Disability Studies and Ecocriticism: Critical and Creative Intersections

deadline for submissions: 
March 1, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Studies in the Humanities
contact email: 

This CFP calls for critical essays and creative works that address the intersection of disability studies and ecocriticism, or disability and the environment. In terms of critical essays, we will consider analyses of novels, poetry, comics, dance, art, and movies. We will also consider creative works (including creative nonfiction, poetry, and fiction) that center on an exploration of the relationship(s) between disability and the environment.

We are particularly interested in works that address the following broad questions in specific ways: What can be gained by investigating ecological issues through the lens of disability studies? What can be gained by investigating disability through the lens of ecocriticism? How can these two viewpoints be joined?

In disability studies the environment is already an issue as the social model situates the impaired, and possibly disabled, body in the world. It is the social environment that disables after all. To state the obvious, this emphasis on the environment substantiates, to a degree, the major concern of ecocritics. However, there are also problems. As Tom Shakespeare points out, the social model is limited: Not every environment, human or not, can be made fully accessible. Can, truly, a mountainous terrain be made accessible to everyone? From the perspective of ecocriticism, making an environment accessible for humans, disabled or nondisabled, could be seen as anthropocentric and, hence, oppressive to nature: The social model in its attempt to eradicate one area of oppression has reinforced the objectification of nature. What would it take to be just to both humans and nature? What is lost or gained by those within the disability community by exercising this “deep social model” that respects all parties within an environmental context?

 

Consider this brief example (though please do not be limited by its example):

 

In Pixar’s 2008 film Wall-E the world is trashed by humans who are isolated from their environment by technology and consumption; nondisabled humans create a seamless, bordered world of privileged access for themselves, commit ecocide, and then escape into space. Ironically, the world has been reconstructed--so as to provide access—by nondisabled people to such a degree that nondisabled people have become physically impaired. As their environment changes so do, ever so slowly, the bodies of the typical human. Humans are for the most part oblivious to these naturalized processes grounded in environment context. The nondisabled, however, are not oblivious to difference, or any impairment, that disrupts their socially constructed world.

 

Wall-E, from the standpoint of his original programming, is part and parcel of this Humanist project. Fortunately, Wall-E is not psychologically stable (in view of his original programming) nor able bodied: Wall-E, a trash compactor, for example treasures that which his ableist programming would have had him carelessly trample. In short, Wall-E is not in sync with society and society demands that he be so. Wall-E, who becomes simultaneously a material metaphor for disability and nature, escapes the repair shop, and dislodges humans from set patterns, both physical and cognitive, opening them up to their ecological relation to the world.

 

The question lingering at the end of Wall-E might be: How might humans remain open to difference (nature and disability)? It is such a difference that opens a hole in our representations, allowing for vulnerability and a more relational understanding of who we are in the world.

 

Wall-E shows how the dual use of disability studies and ecocriticism is productive for both theoretical paradigms: Impairment is shown to be a product of environment even while a disability that is out of sync with a socially constructed environment is valorized as a means of knowledge that cuts through an instrumentalized world, revealing the larger environment. On the other hand, the film also mounts a critique of the limits of the ‘social model’: it is after all the excessive rearrangement of the world in human terms that causes so much environmental harm in the first place. After the (un)conscious arrangement of the world to suit the nondisabled and the conscious (attempt) to arrange the world to suit people with disability, the film prompts us to ask: Can the social model (that is, an awareness of ecological relation) be used in a way that is truly relational, that is, profoundly aware of humans and nature?

Questions that might be considered:

  • How does disability allow for a rethinking of ‘natural’ spaces?
  • How does ecology allow for a rethinking of “ability’ or ‘disability,’ of who we are as humans?
  • How is the social model revised through an intense look at how nature “disables” all of us in the end?
  • What might the study of ability and disability teach us about the ethics of living in the world?
  • How does disability allow for an opening out of an ableist humanity and into a way of being that embraces our animality?
  • How do cultural representations of disability rhetorically connect disability with animality?
  • How does the disabled or nondisabled posthuman interact with nature?

Please send 300-500 word proposals to Dr. Christine Junker (Wright State University) and Dr. Todd Comer (Defiance College) by this deadline: March 1, 2018. If your submission is creative, please contact Dr. Junker with any questions. Final critical essays should be around 6,000 words in length. Emails: tcomer@defiance.edu and christine.wilson@wright.edu.

 

This double issue is expected to be published in 2019.