Embodied Rhetorics: Disability in Language and Culture

Embodied Rhetorics: Disability in Language and Culture

Embodied Rhetorics: Disability in Language and Culture

Embodied Rhetorics: Disability in Language and Culture

Synopsis

Presenting thirteen essays, editors James C. Wilson and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson unite the fields of disability studies and rhetoric to examine connections between disability, education, language, and cultural practices. Bringing together theoretical and analytical perspectives from rhetorical studies and disability studies, these essays extend both the field of rhetoric and the newer field of disability studies.

The contributors span a range of academic fields including English, education, history, and sociology. Several contributors are themselves disabled or have disabled family members. While some essays included in this volume analyze the ways that representations of disability construct identity and attitudes toward the disabled, other essays use disability as a critical modality to rethink economic theory, educational practices, and everyday interactions. Among the disabilities discussed within these contexts are various physical disabilities, mental illness, learning disabilities, deafness, blindness, and diseases such as multiple sclerosis and AIDS.

Excerpt

Many streams, flowing together, have contributed to the creation of Embodied Rhetorics. This book emerges from the confluence of our personal and professional lives and is fed by the tributaries of several academic disciplines. As parents of a disabled child, as teachers of college writing, and as active members of the disability community, we have come to understand the interconnection of rhetoric and disability. In the nearly twenty years since our son was born, a wide array of scholarship on the social construction of knowledge and postmodern discourse in rhetoric/composition, feminism, postcolonial studies, and later in disability studies provided us with theories and modes of analysis that helped us make sense of our experiences and generalize beyond our own situation to critically analyze social constructions of disability.

When the field of disability studies emerged in the 1990s, we began to bring the private and public streams of our lives together. Because of our experiences parenting our son—grappling with school systems, co- constructing individual education plans, and brainstorming alternative ways of learning—we felt better enabled to meet the needs of the growing number of disabled students appearing in our classes. According to the American Council on Education, 154,520, or 9.4 percent of college freshmen identified themselves in 1998 as having some kind of disability, and of that number 41 percent reported having a learning disability. In light of these facts, merging the two streams of our lives not only made sense but seemed imperative. There is a need for those in higher education to learn more about disability studies. After all, one powerful reason why college professors, and especially compositionists who teach first-year students, should be interested in becoming more theoretically informed about disability is that they will have increasing numbers of disabled students in their classrooms. We also feel that the new field of disability studies has much to learn from rhetoric/composition, which has always paid attention to the learning processes of students in the classroom even as it has developed a body of scholarly work on the social construction of knowledge, histories of rhetoric, and literacy practices. All these currents joined together to form Embodied Rhetorics.

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