. For me, the entire interview was a call for philosophers to acknowledge social location and the historical situatedness of epistemologies. Philosophers must, I take Zara to have said, recognize how their historically-situated locations enable them to participate in and reproduce systems of privilege and oppression on the basis of epistemologies that have dire consequences for marginalized philosophers and for disenfranchised people beyond academia. In order to do critical philosophy well, philosophers must be “world travelers,” as María Lugones puts it. Situated philosophical practice engages with the other, on the other’s terms. For Zara, I think, and for me also, there is an urgent need for philosophers to foster this sort of situated practice, which is a practice of humility and openness that fosters liberation.
Tommy Curry’s interview with me was a fascinating example of how social situation can condition one’s theoretical approach and the avenues of inquiry that one pursues. His remarks were rich in historical detail and empirical data and also offered sophisticated political and philosophical analysis, much of it in areas that few other philosophers have broached. For me, the new lines of inquiry that Tommy has begun to unfold crystallize in this passage of his interview:
Black male vulnerability is the term that I use to capture the disadvantages that Black males endure compared to other groups, the erasure of Black males from theory, and the various violences and death that they suffer in society. I argue that Black males have a specific societal disadvantage that usually leads to their death or to their confinement in an “under-caste” (to use Michelle Alexander’s term). This vulnerability is certainly a product of the various social stratifications that are created by racism; but, it also produces epiphenomenal dynamics that manifest as effects in mental health, identity, self-esteem, and social behavior. Although Black masculinity has been thought to merely mimic white masculinity, what we can actually see is a Black male resistance to white male patriarchy, capitalism, and even religion. …In my work, I’m trying to show how the history of Black male vulnerability is indispensable to our understanding of racism.
What is your reaction to this excerpt from Tommy’s interview, Bryce?
This is a powerful quote, Shelley. And whenever I read Tommy’s work, I'm struck by the depth of his critique of the White Male framing of philosophical questions. His interview with you was no exception. I can’t speak to his experience of the world, and wouldn’t want to try to do so. But thinking through these issues, as I interpret this claim, helps to highlight the implausible, abstract, and ungrounded representation of Black men that many White Males rely upon.
Throughout his interview with you, Tommy clarified a variety of ways in which White people assume—either tacitly or explicitly—that Black males are super-human "boogey-men". The psychological research here strikes me as fairly decisive, and deeply disturbing. More powerfully, he suggested that many of us have no idea how to think about the possibility of disabled Black males—except perhaps as effeminate simulacra or impossible anomalies. I think Tommy is right that these kinds of representations play an integral role in structuring many ongoing philosophical projects, even if they aren't always clear on the surface. That's a real problem, both for our conception of Blackness and for our conception of ability/disability. So I’m really thankful that Tommy keeps speaking to these issues.
As I read her interview, Maeve O'Donovan took up some similar themes, though from a very different perspective. She also talked about the impact of assumptions about race and ability on the approach that many of us adopt with regard to philosophy. Specifically, she drew out the way that some feminist philosophers have failed to think as critically about disability as one might hope. Like Tommy and Zara, Maeve pinpointed problematic and entrenched thought-patterns. And I wonder what you think about these remarks that Maeve made about feminist philosophy, Shelley:
I think that a key reason why feminist philosophers continue to do so little about disability is that disabilities make people deeply uncomfortable, even people who otherwise recognize the dependency that we have on each other. I think too that there is a tension that many women academics feel between, on the one hand, arguing for relational models of selfhood and the polity and, on the other, wanting to feel proud of and responsible for their successes, especially in a world that says women aren’t capable of such successes.
Bryce, I’m glad that Maeve raised this issue, as well as the issue of the continued refusal of feminist philosophers to adequately and appropriately account for disability in their notions of intersectionality and oppression, among others.
In my view, the refusal to which Maeve referred is of a piece with the more general refusal of philosophers to acknowledge disability as a political apparatus that naturalizes impairment; that constitutes impairment as a natural disadvantage, as a disadvantageous difference, as a product of brute bad luck, and so on. I think this particular manifestation of the refusal to acknowledge disability as political is due in large part to the reluctance of nondisabled white feminist philosophers to genuinely move away from analyses that are structured primarily, or even solely, around gender, as well as due to the professional and philosophical investment of many feminist philosophers in care ethics and dependency ethics, both of which ethical frameworks enable nondisabled feminist philosophers to remain at the centre of feminist philosophical discussions of disability.
If disability were conceived in political terms, the centre of feminist philosophical discourse on disability could shift to the marginal sites where most disabled feminist philosophers are located, transforming these marginal sites into different centres that are not centres in any marginalizing sense. Indeed, one of my aims with the Dialogues on Disability series has been to motivate this sort of epistemological shift. To be sure, feminist notions of the relational self are an improvement upon traditional notions of the autonomous self; at present, however, disabled and nondisabled feminist selves remain asymmetrically related.
Asymmetries are inherent to the binary modes of thinking that Anne Waters seeks to go beyond in her philosophical research, writing, and teaching. Anne has aimed to develop an Indigenous, non-binary metaphysical framework, one which, among other things, makes “the personal political.” Bryce, consider this section from Anne’s interview:
It is important that work in our core areas of ontology, metaphysics, epistemology, social and political thought, and value theory be done by those who carry yet-unarticulated experiences of life. Philosophy as practice, as both method and applied, is good; but the heart of what a philosopher does, as a philosopher, is wrestling with these investigations, hopefully in a search for truth, to make the world better. Feminist scholars—such as Sandra Harding in feminist science and Lorraine Code in feminist epistemology—made great strides; now I would like to see more theory in consonance with newly-emerging ontological ideas about different experiences that are experienced simultaneously and merge together, looking at and experiencing the world in different ways. We have had philosophy leaders who have brought us to this place, and I include you, alongside so many others, in this endeavor, Shelley. To transform philosophy, we need to open up a new way of understanding how we experience the world that is not granted by binary logics. For myself, that means keeping the personal political.
There is much about this quote that strikes me as deeply right and deeply important, Shelley. And this claim, too, directs our attention to problematic thought-patterns that are entrenched in our discipline. I think most philosophers—myself included—tend to find it easy to get caught up in patterns of binary thinking. This makes it easier to take up a hierarchically-organized ontology, as well as a hierarchically-structured political ideology. I see Anne Waters as urging us to move away from that familiar perspective, and I think it would be cool if more philosophers started to explore the philosophical terrain that she is pointing us toward.
I also love the way that she draws together “truth” and “making the world better” into a unity, at least momentarily. It’s far from universal, but there’s a long history—in many parts of Anglo-Euro philosophy—of assuming that the pursuit of truth is apolitical and that there is a form of pure philosophical investigation that can proceed without the intrusion of soteriological and liberatory concerns. As recent trends in social ontology suggest, there is rich territory to explore in this region as well. But Anne’s insight penetrates deeper; and this was something that Ray Aldred also picked up in his fabulous interview with you when he said:
I think Indigenous and disabled thinkers live with what I describe to my colleagues as a phenomenology of invisibility. What I mean by this is that they exist and have subjectivities, but their existence and reality are often unacknowledged, unseen, and unengaged. For example, when philosophers describe different histories of philosophy, they refer to Western and Eastern philosophy, assuming that this pair encompasses most serious philosophical thought with which contemporary professional philosophers engage. But where does Indigenous thought fit in this directional description of Eastern and Western philosophy? It is very difficult to see oneself as a serious Indigenous thinker when these inherited descriptions remain the only ones that contemporary philosophers use.
As I noted above, I think many of us are complicit in constructing this pattern of exclusion and marginalization in academic philosophy. And I'm thankful to Ray and to Anne for nudging us in ways that can help us to broaden our understanding of philosophy and to change the ways that we approach philosophical questions. What do you think about this kind of nudge from Ray, Shelley?
Bryce, I think Ray’s interview was an extremely valuable gift to both the profession and the discipline. In the days following my interview with Ray, I perceived a tangible shift in how some philosophers formulated their remarks about cross-cultural philosophical inquiry. I think that, to many, the absences that both Ray and Anne have pointed out seem so stark now. I especially appreciated the links that Ray drew between disability and colonialism. As engaged disabled philosophers, we need to recognize and examine how this convergence forms part of the historical conditions of possibility that have produced distinct circumstances of deprivation for disabled Métis and other disabled Indigenous people.
The idea that we must expand the conceptual frameworks we use to think about disability was also central to Joshua St. Pierre’s interview. Joshua was concerned to elaborate the ways in which discussions in disability studies communities and philosophy and theory of disability continue to represent disability and accessibility in terms of physical space, architectural design, assistive devices, and so on. Joshua demonstrated that we must expand our ideas about disabling contexts in ways that motivate us to interrogate assumptions and expectations about time and pace, the aesthetics of fluent speech, and the autonomous speaking subject. Bryce, what are your thoughts on the following passage from Joshua’s interview?
The politics of disabled speech and communication demand an expansion of conceptions of what counts as accessibility. For dysfluent speakers—that is, speakers whose flow of speech is interrupted by repetitions, pauses or “blocks,” tics, strained pronunciations, word losses, and substitutions—accessibility requires flexible ways of organizing collective time, rather than ramps and working elevators. Dysfluent speakers often live and experience time unevenly. That the stutterer experiences time compressing and expanding through the act of speech is, in itself, simply phenomenological variation. This experience and variation become pathological when hegemonic communicative norms—norms that are not merely intersubjective, but rather are distributed within the machinery of our social, political, and economic systems—run roughshod over and attempt to level out these differences.
This is another great quote, Shelley! One of the things I really liked about your interview with Joshua was the way that he underscored the socially-situated mechanisms that determine what is normal and what is pathological, and that thereby produce abilities and disabilities. Before reading your interview with Joshua, I hadn’t thought about dysfluency as a disability; however, Joshua did an amazing job of calling attention to the mutually-sustaining network of phenomenological, structural, and interpersonal processes that organize social space around considerations of fluency.
More importantly, Shelley, he called attention to the “fault lines” in our understanding of fluency, providing a set of deep insights into what it might take to shatter that mutually-sustaining network and open up new possibilities for thinking, living, and acting together. As he noted, his suggestions flow from a radical, not a liberal, understanding of politics!
In interesting ways, Shelley, Nancy Stanlick also suggested a radical understanding of politics, which flows from a situated and embodied notion of freedom. At one point, Nancy said:
I had significant, and sometimes excruciating, pain from diverticulitis or from abdominal cramping, as well as intestinal bleeding. It was a miserable existence that I hid from others for years and years. I also hid it from myself by trying to ignore it. I am now free from all of that. It's no mean achievement. The downside is that I've gained twenty pounds from celebrating the fact that I can eat again, almost everything, in almost all cases, without any significant problems. But even that downside is a freedom.
As I noted in a comment when the interview was initially posted, I think Nancy did an excellent job of drawing out some of the complex dynamics that arise between socially entrenched prejudices—such as aversions to bodily processes—and the material and social structures that we rely upon when we act. Specifically, I think her approach helps to show that what makes a person more free will differ across different forms of embodiment; as a result, the idea that there's one right way to be embodied yields seriously mistaken assumptions about which kinds of social and material scaffolding can enhance freedom. I’m wondering, Shelley, if you have any thoughts about the notion of freedom that Nancy articulated in this passage?
Bryce, I think the passage from Nancy’s interview that you’ve excerpted is a significant challenge to arguments that mainstream bioethicists and ethicists advance about so-called “quality of life.” In fact, I have repeatedly returned to the place in Nancy's interview in which she notes that a couple of people have told her that they would rather be dead than have a colostomy. Nancy pointed out that these proclamations are, in effect, declarations about the disvalue of her life grounded in prejudice and misinformation about what sorts of lives people with colostomies lead.
Narrow ideas about what counts as a “livable” life—to use Judith Butler’s phrase—rely upon and reproduce narrow conceptions and understandings of what counts as freedom, who can exercise it, and how it can be exercised, as well as whose life has value and whose is disposable. I think Nancy's comments in her interview with me about her new sense of freedom in regard to a set of circumstances that many people deride is an effective counterexample to more general arguments in bioethics and ethics about the disvalue of many disabled people’s lives.
Despite the impression that many mainstream bioethicists and ethicists promote, Bryce, there is no such thing as a universal and objective “quality of life” that can be analytically separated from the historically-contingent political, cultural, economic, and social conditions in which people actually live. Most disabled people—including many disabled philosophers—live in poverty, are unemployed or underemployed, are marginalized and oppressed, and are relatively isolated, both socially and culturally. Academia and the profession of philosophy, in particular, provide little refuge from this disenfranchisement.
The data on the grievous under-representation of disabled philosophers is a testament to the fact that biases and discrimination against disabled people are embedded in the profession of philosophy and in academia, more generally. Disabled philosophers comprise an estimated 1-3% of faculty employed in North American philosophy departments, despite the fact that disabled people comprise an estimated 18-22% of the general North American population. Furthermore, many of the disabled philosophers who are in academic positions have no job security, no health insurance, and are forced to endure inaccessible and even dangerous working conditions because of the precarious nature of their employment. Consider this passage from Damion Scott’s interview, Bryce:
I was, and I am, expected to perform to the same standards as nondisabled people. I had, and continue to have, difficult and inconvenient schedules, with classes spread throughout the week. My disability isn’t taken into consideration. I have come to realize that, in general, people like me who have chronic invisible disabilities are expected to deal with their circumstances in silence. Since I came to this realization, I have done what I can to highlight the importance of the project of raising awareness of people with invisible disabilities.
At times, adjunct teaching is extremely difficult. The amount of work that we do, for the degrading salary that we receive, borders on the hellish. If I teach three classes per semester, I live around the poverty line. If I teach only one or two classes, it’s nearly impossible to pay rent and to eat, much less focus on my own research. I need to invest so much energy and time outside the classroom that it is too difficult to look for another position.
One of the things that I loved about Damion’s interview with you, Shelley, was his way of offering trenchant critiques of patterns of structural exclusion, while simultaneously displaying a sense of the transformative power inherent in his lived experience. I don't know if it's his engagement with Afro-Futurism, his sense of “resilience,” or something else. But Damion’s interview displayed a joyous approach to thinking about liberation.
Of course, that's not to deny that the patterns of structural exclusion and oppression that Damion faces cut deeply. They do! And even if things work out well for him in the long run, Shelley, there are loads of other people who continue to face the kind of situation that Damion is calling attention to. By standing idly by, we allow this kind of marginalization to play an ongoing role in the production of oppressive and exclusionary forces. I was happy to have the opportunity to read this interview and I hope to see robust patterns of uptake in the discipline.
Like Damion, Andrea Nicki approached her interview narratively, laying out many of the barriers and obstacles that she's faced in philosophy. For much of her interview, Shelley, Andrea focused on the network of disadvantages that have arisen due to her queer identity, her work in feminist philosophy, and her ongoing experience of psychological trauma. There's a lot to say about that. But I wonder what you think about this claim, as it relates to issues of disability and disadvantage:
It is generally considered unscholarly to include life narratives in academic philosophical writing. However, writings in the area of philosophy of psychiatry and psychology can lack analytical rigor and depth when they simply assume the scientific validity and objectivity of psychiatric diagnoses, ignoring autobiographical writings about social sources of distress. Autobiographical writings often get dismissed as purely anecdotal, while social scientists who want to conduct studies on the negative effects of psychiatry at the levels of population health and individual health may not be able to obtain grant money.
Bryce, to me, this passage from Andrea’s powerful interview is a call for an insurrection of subjugated knowledges—to use Foucault’s evocative phrase. Andrea is calling for an anti-science, a narrative form of inquiry that violates the norms of and legitimacy conferred upon authoritative psychiatric models for understanding human cognition, affect, and behaviour. I take Andrea to have said that these models produce forms of epistemic injustice—both testimonial and hermeneutical—whose institutional validation and legitimation compounds this injustice, for the institutionalization of these authoritative epistemologies delegitimizes the epistemic character of the autobiographical and, in some cases, dysfluent, testimony of survivors of sexual and other abuse.
Recall that questions about the suitability of psychiatric classification also arose in Jesse Prinz’s fascinating interview with me. Philosophy of psychiatry and indeed philosophy of the emotions in general tend to analyze emotions as if they are ahistorical phenomena. In the interview, Jesse argued that philosophers ought to historicize emotions and recognize their diverse configurations across cultures. These ideas are encapsulated in this passage of Jesse’s interview:
When considering so-called “healthy” emotions, it’s easy to think of them as biologically-based, as ahistorical, and as universal. It’s often supposed that we share our emotions with other creatures; that is, our emotions are said to be part of our animal nature, or even part of our reptilian brain. With pathology, this perspective is harder to motivate. Diagnostic categories change over time and vary cross-culturally. Even when the same category is identified in two cultural settings, there can be dramatic differences in symptoms, incidence, prevalence, coping strategies, and recovery rates. These discrepancies suggest that social forces influence emotional disorders. Social factors also play an important role in decisions about which emotional profiles get classified as pathological and what should be done about them. …I think that the case of disordered emotions has much to teach us, because once we recognize the impact of social forces with respect to disordered emotions, it becomes possible for us to think that all emotions are influenced in this way. I think fear, anger, disgust—even hunger, thirst, and sexual desires—are socially conditioned.
Given your own areas of research, Bryce, I’m interested to know what reaction you had to Jesse’s remarks in the aforementioned passage of his interview.
As I mentioned in the comments on Jesse’s interview, Shelley, I agree that the focus on so-called “healthy” emotions makes it easier to ignore the extent to which emotions are psychologically and socially constructed. Sadly, I also think that social and institutional factors often make it more difficult to uncover the illicit assumptions that are fostered by this focus. But, like Jesse, I think that we need to open up more space in discussions of emotion for accounts of differential embodiment, as well as variations in biological processing, even as we adopt a more historicist and more constructivist perspective.
Part of my reasoning here is personal, Shelley: For many years, I experienced unhealthy and troubling emotions, as part of my undiagnosed experience of celiac disease, or as a result of something that occurred downstream from that. The drive to suppress my emotional experiences in public shifted the way that I construed affective states, shaped their content, and adjusted their role in my ongoing behavior. Moreover, the drive to suppress those emotions publicly led them to rebound privately. My cognitive and emotional life was utterly transformed by a shift in my diet, and the resulting changes in my body. And as a result, I am starting to appreciate the extent to which biological and social factors interact to yield behavioral, cognitive, and emotional effects. No doubt, this makes “unhealthy” emotions really hard to understand. But I hope that the research on emotion shifts toward these complex patterns of causal integration; and I think that's what Jesse was urging as well!
Turning to the final interview of the year, Shelley, I wonder what you think about Christine Overall’s discussion of three sources of the pressure to pass for normal and the way that they govern the structure of academic life. I think the discussion nicely sums up one of the reasons why this series is so important, intersecting in important ways with your own work:
I think, first, it comes from attempts by mainstream people to save themselves from any discomfort they might feel if they were to notice that there are human beings who are not like them: Individuals who are not “normal” remind people who ostensibly are that there are other ways of being human, other ways of acting, thinking, and feeling than those endorsed as “normal.” Second, I think that the pressure to pass for “normal” comes from mainstream resistance to the idea that there could be ways in which people who are ostensibly “normal” should change their behavior—for example by being more open, more prepared to learn, more humble, more helpful and supportive, and more willing to take steps to promote justice. Third, I suspect that the pressure to pass for “normal” is related to the enormous demands on all of us exerted by capitalism, demands to be both producers—in the narrow sense of generating measurable outcomes—and also to be consumers. Many people who do not pass for “normal” do not constantly produce and consume in ways that contribute to the growth of corporations, the wealth of investors, and the spead of the business model—some because they do not want to, and some because they can’t.
Bryce, it seems to me that in the passage of Christine’s interview you’ve cited, Christine wanted to emphasize the historical contingency and shifting character of what counts as normal and the social, cultural, political, and economic factors that bring conceptions of normality into being. As I’ve argued, the apparatus of disability generates continuously fluctuating conceptions of normality from which an increasing number of more and more finely-specified impairments and disorders are elaborated, materialized, and distinguished, where these distinctions are simultaneously totalizing and individualizing. Christine’s remarks highlighted the homogenizing external impetus behind the pressure to pass as normal and the deleterious personal and social effects of the subject’s incorporation of this pressure to pass as such, as well as the interaction between the external pressure to pass and its subjective incorporation.
Bryce, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the many philosophical insights and professional and political ramifications of the interviews from the past year. Let me ask you two questions: How would you summarize what the interviews of the past year have accomplished? And what directions would you like the series to take over the next year?
I’ve learned a whole lot from the series over the past year, Shelley, and I’ve started to understand just how little most of us in philosophy know about disability. I don’t see myself as an expert, and one of the things that I love about this series is that it shows me just how little I know. As I noted at the outset of this anniversary installment, I think these interviews have begun to open up a multitude of strategies for thinking about difference as difference.
Philosophy in the Anglo-European tradition has often tended to privilege unity, stability, and freedom in articulating the normative background against which discussions in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics should unfold. Reading these interviews over the past year—and re-reading them now—has helped me to gain a deeper understanding of the fact that the world is not as neat-and-tidy as people often assume. This is the point to which I repeatedly return when I think about these interviews, Shelley. And this can become a powerful point, so long as we don’t treat it as a point of crisis, but as a way of opening up new terrains for philosophers to explore.
With this in mind, I would love to see some of the future interviews probe even further into the novel philosophical terrain that's opened up by thinking about disability, disadvantage, impairment, chronic illness, transient diversity, cognitive difference, and differential embodiment. I think that this is what you’ve been trying to do over the past year, so maybe I am just saying “I can’t wait to see what happens this year!” But I’d like to close by asking you the same two questions, Shelley, as you probably have a vision for where you want things to go: What do you think the interviews of the past year have accomplished? And what directions would you like the series to take over the next year?
Bryce, I think that the past year of Dialogues on Disability has brought disability and ableism closer to the heart of discussions about diversity in philosophy from the place that they had occupied on the distant outskirts of these discussions. The term ableism itself seems to be increasingly integrated into the lexicon of discussions about under-representation and bias in the profession and discipline. So, I think the interviews are shifting power with respect to the production of knowledge about disability.
I also think the interviews that I’ve done so far have raised the professional and public profiles of particular disabled philosophers who, prior to their respective interviews, were relatively estranged from the philosophical community because of institutionalized ableism, professional biases, and other mechanisms of subordination. I would like to think the interviews are building a virtual community of disabled philosophers.
Furthermore, Bryce, I believe that the interviews have enabled disabled philosophers to demonstrate—in very concrete and specific ways—to their nondisabled colleagues that the disadvantages they confront are not medical in nature, are not natural, nor are they isolated occurrences to be rectified though individualized means; on the contrary, as my interviewees continue to show, these disadvantages are political, socially constituted, and systemic states of affairs whose elimination requires that the philosophical community develop structural, institutional, and discursive strategies for that distinct purpose.
All in all, I’m quite happy with the way that the first year of the series unfolded. I’m very pleased with the variety of the group of philosophers whom I’ve had the enormous pleasure to interview over the last twelve or thirteen months. I’m also quite happy about the range of philosophical, professional, political, and personal issues and concerns that we’ve begun to unravel in the series.
Going forward, I hope that the international scope of the series widens. I would like the series to become a beacon for disabled philosophers cross-culturally and trans-nationally, as well as inter-generationally and multi-racially. We have so much to learn from each other. I want to take this opportunity, therefore, to encourage disabled philosophers outside of North America to get in touch with me about future interviews.
Dialogues on Disability always accepts suggestions for future interviews in fact; so, disabled philosophers anywhere and everywhere shouldn’t hesitate to contact me if they wish to do an interview for the series.
I’d like to end this special anniversary installment of the Dialogues on Disability series by expressing my gratitude to you, Bryce, and to the many other philosophers who have enthusiastically supported Dialogues on Disability during the past year and who have—in one way or another—contributed to the popularity and growth of the series. Together, we are creating the profession and discipline that we deserve.
Please join me here again on Wednesday, May 18th at 8 a.m. EST for the fourteenth installment of the Dialogues on Disability series and, indeed, on every third Wednesday of the months ahead. I have a fabulous line-up of interviews planned. If you would like to nominate someone to be interviewed (self-nominations are welcomed), please feel free to write me at email@example.com. I prioritize diversity with respect to disability, class, race, gender, institutional status, nationality, culture, age, and sexuality in my selection of interviewees and my scheduling of interviews.