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Shelley Tremain

Joshua, I'd like it if you elaborated on your remarks about temporality and dysfluency with respect to accessibility. How should conference sessions be reconfigured to make them accessible to dysfluent speakers, such as philosophers who stutter? Many CFPs stipulate the number of words that submissions should be and some stipulate that submitted papers should be written for X no. of minutes reading-time. But the latter stipulation, especially, could and probably would work to the disadvantage of a philosopher who stutters. Should CFPs stipulate a word length and speakers be allowed the time it takes each one of them to read, say, 3000 words? That seems like a much more equitable arrangement. What do you think?


That is a great question. I recognize that conference organizers work tirelessly to fit as many people as possible into a short window of time. There are logistical issues that come into play given the finite span of time that makes up a conference. Most people can read around 3000 words in 15-20 minutes; I can read just over 1000. If I were to read a 3000 word paper would 2 other papers need to be rejected? All of the conference organizers I have ever been in dialogue with regarding extra time and accessibility have been as helpful as possible. Sometimes this means putting me on a panel leading into a break to give me some leeway. Sometimes this means shifting me to a panel where someone has dropped out to afford extra time. I always appreciate these accommodations, but the very nature of "the conference" with its material constraints makes such accommodations stop-gap measures, or, as Jay Dolmage would say, retrofit.

I pare down my conference papers significantly, which of course disadvantages me. There is always so much that is left unsaid. At the same time, I am not convinced that more words equals a more developed argument in itself (think of all the filler we might throw into a conference paper as we hurriedly write it on the plane). I need to choose my words and phrases carefully, sparingly. There is something generative about this. Moreover, I could say alot more words (if that is what we are after) if I spoke more informally rather than reading straight from a paper which, especially in a conference setting, *really* slows me down. I guess this is all to say that I don't know what the answer is. I do think that these temporal considerations need to be made more explicit such that, for example, "extra time needed" is listed beside "wheelchair accessible hotel room" on conference applications. Feeling like a burden for asking for accommodations is a insidious way that ableism persists.

Shelley Tremain

thank you for your candid response to my query. I hope others will offer suggestions and ask questions about conference accessibility for dysfluent speakers.

In any case, I'd like to ask you another question. You have indicated that your thinking has been greatly influenced by feminist philosophy. You mentioned Young and Butler. I'm wondering who else and how. Have feminist philosophers of language influenced you? Feminist political philosophers?

Stephanie Kerschbaum (via Shelley Tremain)

[ST: I have posted this comment at Stephanie's request.]

I just tried to go to the interview and got a 404 error. will try again! What I was going to jump in and say, after thinking about it last night, was to ask about the modality of conference presentation and the ways that that might be refigured/cripped -- for example, do conference presentations have to be live performances? can they be voiced by another person or a machine, can the live performance be reinforced with a script (as, for example, you mention, Josh, feeling disadvantaged by all presenters getting the same amount of time--the time frame enables some people to say more words in the same amount of time it would take you to say fewer words), or can the time of the presentation be unevenly divided, so that if the panel has 90 minutes, one presenter gets 30 min and the others get 10? (this works best if hte panel is a group of folks working together/collaborating/mutually building access, rather than something imposed by the conference organizers on a panel assembled of individual proposals). I'm also thinking about the ways that speaking / participating in social space occurs through different forms, and that if we as audiences could develop more comfort and fa miliarity with alternative modes of participating, that the onus would not always fall on the speaking with one's vocal chords subject. Even at SDS I think this is a huge struggle even as people recognize lots of ways of particiating/speaking/engaging/communicating, in the midst of a panel, in the midst of a hallway encounter, etc. those are not easy things to quickly convey, adapt, adjust, and negotiate to.


Shelley, I apologize for the delayed response. I have been at CSWIP these past few days and only got back last night. In response to your question, I have been immensely influenced by feminist philosophy at both a general and specific level. That is, my methodology in a diffuse sense follows those theorists such as Sara Ahmed who start from the specificity of (gendered, classed, racialized, etc.) experience. At a more specific level, germane to this specific project, I am influenced by feminist political theorists such as Bonnie Honig, Silvia Federici, Adrianna Cavarero, and Wendy Brown. These feminists have helped me attend to the texture of contemporary political life, which is important, I think, for getting at the always emerging formation of ability within our discourses and practices.

Shelley Tremain

Hi Joshua, thanks for your response. I'd be interested to know what work of Brown's has influenced you. I have been influenced by her too and have used her claims (see, for instance, my On the Government of Disability), but some disability theorists have argued strongly against her claims (for instance, Siebers), as I'm sure you know.

Julie Maybee

What a terrific interview, Joshua and Shelley! Joshua, it was such a pleasure to meet you at the Pacific APA. I love the way your work interweaves so many different kinds of threads. I was quite surprised to hear about the "accent reduction" classes offered at your institution. At my institution in New York City, I'm thinking that notices like that would be considered, at best, very rude. I am also fascinated by the connection you draw between communication and the experience of time.

Your discussion of the role that a demand for fluent and intelligible speech plays in the current, supposedly information-based capitalist economy is also fantastic. I wanted to ask you if you would be willing to say more about how you would like both to cultivate more dysfluency in the world and well as make our worlds themselves more disfluent.


I apologize for the delayed response(s)!

Stephanie: Thank you for such a thoughtful reply. I have thought a little about the “live performance” aspect of conference presentations and I think I must still be somewhat caught within the logocentric “myth of presence.” That is, it feels like I am not fully there in an agential sense when someone else reads my presentation (I have only had someone read one talk, quite a few years ago). This is backwards and something that I need to get over. One of the best presentations I have heard—or perhaps I should say participated in—was this spring at a eugenics conference. The presenter used text-to-speech assistive tech but the little computer speakers were far quieter than expected, so the entire room gathered around the presenter and her speakers. We all had to be incredibly attentive, and this collective act of listening and responding to the presenter (mediated through various technologies) created a very different and wonderfully crip dynamic. Yet reconfiguring academic spaces requires, as you point out, that the audience take a more active role which can be difficult to facilitate.

Shelley: I’m not sure I can give a satisfactory answer to your question about Brown in this short space. However, I think Brown offers really incisive insights into our contemporary politic. Her work on tolerance (Regulating Aversion) and neoliberalism (Undoing the Demos), for example, are in my opinion quite definitive. As you might guess, I lean quite heavily in the Foucauldian direction and thus find many of Brown’s conclusions generative for DS. At the same time, while “Wounded Attachments” has been a helpful concept for DS, but I am quite sympathetic to critiques that it can foster ressentiment etc. and inhibit radical politics.

Julie: I’m so glad you enjoyed the interview. I could be totally wrong, but I would be (pleasantly) surprised if your university didn’t offer some form of “communication improvement” as part of professional development. Practices of disciplining the voice can be coded in many ways. Or are these kinds of things more localized than I realize?

Your question about cultivating dysfluency is wonderful—thank you. I don’t really have a great response at this time. Part of the answer is noticing the dysfluency already operative in our worlds. There are so many gaps and breaks that are quickly covered up (a “virtual failure of compulsory able-bodiedness” as disability theorist Robert McRuer would say) because fluency is so necessary for sustaining dominant political orders. Perhaps we need to start owning up to the conceit of fluency. At the same time, the activist work in dysfluent communities (such as the stuttering community) is important. 1% of the population stutters, to say nothing of those who are autistic, have Tourette’s, cleft palates, selective aphasia, etc etc. These voices are systematically erased within political spaces and the media, but they represent a notable portion of the population. In addition, “creating a world that stutters more” requires that we resist the impulse to standardize voices at an early age through medical and/or therapeutic intervention. This is all to say that making our worlds stutter requires in one sense a recognition that these worlds are always, already constituted by dysfluency.

Cultivating dysfluency thus requires that we look for and expect it within, for example, our classrooms, rather than simply trying to fit it in after the fact. One contributor for the Did I Stutter blog is a teacher who writes about his experiences in the classroom. [link link] In general, I think that cultivating dysfluency is an aspect of a radical rather than liberal politic: I am not suggesting that norms of intelligibility need to be expanded to “include” the dysfluent. We rather need to look for and trace fault lines of dysfluency (minor languages, in Deleuzian terms) in an attempt to create pockets of habitable resistance. This not a very satisfactory answer—I am obviously still working through these issues. Part of my hesitancy in giving concrete answers is comes from the recognition that in our current (neoliberal) world, dysfluency and precarity so often go hand in hand.


I quite clearly forgot to add the links from the Did I Stutter blog about stuttering in the classroom:

Julie Maybee

Thanks so much for your reply, Joshua. You might be right about there being some kind of “communication improvement” courses offered at my institution. I came here many years ago before there were even new faculty orientation sessions. Now there are compulsory new faculty orientation sessions, at which such courses might well be offered or advertised, I have no idea. I haven’t seen any notices about such classes in other emails that go around about faculty development, though.

I really like your suggestion about cultivating disfluency by noticing disfluency that’s already in our world. It reminded me of arguments in the disability studies literature that suggest that some of the attitudes toward disability and disabled people are rooted in a general refusal by our (current, European-dominated) culture to acknowledge human frailty—a view that does not seem to be held by all cultures (and may not even have been held by European culture in earlier times). African philosopher Kwasi Wiredu has argued, for instance, that people in Akan culture have a deep appreciation of the dependency of human beings, which, he argues, underpins a basic conception of human rights. So one way to cultivate disfluency would be, as you suggest, to uncover our culture’s refusal to acknowledge these—I would say—truths about human beings and our world, namely that we are always already frail and dependent, and that our world is always already disfluent. ("If you want to make God laugh," the old saying goes, "make plans"). I really like the term you use for the refusal to acknowledge this disfluency: “the conceit of fluency.”

I read the posts by Eli on the Did I Stutter blog that you recommended. I am persuaded by his argument that his disfluency has lead him to come up with creative learning activities that make him a better teacher, and that his disfluency as a traditional “lecturer” in class makes his students better listeners. I’m convinced that my fluency has no doubt made it possible for me to be a lazy teacher in the classroom. I suspect that cultivating disfluency in the class would also make me a more accessible teacher for students generally. I’m going to work on that . . .

Your hints about cultivating disfluency through “minor languages” and by creating “pockets of habitable resistance” are also provocative. I look forward to reading how you work these ideas out more fully in the future!

Thanks again for the terrific interview.

Shelley Tremain

Joshua, I wanted to note something else you talk about in your responses that doesn't get enough attention (if it does indeed get any) in any of the discussion about philosophy jobs in particular, job insecurity, and the precarity of academic jobs in general, namely, disability, risk aversion, and job requirements/qualifications. I thought your remarks about the relations between these elements were very insightful and provocative, indicating the urgent need for closer examination of these issues.

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