Article thumbnail

Disablement, Diversity, Deviation: Disability in an Age of Environmental Risk

By Sarah Gibbons


This dissertation brings disability studies and postcolonial studies into dialogue with discourse surrounding risk in the environmental humanities. The central question that it investigates is how critics can reframe and reinterpret existing threat registers to accept and celebrate disability and embodied difference without passively accepting the social policies that produce disabling conditions. It examines the literary and rhetorical strategies of contemporary cultural works that one, promote a disability politics that aims for greater recognition of how our environmental surroundings affect human health and ability, but also two, put forward a disability politics that objects to devaluing disabled bodies by stigmatizing them as unnatural. Some of the major works under discussion in this dissertation include Marie Clements’s Burning Vision (2003), Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People (2007), Gerardine Wurzburg’s Wretches & Jabberers (2010) and Corinne Duyvis’s On the Edge of Gone (2016). The first section of this dissertation focuses on disability, illness, industry, and environmental health to consider how critics can discuss disability and environmental health in conjunction without returning to a medical model in which the term ‘disability’ often designates how closely bodies visibly conform or deviate from definitions of the normal body. It shows how inadequate medical care, heavily polluted environments, and negative social attitudes might be understood as barriers to access that create disability. The second section of this dissertation focuses on disability, neurological difference, and ‘ecological othering’ as it considers how autistic artists and writers offer an alternative to the belief that their communicative practices are unnatural. This section argues that metaphors linking ecological devastation to changes in human neurology promote fear, and suggests that exploring the parallels between understandings of neurological diversity and understandings of biological diversity would allow for a more nuanced means of pursuing efforts to link disability rights and environmental justice. An important aspect of this project involves a critique of the impetus to celebrate the promise of technology for solving social issues, as it brings critiques of the technological fix approach to environmentalism into conversation with critiques of the medical cure as a techno-fix for disability. With the introduction of concept of critical ecologies of embodiment, a concept that unites these two critiques, this dissertation offers insight into how disability studies scholars and environmental justice scholars might further collaborate

Topics: Disability Studies, Ecocriticism, Postcolonial Studies, Industrial Disaster, Neurological Difference
Publisher: 'University of Waterloo'
Year: 2016
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.