Disabling Postcolonialism: Global Disability Cultures and Democratic Criticism

By Barker, Clare; Murray, Stuart | Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, September 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Disabling Postcolonialism: Global Disability Cultures and Democratic Criticism


Barker, Clare, Murray, Stuart, Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies


In putting together the ideas behind this special issue of the Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies we were mindful of a number of concerns. The first was our own desire, as scholars involved in both Disability Studies and Postcolonial Studies, to explore the intersections of our interests, and not to have to hold them at a distance from one another because of the arbitrary lines that divide disciplinary areas. Secondly, we were conscious of the fact that, put simply, there has been little sustained analysis of the representation of disability in postcolonial literatures and cultures, nor of the methodological or theoretical bases that the approaches might share. From an initial standpoint, then, there were some basic and foundational reasons to want to establish a dialogue between the two fields. The placement of disability as the active verb in our title, Disabling Postcolonialism, reflects our feeling that Disability Studies has the potential to make a more urgent intervention into contemporary Postcolonial Studies than vice versa. As we will go on to delineate, Disability Studies has already begun to look toward the important work of globalizing its outlook and methodologies, whereas disability is still almost completely absent from postcolonial theory and criticism, marking a significant exclusion in the field. Even so, as a whole, contemporary Disability Studies is not especially perceptive in its articulation of global dynamics and there is much work to be done, in both disciplines, to raise awareness and refine research methods. While, in the broadest terms, postcolonial criticism tends to treat disability as prosthetic metaphor, Disability Studies problematically transports theories and methodologies developed within the Western academy to other global locations, paying only nominal attention to local formations and understandings of disability. It is these limitations that we want to address in this special issue: our central aim is to foster productive exchanges and cross-fertilizations between the two research fields, addressing silences that have existed for too long.

It is clear to both of us that there are significant questions at stake when considering the multiple forces that come together when we talk of disabling postcolonialism. The temptation to conceive of and express colonial processes and their consequences-postcolonial resistance, anti-colonial nationalism, the development of independent states-using metaphors of disability is all too obvious. The idea that both disability and postcolonialism are, at heart, connected to questions of power is, of course, not misplaced. But it is an error to subscribe to a reading of such notions that thinks predominantly of the power relations involved here in terms of easy models of health, illness, absence, loss, pathology, charity or victimhood, to name just the most recognizable of such categories. As all the contributions to this issue show, these assumptions and tropes haunt the discussion of disability in postcolonial contexts, but as they also show, the details within representations and narratives of postcolonial disability reorient, in a fundamental fashion, our understanding of such disability.

In this introduction we outline, through a critical investigation of the relevant arguments in each subject area, what we see as the most significant theoretical contributions to the disabling of postcolonialism to date. In addition, we seek to push the integration of the two fields further by articulating exactly how we think Critical Disability Studies needs to adapt its assumptions and methodologies to include and respond to postcolonial locations of disability. Here, we identify a number of key terms and approaches-situated analysis, cultural difference, environments of disability, and representational practices-which we believe have the capacity to undo the over-rigid models and vocabularies through which Disability Studies can sometimes function. …

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