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This seminar provides a venue for scholars working in disability studies—which examines the social, political, cultural, and historical factors that define disability—to interrogate the current state of the field and identify the most crucial problems and concerns for its future. Critical scholarship around disability questions is essential because it builds a platform to interrogate charged ethical and political questions about the meaning of aesthetics and cultural representation, identity, and dynamics of social inclusion and/or exclusion. Over the past 15 years, disability studies has grown into a vibrant interdisciplinary arena, engaging some of the most pressing debates of our time: questions about the beginning and end of life, prenatal testing, abortion, euthanasia, eugenics; definitions of mental health and wellness; accommodation in schools, public transportation, and the workplace; technologies for the medical correction and “cure” of the non-normative body; disease, wartime injuries, post-traumatic stress, and healthcare.

Professor Julia Miele Rodas

Professor Irina Carlota Silber

Liz Bowen

Meeting dates and locations are subject to change. Please confirm details with the seminar rapporteur.

Meeting Schedule

10/18/2019 203 Diana Center, Barnard College
12:00 PM
Will’s Story: A Voice-Centered Narrative of Self and Identity in Everyday Life
Tara Fannon, Hofstra University


This paper presents a narrative case analysis from a larger research project surfacing visually disabled men's identities and lived experiences. The Listening Guide, a voice-centered relational method of analysis, and an interactionist-critical disability theoretical framework is applied to analyse relationships between disability, sensory impairment and masculinity. Two questions are asked (1): What does it mean to be a disabled man in American culture, when masculinity and disability are constructed and represented as irreconcilable statuses? and (2) How are these meanings interpreted and experienced in the context of sensory impairment? The findings contribute to both Disability Studies and sociology of gender. Notable contributions include the introduction and application of new concepts for impression management at the self/social intersection of masculinity and visual disability; a deeper understanding of the relationship between disability identity and disability social-structural experience; and how impairment is situated, as a subjective-embodied tether, between these processes.

11/12/2019 Low Library Faculty Room, Columbia University
4:00 PM
Book Roundtable: Black Madness :: Mad Blackness
Therí Alyce Pickens, Bates College


In Black Madness :: Mad Blackness Therí Alyce Pickens rethinks the relationship between Blackness and disability, unsettling the common theorization that they are mutually constitutive. Pickens shows how Black speculative and science fiction authors such as Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, and Tananarive Due craft new worlds that reimagine the intersection of Blackness and madness. These creative writer-theorists formulate new parameters for thinking through Blackness and madness. Pickens considers Butler's Fledgling as an archive of Black madness that demonstrates how race and ability shape subjectivity while constructing the building blocks for antiracist and anti-ableist futures. She examines how Hopkinson's Midnight Robber theorizes mad Blackness and how Due's African Immortals series contests dominant definitions of the human. The theorizations of race and disability that emerge from these works, Pickens demonstrates, challenge the paradigms of subjectivity that white supremacy and ableism enforce, thereby pointing to the potential for new forms of radical politics.

Roundtable Participants:
Therí Alyce Pickens, Bates College
Josef Sorett, Columbia University
Samuel K. Roberts, Jr., Columbia University
Chris Baswell, Barnard College
Elizabeth Donaldson, NYIT
Farah Griffin, Columbia University

Notes: Co-sponsored by the Columbia University Institute for Research in African-American Studies