Criptic Identities. Historicizing the identity formation of persons with disabilities across the globe
In recent years, ‘identity politics’ has evolved as a controversial, but also prolific concept within political, academic and activist debates. A growing body of literature sheds light on different assumptions about identity as a concept that is as much related to expressions of individuality and subjectivity as it is to specific social groups, typically described as outsiders on the margins of society and the political mainstream. Various groups like women, ethnic minorities, queer or elderly have strategically used identity as a tool for creating a common culture and gaining agency to bring about social change (Bernstein 2005). Against current discussions – are identity politics still valuable, and if not, what could be the way forward for political organizing as well as more personal processes of emancipation – this workshop wants to delve into disability as an identity.
Historically, disability politics have included both the professional and institutional negotiation of individuals as socially ‘deviant’ and ‘unfit’, as well as organized collective action from within communities of persons with disabilities themselves. How did these differing identities of disability come about? And of equal importance, in which ways did disability not become an identity? What kinds of identity formation processes can we detect in different societal contexts as well as cultural settings, and do these follow comparable or diverging trajectories?
As Julie Livingston (2006) has pointed out: « As disability history and disability studies increasingly open up to non-Western histories, opportunities arise not only for gaining new empirical knowledge but also for rethinking the very categories that underlie the socially constructed models [of disability] on which so much analysis rests. Botswana is different from the United States or France. Yet these countries’ histories are entangled in one another in complex ways that we have yet to even begin to unpack.»
This begs the question of how to take into account specific local contexts, transnational entanglements and exchanges, as well as intersectionality with other ‘identities’ like gender, class, ethnicity or age? What have historical examples beyond the dominance of Anglo-Saxon narratives to offer to the thriving field of disability studies? With this workshop, we hope that new, evidence-based studies on the identities of disability and ‘the disabled person’ from various places around the globe will not only shed light on historical conceptualizations, but may provide new reflections and insights on how we as scholars conceptualize disability today, and in which ways these two might be related.