A modest proposal for medieval disability scholars: let's indeed take the distinction between ‘impairment’ and ‘disability’ off the table, and while we’re at it, let's worry less about defining ‘disability,’ too. Let's complement the abundant studies concerned with the manners in which society at large might create ‘disabled’ outgroups (medicalization, oppression, and so on) in favor of an inquiry into the transformative effects that ‘disabled’ bodies might operate on other categories of social identity. We must consider not only that disability is constructed by bodily difference and by social perception, but also that disability itself – whatever that is! – (re)constitutes and (re)configures other, contiguous social categories. What will happen, for instance, if we think of the medieval ‘disabled’ not as a marginalized group, but as individuals (or groups of individuals sharing certain physical/mental characteristics) endowed with a unique capacity to redraw boundaries between margins and center? Disabled bodies manifest a particular potential to perturb existing social categories in the largely non-exclusionary, pre-institutionalization, pre-nursing home Middle Ages, where the much-vaunted (apparent) lack of a notion of ‘disabled’ identity renders a broader swath of social boundaries permeable to the non-normative body. In other words, medievalists are perhaps the scholars best situated to escape the reductive binaries dominating contemporary disability studies, to trouble these notions through new critical conceptions of disability and community.
Julie Singer, "Disability and the Social Body" (postmedieval 3.2: 2012)
Myra Seaman and I are happy to announce the publication of the latest issue of postmedieval (Vol. 3, Issue 2), which includes a cluster of essays, edited by Julie Singer, on "Disability and the Social Body," that take up a diverse number of fields and disciplines, from musicology to French fabliaux to male friendship in 15th-century Cairo to hagiography to premodern medicine, as well as three regular articles (Chaucer! Mongols! Lesbians! Virgin Martyrs!), and you can see the full Table of Contents here:
- Cluster Editor's Introduction: Disability and the Social Body (Julie Singer)
- How to Kiss a Leper (Julie Orlemanski)
- The Disabled Body in the Fabliaux (M. Andia Augustin)
- Drug Overdose, Disability, and Male Friendship in Fifteenth-Century Mamluk Cairo (Kristina Richardson)
- ‘That suck’d the honey of his music vows’: Disability studies in early modern musicological research (Samantha Bassler)
- Queer Relics: Martyrological Time and the Eroto-Aesthetics of Suffering in Bertha Harris's Lover (Kendra Smith)
- Networks of Exchange in The Franklin's Tale (Janet Thormann)
- Monstrous Mongols (Noreen Giffney)
Having, myself, a disability and an armchair enthusiast of medieval history, my curiousity is picqued to read the discussions evolved out of your chapter titles.
Dear L: if you do not have access to the journal, and I suspect you may not, send me an email to:
I will send you PDF copies of the essays in the cluster; my field needs more armchair enthusiasts!
I am very much enjoying this issue! It does a great service for the burgeoning field of medieval disability studies.
Really looking forward to this, though I am still totally digging the last issue.
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