The Disability Studies Reader: 4th Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Disability Studies Reader

4th Edition

Edited by Lennard J. Davis

© 2013 – Routledge

600 pages

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About the Book

The Fourth Edition of the Disability Studies Reader breaks new ground by emphasizing the global, transgender, homonational, and posthuman conceptions of disability. Including physical disabilities, but exploring issues around pain, mental disability, and invisible disabilities, this edition explores more varieties of bodily and mental experience. New histories of the legal, social, and cultural give a broader picture of disability than ever before.

Now available for the first time in eBook format 978-0-203-07788-7.


Lennard Davis’s Disability Studies Reader has been a must-use for years in my courses on disability studies and medical humanities. The newest edition provides further proof of its importance for the classroom. Yet more wide ranging and global, it provides not only solid historical essays but think-pieces about disabilities in the modern world. It is in many ways a course in a box.--Sander L. Gilman, Distinguished Professor of the Liberal Arts and Sciences, Professor of Psychiatry, Emory University

With the inclusion and integration of the humanities in medical education, every edition of The Disability Studies Reader has been crucial in developing curricular "interventions" that introduce students to the fluid construction of normalcy, the common representations of disability, and the ethical, moral, and political issues associated with accepted diagnostic and clinical practices. The essays on mental health/mental illness, pre-natal genetic screening, chronic illness and gender, race and depression, and cognitive disorders in this fourth edition will enable teachers like myself to offer medical students other ways of thinking, seeing and relating to their future patients. -- Therese Jones,. Director, Arts and Humanities in Healthcare Program. University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Editor, Journal of Medical Humanities

With every new edition, Lennard Davis's Disability Studies Reader becomes more pertinent and more necessary. If you are wondering what disability studies is, start here.

- Tobin Siebers, Department of English, University of Michigan

As the interdisciplinary field of disability studies continues to transform our understandings of culture, history, and politics, The Disability Studies Reader remains the touchstone. The new edition pairs the indispensable essays that have founded the field with cutting-edge work in feminist, queer, critical race, and postcolonial theory. This is one of the most important volumes in cultural studies available.

- Robert McRuer, English, George Washington University

No one serious about the subject can afford to be without the latest edition of the Disability Studies Reader on their shelf. From politics to poetry, memoir to theory, poster children to posthumans, it is the one indispensable guide to the field for student and scholar alike.

- Douglas Baynton, History, University of Iowa

Since its first appearance the Disability Studies Reader has always been an indispensible volume - but with the new, fourth edition this is even more the case. The new additions here - on intersections with sexuality, technology, the law, questions of the social, and the need to understand disability in global contexts - speak to the evolving ways in which disability works in the contemporary world. It is very rare that a single text can do justice to a highly complex subject, but this book does just that. It is the essential guide for scholars and students.

- Stuart Murray, Contemporary Literatures and Film Director, Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities

"This is an indispensable collection, bringing together foundational arguments in disability studies and provocative new work from emerging young scholars in the field. If you're curious as to why (and how) disability studies has stimulated so much debate in the humanities, The Disability Studies Reader is a great place to start finding out."

--Michael Bérubé, Paterno Family Professor in Literature, Penn State University

"There is simply no area of contemporary life-- be it medical, economic, educational, juridical, athletic, architectural, culinary, recreation, entertainment--that goes unaddressed in the disability studies literature. Just when you thought that there was nothing new to say about social construction, difference, the performative, the universal, the particular and the body, disability studies comes along to demonstrate both the theoretical and practical urgencies to which these and other too often abstract terms really refer. If you've been hearing about disability studies, but didn't quite know what to make of it, this is the anthology for you."

--Stanley Fish, Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Humanities and Law, Florida International University

"A classic just got even better! Only a few disciplines can claim a founding text. For disability studies, with its far-reaching implications for other fields, this is it. It all starts--and re-starts in a superb second edition--right here."

--David B. Morris, author of The Culture of Pain

"This revised edition demonstrates the significant evolution of the field. Greater attention to such vital issues as globalization, gender, critical race studies, and cultural constructions appear in cogent new essays that enhance and complement the collection. As with the original Disability Studies Reader , this edition challenges its readers with pioneering studies of theoretical models and the politics of disability.

--Susan Burch, author of Signs of Resistance: American Deaf Cultural History, 1900 to World War II

"This collection of scholarly essays strikes at the concept of normalcy and touches us on both personal and societal levels. From an academic perspective, the field of disability studies broadens our race, class, and gender discussions to include layers of identity and moments of connection. The Disability Studies Reader challenges us to reexamine human difference."

--I. King Jordan, President, Gallaudet University --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

"The Disability Studies Reader edited by Lennard J. Davis is to the field of Disability Studies what the Norton anthologies are to literature. It is in fact, canon-making. The fourth edition of the reader has just been released in February. It will—and should be—mandatory is every disability studies program in the United States. Those trailblazers whose work remains from the previous editions will continue to gain cultural currency and those writers whose work is being admitted for the first time know they will now be read by students across the country." — Michael Northen, Wordgathering

Table of Contents

New articles noted with an astersisk*

Preface to the Fourth Edition


    1. Constructing Normalcy
    2. Lennard J. Davis

      Arguing that the concept of normalcy was invented during the nineteenth-century, this essay explores how both eugenic science and the literary structures of the novel emerged as ways to construct and promote the notion of the "average man."


    3. Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History*
    4. Douglas Baynton

      Discusses how disability is used to justify discrimination against marginalized groups in America, surveying three great citizenship debates of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: women’s suffrage, African American freedom, and the restriction of immigration.

    5. ‘Heaven’s Special Child’: The Making of Poster Children*
    6. Paul Longmore

      An examination of the history of telethons describing them as cultural mechanisms that display poster children to evoke sympathy and profit. While the child becomes a celebrity in the eyes of the public, he or she also can be construed as an exploited spectacle.


    7. Disabling Attitudes: U.S. Disability Law and the ADA Amendments Act*
    8. Elizabeth Emens

      A consideration of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the more recent ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA in which definitions of disability and impairment narrowed with the ADA and broadened with the ADAAA, The essay speculates on whether the broader vision of disability will survive in the court system. Considering social attitudes and connections between the private and public spheres of American culture and politics, Emens predicts that the courts will ultimately create a narrower definition of disability.


    9. Disabling Postcolonialism: Global Disability Cultures and Democratic Criticism*
    10. Clare Barker and Stuart Murray

      An exploration of the intersections of two major critical fields-- Postcolonial Studies and Disability Studies, this essay discovers new approaches to literary and cultural criticism. Realizing that postcolonialism and disability are both tied to questions of power, Barker and Murray assert that Critical Disability Studies "needs to adapt its assumptions and methodologies to include and respond to postcolonial locations of disability".


    11. Abortion and Disability: Who Should and Should Not Inhabit the World?"
    12. Ruth Hubbard

      This essay presents the problem of prenatal testing in relationship to disability and, while not opposing testing, raises concerns about the discrimination inherent in such interventions.


    13. "Disability Rights and Selective Abortion"
    14. Marsha Saxton

      Saxton alerts readers to the possible conflict between the goals of the abortion rights movement and that of the disability rights movement, and she proposes goals for both that might bring their aspirations in line with one another.


    15. Disability, Democracy, and the New Genetics*
    16. Michael Berube

      Does prenatal testing for genetic diseases fit in with our notions of democracy? Would it be in the interests of a democratic culture to promote or restrict the rights of parents to select the child they want, particularly when it comes to disability?

    17. "A Mad Fight: Psychiatry and Disability Activism"
    18. Bradley Lewis

      Locates disability activism in the Mad Pride movement that fight for the rights of psychiatric survivors and consumers of mental health services.


    19. The Institution Yet to Come: Analyzing Incarceration Through a Disability Lens" *
    20. Liat Ben-Moshe

      This essay analyzes the reality of incarceration through the prism of disability by comparing health institutions to prisons. Both structures house people plagued by psychiatric, intellectual, and physical disabilities, and both also produce either abolitionists, those who are against or escape the system, or Foucauldian docile bodies, those who conform to the system. She suggests the pressing need to expand notions of what comes to be classified as ‘incarceration’.


    21. Stigma: An Enigma Demystified
    22. Lerita M. Coleman-Brown

      Examines Erving Goffman’s key concept of "stigma" from a disability studies perspective.


    23. Unhealthy Disabled
    24. Susan Wendell

      Chronic illness is a major cause of disability, especially in women. Therefore, any adequate feminist understanding of disability must encompass chronic illnesses. Wendell argues that there are important differences between healthy disabled and unhealthy disabled people that are likely to affect such issues as treatment of impairment in disability and feminist politics, accommodation of disability in activism and employment, identifi cation of persons as disabled, disability pride, and prevention and "cure" of disabilities.



    25. "Reassigning Meaning"
    26. Simi Linton

      This essay analyzes how language can oppress people with disabilities by creating social, cultural and linguistic expectations and meanings for an ableist society.


    27. "Enabling Disability: Rewriting Kinship, Reimagining Citizenship
    28. Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp

      Anthropologists propose a new notion of kinship to see how cultures claim or reject disabled fetuses, newborns and young children.


    29. Aesthetic Nervousness
    30. Ato Quayson

      Coining a new term—"aesthetic nervousness"—the Ghanaian scholar theorizes the crisis resulting from the inclusion of disability in literary or dramatic works.


    31. The Social Model of Disability
    32. Tom Shakespeare

      A description of the social model and a criticism of some aspects of that paradigm.


    33. Narrative Prosthesis
    34. David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder

      The authors develop the idea that narrative requires disability as an essential component of storytelling, particularly so the plot can fix or cure the impairment.


    35. "The Unexceptional Schizophrenic: A Post-Postmodern Introduction Catherine Prendergast
    36. Argues that postmodernism has failed to deconstruct the schizophrenic, keeping a monolithic view based on some canonical writings rather than seeing the schizophrenic as part of a new emerging group that is active, multivocal, and seeking to fight for their rights.


    37. Deaf Studies in the 21st Century: Deaf-Gain and The Future of the Human*
    38. H-Dirksen L. Baumannand Joseph J. Murray

      This essay provides an overview of the field of Deaf Studies as it has emerged in the latter part of the 20th century, and then provides a new rhetorical frame for future directions that this field may take in the 21st century, the cultural attitude shifting from "hearing loss" to "Deaf-gain". "Deaf-Gain" provides a rationale for the positive side of sign language and the continuing existence of Deaf culture.


    39. The End of Identity Politics: On Disability as an Unstable Category
    40. Lennard J. Davis

      Argues that postmodern ideas of identity challenge the existent models in disability studies and argues that since disability is a shifting identity that newer paradigms are needed to explain it.

    41. Disability and the Theory of Complex Embodiment—For Identity Politics in a New Register
    42. Tobin Siebers

      Using the ideas of post-positivist realism, Siebers argues that disability is a valid and actual identity as opposed to a deconstructive-driven model.


    43. Defining Mental Disability*
    44. Margaret Price

      The contested boundaries between disability, illness, and mental illness are discussed in terms of mental disability. Ultimately, Price argues that higher education would benefit from practices that create a more accessible academic world for those who may have able bodies but disabled minds. The excerpt included here explores the confines of naming and defining Mental Disability, offering a biographical account of the author’s academic journey.


    45. "Disability and Blackness"*
    46. Josh Lukin

      Lukin provides a short history of the intersection of blackness and disability, highlighting the experiences of Johnnie Lacy and Donald Galloway who were members of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living in the 1960s. The essay traces a theme of black involvement and yet exclusion from disability activism. It also moves into the current moment and follows some of the recent scholarship in the field.

    47. My Body, My Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming Out*
    48. Ellen Samuels

      This essay discusses the coming-out discourse in the context of a person whose physical appearance does not immediately signal a disability Considering the complicated dynamics inherent in the analogizing of social identities, the politics of visibility and invisibility, and focusing on two "invisible" identities of lesbian-femme and nonvisible disability, Samuels "queers" disability in order to develop new paradigms of identity, representation, and social interaction.

    49. Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory
    50. Rosemarie Garland-Tomson

      This essay applies the insights of disability studies to feminist theory.

    51. Unspeakable Offenses: Untangling Race and Disability in Discourses of Intersectionality*
    52. Nirmala Erevellesand Andrea Minear

      Erevelles and Minear draw on narratives exemplifying the intersections between race, class, gender, and disability. Through the stories of Eleanor Bumpurs, Junius Wilson, and Cassie and Aliya Smith, the margins of multiple identity categories are placed at the forefront, outlining how and why individuals of categorical intersectionality are constituted as non-citizens and (no)bodies by the very social institutions (legal, educational, and rehabilitational) that are designed to protect, nurture, and empower them.


    53. Compulsory Able-Bodiedness and Queer/Disabled Existence
    54. Robert McRuer

      This essay points to the mutually reinforcing nature of heterosexuality and able-bodiedness, arguing that disability studies might benefit by adopting some of the strategies of queer theory.


    55. The Cost of Getting Better: Ability and Debility*
    56. Jasbir Puar

      Puar argues for a deconstruction of what ability and disability mean and pushes for a broader politics of capacity and debility that puts duress on the seamless production of able bodies in relation to disability. Examining the recent "It Gets Better" campaign against queer youth suicide, Puar links suicide to forms of slow death, asking which bodies are able to capitalize on their vulnerabilities in neoliberalism and which are not.





    57. Cripping Heterosexuality, Queering Able-Bodiedness Murderball, Brokeback Mountain and the Contested Masculine Body
    58. Cynthia Barounis

      Using the two films as examples, the essay argues that disability in one is normalized by depicting disabled athletes as hyper-masculine while homosexuality in the other is invested with values of able-bodiedness.


    59. Sculpting Body Ideals: Alison Lapper Pregnant and the Public Display of Disability
    60. Ann Millett-Gallant

      How does Alison Lapper’s monumental self-portrait statue of her pregnant, non-nomative, nude body fit into the history and culture of public art?


    61. "When Black Women Start Going on Prozac…" The Politics of Race, Gender, and Emotional Distress in Meri Nana-Ama Danquah's Willow Weep for Me Anna Mollow
    62. The Enfreakment of Photography
    63. David Hevey

    64. Blindness and Visual Culture: An Eyewitness Account
    65. Georgina Kleege

    66. Disability, Life Narrative, and Representation
    67. Thomas G. Couser

    68. Autism as Culture
    69. Joseph N. Straus

    70. Disability, Design and Branding: Rethinking Disability for the 21st Century* Elizabeth DePoy and Stephen Gilson
    71. This essay presents an innovative way of thinking about disability as disjuncture and the significant role that design and branding play in creating this ill-fit. DePoy and Gilson assert that design and branding provide the contemporary opportunity and relevant strategies for rethinking disability and social change, healing notions of disjuncture in the postmodern and post-postmodern world of disability studies.



    72. Stones in my Pockets, Stones in my Heart
    73. Eli Clare

      A memoir that explores the way the author’s disability, queer identity, and memories of childhood sexual abuse intersect with and thread though one another.

    74. Unspeakable Conversations
    75. Harriet McBryde Johnson

      An account by the late disabled writer who meets and argues with utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer, himself an advocate for withdrawing life support from severely disabled people.


    76. Helen and Frida
    77. Anne Finger

      A dreamlike account of being disabled as a child and imagining a romantic movie starring Helen Keller and Frieda Kahlo.


    78. "I am Not One of the" and "Cripple Lullaby"
    79. Cheryl Marie Wade

      Poems that explore issues of identity and self-definition from a disabled perspective.


    80. "Beauty and Variations" by Kenny Fries
    81. Poem that explores the nature and meanings of beauty.

    82. Selections from Planet of the Blind
    83. Steve Kuusisto

      Memoir by the poet/writer of being a teenage boy with limited eyesight and an expansive imagination.


    84. Selected Poems*

James Ferris

This selection includes twelve previously unpublished poems by distinguished poet and disability studies scholar.

About the Editor

Lennard J. Davis is Professor of Disability and Human Development, English, and Medical Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author of, among other works, Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body; Bending Over Backwards: Disability, Dismodernism, and Other Difficult Positions; My Sense of Silence: Memoirs of a Childhood with Deafness; and Obsession: A History.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / People with Disabilities


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