There are two important posts up today elsewhere in the philosophical blogopshere that deserve your attention—both of which raise the question of how those of us in the profession at large can support those members who, because of activism or simply their social position, are vulnerable to various official and non-official forms of retaliation.
Above the fold, I will simply point readers to the Open Letter of Support for "for people in our profession who are suffering various trials either as victims of harassment or as supporters of victims" published on DailyNous by John Greco, Don Howard, Michael Rea, Jonathan Kvanvig, and Mark Murphy: and to NewAPPS emeritus blogger Eric Schliesser's more concrete suggestion about how to address the retaliatory deployment of legal means against complainants. Both pieces deserve to be read and reflected upon.
In what follows, I'll say a bit more about my sense of the importance of both pieces, and the larger phenomenon of retaliation against those contesting the inequitable state of the profession.
How we ought to understand the terms "civility" and "collegiality" and to what extent they can be enforced as professional norms are dominating discussions in academic journalism and the academic blogosphere right now. (So much so, in fact, that it's practically impossible for me to select among the literally hundreds of recent articles/posts and provide for you links to the most representative here.) Of course, the efficient cause of civility/collegiality debates' meteoric rise to prominence is the controversy surrounding Dr. Steven Salaita's firing (or de-hiring, depending on your read of the situation) by the University of Illinois only a month ago, but there are a host of longstanding, deeply contentious and previously seething-just-below-the-surface agendas that have been given just enough air now by the Salaita case to fan their smoldering duff into a blazing fire.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'll just note here at the start that I articulated my concerns about (and opposition to) policing norms of civility/collegiality or otherwise instituting "codes" to enforce such norms some months ago (March 2014) in a piece I co-authored with Edward Kazarian on this blog here (and reproduced on the NewAPPS site) entitled "Please do NOT revise your tone." My concern was then, as it remains still today, that instituting or policing norms of civility/collegiality is far more likely to protect objectionable behavior/speech by those who already possess the power to avoid sanction and, more importantly, is likely to further disempower those in vulnerable professional positions by effectively providing a back-door manner of sanctioning what may be their otherwise legitimately critical behaviors/speech. I'm particularly sympathetic to the recent piece "Civility is for Suckers" in Salon by David Palumbo-Liu (Stanford) who retraces the case-history of civility and free speech and concludes, rightly in my view, that "civility is in the eye of the powerful."
It seems apropos to introduce a small point of order: New APPS is a group blog, which means that there are many authors here and we all speak for ourselves--and only ourselves.
A case in point would be my strong disagreement with Jon Cogburn's post below. I find it to trade in a series of unfortunate false dichotomies: 1) between valuing or appreciating ability and seeking to avoid speaking in a way that may be hurtful offensive to people with disabilities, or which marginalizes them; 2) between recognizing that illnesses (mental or physical), injuries, or other afflictions are real sources of suffering and seeking to avoid speaking about people suffering from such conditions in a way that marginalizes, delegitimates, hurts or excludes them; and more generally, 3) between being able to express oneself adequately or take joy in life and seeking to avoid harming others carelessly or thoughtlessly, especially where they may also be subject to various systems of marginalization, delegitimation, or exclusion.
I also disagree with Jon's suggestion that some of our former bloggers were wrong to push as hard as possible for the development in the profession and among those who engaged with us here of a much greater degree of sensitivity and care with respect to how we speak about folks who have historically been marginalized, delegitimated, and excluded by the profession and by the history of 'Western' philosophy.
Increasingly, when I see someone accused of "ableism" because of some inartful (or perfectly fine) turn of expression, I become angry. It just strikes me as Forrest Gumpism. Everything is really peachy, as long as we confine our discourse to positive platitudes (and attacking those who don't so confine themselves).*
But all else being equal, it is better to be able. Speaking in ways that presupposes this is not bad, at least not bad merely in virtue of the presupposition (see also the Johnny Knoxville/Eddie Barbanell video below).
The place where my son gets occupational therapy (to deal with a bunch of sensory processing disabilities he inherited from me)** is called "Abilities." Good for them! I don't want my child to suffer as much as I do. The thought that I should feel guilty for that, or feel guilty for expressing something that presupposes it, just strikes me as insane. And I don't feel guilty for saying it strikes me as insane. To not be able to use "insane" as a derogation when it is appropriate would be to lose sight of the fact that it is horrible to be insane, which would in fact be extraordinarily cruel to the insane.
My friend Justin Isom dealt with his blindness and cancer with incredible dignity. He played a very bad hand extraordinarily well. But any pretense that it was not a bad hand would have been insulting and condescending (just as he would have taken, on the other side, excessive pity to be condescending). Justin thought it was hilarious when I first squirmed about saying "see you later" to him. When you have a blind friend you realize just how much language is seeded with visual metaphors. For the anti-ableist, we are supposed to police our speech in ways that would pretend otherwise. (And please read Neil Tennant's obituary for Justin below,*** which speaks to Justin's astonishingly rich ability (not just astonshingly rich for a blind guy, but all the more interesting and impressive since it's a blind guy talking) to describe experiences, such as public street in Indonesia, in visual terms.)
But for the anti-ableist speech policer, we can't say that a good idea is "visionary" because that might have hurt Justin's feelings. No. I reject that. You don't speak for Justin and you have no right to present him as emotionally infantile enough to care about such things.
Following an excellent post on cochlear implants by Teresa Blankmeyer Burke over at Feminist Philosophers is a comment pointing the reader to this interview, which may be of interest to NewAPPS readers. Of particular interest is William Mager's attempt to describe his experience of sound with the new implants. Here are a few key passages:
“It’s not sound. It’s beeping. But It doesn’t feel like sound. It feels like some kind of electronic trigger is going on in your brain.” (at around 4:27)
By Shelley Tremain, draft of a comment that is forthcoming in the April issue of The Philosopher's Magazine.
Data compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy indicates that the disparity between the labor-participation rates of employable disabled people and employable nondisabled people across all sectors of American society is abysmal: 21% for disabled people compared to 69% for nondisabled people. More specific figures for the disparity between disabled and nondisabled people employed as full-time faculty in academia are even worse, with philosophy boasting the greatest disparity in this regard of all disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, comparable only to the STEM fields. For although disabled people comprise an estimated 20-25% of the North American population, surveys conducted in 2012 and 2013 by the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association (APA) suggest that they comprise less than 4% of full-time faculty in philosophy departments in the U.S. and, according to a 2013 survey conducted by the Equity Committee of the Canadian Philosophical Association (CPA), they comprise less than 1% of full-time faculty in philosophy departments in Canada. In other words, nondisabled people comprise an estimated 96-99% of full-time faculty in North American philosophy departments. These figures are shocking, constituting almost complete exclusion of disabled people from professional philosophy.
The article is the Introduction to a Special Issue on "Improving Feminist Philosophy and Theory by Taking Account of Disability" of which Tremain is the editor; the articles therein should be read carefully as well.
At the end of a laudatory* review of The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Phenomenology the reviewer makes the following point about gender and race imbalance** in authorial choices for Oxford Handbooks:
Second, OHCP contains twenty-eight essays, but only three of them are authored by women. Unfortunately, the low percentage of women contributors (or co-contributors) isn't a peculiarity of this particular volume. After glancing at the table of contents of forty-five Oxford Handbooks in philosophy, I found that fewer than 20% of contributions are either authored or co-authored by women.
Scaliger’s helpful post
about making APA presentations visually accessible and appealing reminds me
there are also things philosophers can do to make their presentations more
accessible to deaf and hard of hearing audience members. Odds are good that at
least a few audience members will have hearing loss -- according to the U.S. National Institute
on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, fifteen percent of adults
between the ages of 20 and 69 have hearing loss, and this percentage increases
with age. Most of these people rely on residual
hearing (amplified or unamplified) and visual cues. This post is focused on
making talks more accessible to that population – I’m planning another post on
accessibility for those working with sign language interpreters and CART
[I don't normally post calls for papers on this blog but given the importance of the topic and its direct relation to a recurrent theme on this blog, I am making an exception in this case]
Improving Feminist Philosophy and Theory by Taking Account of Disability
Guest editor: Shelley Tremain, PhD
A growing body of literature demonstrates that disabled people confront poverty, discrimination in employment and housing, sexual abuse and violence, limited educational opportunities, incarceration, and social isolation to a far greater extent than their non-disabled counterparts and furthermore that disabled women experience the impact of these disabling social and political phenomena even more severely than do disabled men. Although feminism is purported to be a social, political, and cultural movement that represents all women, disabled feminists have long argued that the concerns, political struggles, and socio-cultural issues that directly affect disabled women (and disabled people more generally) remain marginalized, and often ignored, within mainstream feminist movements.
Ingrid Robeyns, professor of practical philosophy at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, is known among other things for her work on the capability approach (see her SEP entry on the topic, and her review of Martha Nussbaum's Creating Capabilities), and as a blogger at the interdisciplinary blog Crooked Timber. This week, she will be running a series of posts on autism at Crooked Timber -- the first one is here, the second one here. Ingrid is herself the mother of an autistic child, and the combination of philosophical insight with her first-person experience is bound to yield a very interesting perspective on the topic.
Autism is a topic having many important philosophical implications, ranging from theories of cognition and philosophy of mind to ethics. So I for one look forward to the upcoming posts, and I suspect that many NewAPPS readers will be equally interested. Go check it out; in fact, today is World Autism Awareness Day, so as good a day as any!
Shelley Tremain provides us this link to the Facebook version of a CHE piece by noted scholar Lennard Davis of the University of Illinois-Chicago. The intro graf reads:
It has been more than 20 years since the Americans With Disabilities Act took effect, but while the law has changed some things in higher education, it hasn't changed the way academic culture regards people with disabilities. While our current interest in diversity is laudable, colleges rarely think of disability when they tout diversity. College brochures and Web sites depict people of various races and ethnicities, but how often do they include, say, blind people or those with Parkinson's disease? Or a deaf couple talking to each other in a library, or a group of wheelchair users gathered in the quad? When disability does appear, it is generally cloistered on the pages devoted to accommodations and services.
Jenny Saul and I (Magical Ersatz) are very proud to introduce a new project we’ve been working on: Disabled Philosophers.
The goal of this project is to raise awareness of the existence of disabled philosophers. There are lots of issues that arise from the intersection of disability and philosophy. But we thought a very basic starting point – and hopefully a good way of starting a conversation – was to say “Hey! We’re here. We exist. In greater numbers and greater variety than you might’ve thought.”
Though we’re using a blog format, this isn’t a traditional blog. We won’t have posts on a wide variety of topics, and we won’t host discussion. What we’ll do is create a space where we can learn about disabled philosophers – sometimes who they are (though we welcome anonymous contributions), sometimes a little about their experiences of being a philosopher with a disability, sometimes both.
So if you’re a disabled philosopher, please do get in touch. We’d also love to hear from you if you’re a philosopher who loves someone who’s disabled – your partner, your child, etc. Caregiver and partner experiences are a huge part of understanding disability, and philosophers who are caregivers or partners of disabled people give us an important perspective on the interaction between disability and philosophy. So please do write to us – whether you’re yourself disabled or your daily life is affected by disability because of who you care about.
And if, at this point, you’re wondering why on earth you’d want to tell strangers about your experience of disability, we have some reasons for you. We hope you find them persuasive.
In comments to this post, Shelley Tremain provides the following useful bibliography. She prefaces it in part by writing:
I hope readers of the blog will be provoked to seek out some of this work and thus to seriously consider the impact of ableist metaphors in particular and ableist language in general on the self-worth and self-esteem of disabled people.
Barasch, Moshe., 2001. Blindness: The History of a Mental Image in Western Thought, New York London: Routledge.
Over the last couple of decades, disability theorists in the humanities have produced work that shows how signifiers of disability employed in literature, art, films, pop culture, the news media, and everyday discourse are paradigmatically and stereotypically oppressive to disabled people: the nasty villain with facial scars, the evil pirate with a prosthetic arm, the wicked witch with one eye, the determined cripple who overcomes all odds and is redeemed, and so on. One focus of these efforts has been the ways that “blindness” is used as a rhetorical and representational device to signify lack of knowledge, as well as epistemic ignorance or negligence and the moral downfall it implies.
I first wrote about the use of blindness as a metaphor in 1996. For the last few years, I have tried to get the APA to remove the phrase “blind review” from its publications and website. The phrase is demeaning to disabled people because it associates blindness with lack of knowledge and implies that blind people cannot be knowers. Because the phrase is standardly used in philosophy and other academic CFPs, it should become recognized as a cause for great concern. In short, use of the phrase amounts to the circulation of language that discriminates. Philosophers should want to avoid inflicting harm in this way. Now, one might think that the term “blind review” means, literally, that reviewers cannot “see” the name of an author (or authors) of a given paper. But consider that under the terms of this form of refereeing, it would be not be acceptable for an editor to verbally communicate the name (or names) of an author (or authors) to a referee, while preventing the referee from seeing the name or names. Equally, it would not be acceptable if a blind philosopher heard the name (names) read out by her screen-reader software, even though she can’t see them.
A couple of years ago, I emailed both the Executive Director of the APA and the past President of the CPA (Canadian Phil. Assoc.), explaining to them why the use of the phrase “blind review” in their publicity materials, CFPs, etc. was oppressive and demeaning to disabled people, and I posted these emails in the body of a comment on the Feminist Philosophers blog. In an email to me, the Executive Director of the APA wrote that this matter had never been brought to his attention in the past and that he would have APA staff act on it immediately. The President of the CPA made a commitment to me that he would raise the issue at the next meeting of the CPA Board of Directors.
As a result of these correspondences, the phrase “blind review” was removed for a time from the APA National Office’s publicity materials. However, the term was still used by at least two divisions in their published materials. The CPA no longer uses the phrase “blind review” and has replaced it with the phrase “anonymous review”.
The editors of Different Art invite submissions for an innovative new book that explores the complex fusion of disability and artistic expression. This work seeks to investigate and muse on the varied and often contradictory ways that disability is created, contested and circulated in art and media (both in the visual and other forms). We encourage submissions of works that explore these issues from theoretical lens as well as writings from practitioners placing these concerns in dialog with their own practices as artists. This includes artist statements/essays and poetry/prose. In all contributions, we are especially interested in writing that is enriched by consideration of transnational concerns.
This book is already under contract with Intellect LTD, and will be distributed in the US by University of Chicago Press.
Essays may consider any and all forms of artistic expression. As cultural conceptions of disability have historically been wedded to the visual rhetoric of the body, we are especially interested in essays that consider visual media. At the same time, we feel strongly that essays that consider other forms are an important part of the work's scope. As such, the work is organized in six major sections:
Shelley Tremain has provided this as an introductory bibliography to Disability Studies. It's not a comprehensive bibliography, nor is it directly solely to philosophers. Please use it as an invitation to contribute other suggestions in comments.
We're adding "Disability Studies" to our category list, and welcome suggestions for posts, conference announcements, CFPs, and so on. We also welcome suggestions for the Count Me In campaign, which also has a category now.
Lennard Davis, ed. 2010. The Disability Studies Reader (3rd edition). Routledge. The three editions of this multi-disciplinary reader are somewhat different from each other, but each contains a good selection of some of the most important articles and book chapters in the field of Disability Studies internationally.
Rosemarie Garland Thomson. 1996. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Disability in American Culture and Literature. Columbia University Press. Garland Thomson is one of the leading figures in American disability studies. The book explains some of the ideas foundational to American disability studies and considers how disability has been represented and socially constituted.
Michael Oliver. 1990. The Politics of Disablement. McMillan Educational Press. This book, written by a social scientist, is regarded as one of the foundational texts of Disability Studies in the U.K. especially. The book explains and defends the earliest versions of the British “social model of disability” which is grounded in historical materialism.
Tobin Siebers. 2008. Disability Theory. University of Michigan Press. Written by a prominent American disability theorist, this book demonstrates that a disability studies perspective is relevant to, yet usually left out of, academic accounts of a range of issues and topics including sexuality, identity, the body, social justice, feminism, architectural design, literature, etc.
Henri Stiker. 1999. A History of Disability. University of Michigan Press. This book, originally written in French, offers an historical account of how disability has been represented in literature, philosophical texts, religious doctrines, popular discourse, and so on.
Shelley Tremain, ed. 2005. Foucault and the Government of Disability. University of Michigan Press.This multi-disciplinary collection is comprised of chapters that assess the usefulness of Foucault’s analyses and techniques for work in disability studies and disability activism.