NeMLA 2019 session: Ability as Identity, Identity as Ability

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Scott DeShong/Northeast Modern Language Association
contact email: 

How is individual or collective identity constituted by, or articulated in terms of, ability(ies), broadly conceived? How is such identity expressed in opposition to its other(s), whether in- or dis-ability per se or a specific dis/in/differently abled other? What follows from such constitution or articulation?

Beginning with ancient sacred and philosophical texts—both the Torah and Aristotle’s writings, for example, in the region of the Mediterranean—the human has been articulated in terms of what human beings are able to do. Human subgroups also have been defined historically according to ability, including divisions of gender and race. Such categories both reflect and condition ability, in social and physical ways, as matters of ability are matters of access. Identity politics engages such matters, as criticism from (and of) identity perspectives focus on how articulations of identity and ability are involved with each other. Key questions address modes of articulation, focusing for example on how linkages between ability and identity become imposed on individuals or are self-expressed, and how the legibility of ability shifts according to perspectives and contexts. Identity involving ability can be hybrid and complex, to include nationality, linguistic facility, social and economic class, educational background, and relationships to legal systems—besides which are common observations about physical and mental impairment. Moreover, ability can be variously identified as potential, demonstrated, durational, documented, and otherwise recognized in terms of salience or temporality. In sum, there is an intricate set of connections to be developed among articulations of ability and identity, as read in various kinds of texts, other media, and social circumstances.

Abstracts for 15-20 minute papers that analyze literary and cultural materials, or that develop theoretical implications of reading identity as ability or vice versa.

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NeMLA Convention in Washington DC, 21-24 March 2019