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Disability Studies and the Environmental Humanities: A Collection
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Co-edited by Sarah Jaquette Ray and J. C. Sibara / Under contract with University of Nebraska Press
We are editing a scholarly volume that brings disability studies in dialogue with the interdisciplinary field of environmental humanities. While scholars in the environmental humanities have been troubling the dichotomy between “wild” and “built” environments, and writing about the “material turn,” trans-corporealities, and “slow violence” for several years now, few focus on the robust and related work being done in the field of disability studies, which takes as a starting point the contingency between environments and bodies. Like environmental justice and new materialist scholar Stacy Alaimo’s theory of “trans-corporeality,” which insists that the body is constituted by its material, historical, and discursive contexts, disability studies challenges dominant perceptions of the body as separate from the contexts in which bodies live, work, and play.
Similarly, key concerns in the environmental humanities--from food justice and migrant farmworkers to climate debt, military legacies, and green imperialism--engage in issues that also occupy disability studies scholars, such as the validity of a mind/body dualism, corporeal and mental health as a new form of privilege in what Ulrick Beck has deemed a “risk society” in Western culture, the impact of nation-building on marginalized populations and places, the myth of American rugged individualism, and parallels between the exploitation of land and abuses of labor. Putting these fields in dialogue means identifying what we learn by recasting these concerns of the environmental humanities in terms that disability studies scholars enlist, such as ableism, access, and the “medical model.”
For example, when we recognize that bodies are “becoming,” or “temporarily abled,” we begin to see how the prevailing use of pesticides disables farmworkers in order to provide fruit and vegetables to (make healthy) those who have access to them. Likewise, the “slow violence” of military legacies, to use postcolonial ecocritic Rob Nixon’s term, manifest most often as physical and mental disabilities, both domestically and abroad. Further, the myth of the rugged individual contributes to the social construction of “disability,” and simultaneously, as many environmental thinkers argue, fosters the exploitation of natural resources. Work in environmental justice, both in the humanities and social sciences, has made some motion in the direction of disability studies by emphasizing toxicity and “body burdens,” but it rarely draws on the insights of disability studies scholars, who assert that disability not be understood as a “burden,” and who increasingly acknowledge that the able-ment of the privileged often relies on the disablement of others.
The lack of exchange between these fields goes both ways. Though disability studies scholars show that built environments privilege some bodies and minds over others, few have focused on the specific ways toxic environments engender chronic illness and disability, especially for marginalized populations, or the ways in which environmental illnesses—often chronic and/or invisible—disrupt dominant paradigms for recognizing and representing “disability.” Indeed, focus on built environments dominates, and connections between the environment and disability, when addressed, are done so in the natural and social sciences, often without the critical lenses of humanistic fields. If, as geographers and anthropologists focusing on disability recognize, environments can be disabling, and if, as new materialist environmental justice scholars argue, our bodies are our first environments—the “geography closest in,” as Adrienne Rich put it—it seems that environmental humanities and disability studies indeed have much to offer each other.
We welcome single-authored and multi-authored papers by contributors including graduate students and independent scholars working in the humanities or closely related fields. Papers that cover non-contemporary periods are also welcome, as are proposals addressing non-US regions or transnational relationships. We welcome broad understandings of “disability,” and strongly encourage submissions that take into consideration intersections not only among “disability” and “environment” but also among other categories of difference that are co-implicated in those first two terms, including race, gender, class, sexuality, immigration/nation, etc.
With these parameters in mind, we invite 500-word abstracts for scholarly essays that grapple with the intersections of these fields, and/or address the following topics:
- ableism and the environment
- toxicity and disablement
- slow violence as disablement / military legacies of environmental degradation and disablement
- US imperialism as dispossession and disablement
- environments as disabling in literature and media
- the eco-ability movement
- critical medical/epidemiological anthropology
- the body in environmental philosophy
- corporeality and environmental justice
- cross-species identifications and / or the status of non-human animals in disability studies
- shared / common concerns of disability and environmental movements
- politics of “prevention” versus “access” as goals of environmental justice versus disability activism
Deadline for submission: July 15, 2014. Please e-mail abstracts as PDF or Word attachments, including your name, affiliation, and contact information, to:
We will send invitations for full essay submissions by the end of summer. Full essays of no more than 8,000 words (inclusive of notes and bibliography) will be due January 2, 2015, for editors’ review and subsequent peer review facilitated by University of Nebraska Press. We reserve the right to exclude any final manuscripts