CFP: Movement Politics

This special issue of Social Text will examine discourses of physical debility and social mobility in concert with social movement politics, broadly construed.  The broader rubric of disability is an especially apt lens through which to launch a political agenda, if only because some scholars have argued that the potential for bodily frailty is a universal condition, that debility is a meta-identity that all human beings will eventually inhabit, whether through unforeseen accidents or through the presumed life course stages of aging.  If this argument provides a theoretical language through which to discuss shared forms of injury and suffering, it also potentially overlooks the fact that some people will inevitably find it more difficult than others to slide in and out of clinical and bureaucratic categories.  On the flip side, given the expanding purview of disability to include even those afflictions (like stuttering or dyslexia) that may well become imperceptible subsequent to treatment, one might wonder whether–and to what extent–a hidden disability might be construed as a form of passing.  If so, to what does that transitive verb refer?  To the act of passing between different social spheres?  Through different presumed stages in an individual life course?  Through different intellectual traditions or political projects, perhaps?  And might passing mark subjectivities that exceed enshrined conceptions of race and disability, as with gender non-conforming social actors who inhabit identities that aren’t always readily discernable?  With these and other questions in mind, this issue of Social Text is designed to elicit critical conversation about what it means to inhabit what some scholars have dubbed a post-social movement moment. 


How then do we move between different political projects and intellectual traditions?  How, for instance, might we reconcile diverse notions of possibility–of mobility and access–in a purportedly post-racial moment?  In the era of color-blind racism, how does a post-racial critical race theory inform crip theory produced in the wake of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990, where disabled subjects are integrated into the body politic, ostensibly as rights-bearing citizens but without confidence that they will be able to secure the full range of entitlements they are now granted under the law?  What accounts for the remarkable traction that discourses of rehabilitation continue to have for creating forms of racial exclusion (particularly in carceral institutions), for framing disability as a predicament that is best remedied through individual narratives of overcoming (especially in clinical settings) and for attaching to evangelical conceptions of queer sexuality as a “choice” (one that can allegedly be reversed through salvation, in some incarnations of Christianity)?  These are some of the questions we hope contributors might consider.  Others include: 


  • Navigating the Transnational Turn

How might we complicate discourses of globalization, transnationalism, and diaspora that rely on a sense of mobility, but frequently overlook the way these processes are structured by populations who are stagnant, immobile?


  • The Body and its Parts

How are constituent elements of the body considered to be in need of treatment through, for instance, scientific research invested in locating the alleged source for deviant behavior (i.e., criminal activity and queer sexuality) in genetic coding? 


  • The Limits of Progress

The scientific conception of evolution, from early hominids through the present, frames human progress as increased efficacy at bipedal progress and rational thought; but how have these two presumed capacities–to walk and think in normative ways–elided the category of social actors with a rather different orientation to perception and mobility?


  • The Age of Secularism

Since theories of the secular revelation have struggled to account for insights that arrive spontaneously, apparently exceeding the human capacity for reasoned deliberation, it might be useful to think more carefully about how one classifies this particular sort of gift.  What accounts for the remarkable traction that discourses of giftedness and accursedness have among populations at the margins, whether racial minorities or disabled subjects?  How do we theorize the stakes of a social exclusion that is allegedly possessed of unforeseen benefits?


  • The Post-Welfare State

Might we think of the post-welfare state not simply as a bureaucratic apparatus responsible for delivering access to disabled subjects but as a polity whose mechanism of justice must also inhere in efforts to reduce the vast discrepancies between different forms of labor, of production? 


  • What is “Disabled” in the Disabled Subject?

What sorts of diseases/illnesses/predicaments count as disabilities and on what grounds are they equivalent (as the very category presumes)?  How do we think about the relationship between sensory enhancement (via cosmetic surgery and through technologies that are increasingly attached to the human signature, whether in retinal scans or finger keys) and the sensory deprivation some disabled subjects are born with or acquire?  What are the social consequences of the US military’s interest in recruiting exquisite physical specimens, and how do we measure this definition of fitness against the contempt/pity that wounded war veterans experience (and what calculus is used to determine how soldiers are assessed damages based on the injuries they have suffered)?  If we might treat the disabled subject as an “assemblage” within which its constituent elements and variegated social ties are carefully inscribed, how do we make sense of the competing forms of recognition in which people cultivate affective attachments and forms of political belonging?  


The term disability has at least one origin in the bureaucratic designation for people who could no longer qualify as laborers.  In this context, disability was initially tied to vagrancy–a transience born of economic dislocation–though it would ultimately come to mark someone who was immobilized through medical illness or physical impairment.  The lens of movement politics offers a clear articulation with labor and with other economic and political cleavages in which the predicament of disability is implicated.  Scholars interested in contributing to this special issue are encouraged to consider how their projects align with any one, or several, of these four genres of movement: social movement politics, social mobility in economic and political aspirations, physical debility/disability, and the spectacle of the disabled body in commodified arenas (whether music, publishing, film, or sports).


Please email abstracts for proposed submissions (not to exceed 1,000 words) to by February 1, 2010. 

Michael Ralph