The reproduction of an ideal corporeal standard and the divide between “normal” and “other”.

The term ableism describes a set of social relations, ideas, practices, processes, and institutions that assumes able-bodied bodies as the standard and, as Fiona Kumari Campbell describes it, “that produces a particular kind of self and body (the corporeal standard) that is projected as the perfect, species-typical and therefore essential and fully human. Disability then is cast as a diminished state of being human.” (Campbell 2009: 5) The normative image of a corporeal, ideal standard, and the fundamental differentiation of everything that deviates from it, is central to the regime of ableism. The norm of an “abled” body is established by distinguishing it from bodies that are deemed “disabled” or “dysfunctional.”

Identities of abled and disabled are repeated and reproduced throughout history and within different fields, “whether it be the ‘species typical body’ (in science), the ‘normative citizen’ (in political theory), the ‘reasonable man’ (in law).” (Campbell 2011: 44). International Disability Studies scholars have pointed to how the social and cultural construction of disability in history as ‘abnormal’ versus a norm and ‘other’ was intrinsic to the normative and strategic alignment of western Modernity as the projection of normality as one of able-bodied-ness (Imrie 1996, Schweik 2009). As Mathias Danbolt states: “Ideologies of progression legitimized the containment of ‘deviants’ on a moral ground by presenting racial, gendered, and sexual others as a threat to the development of the society. (…) Art museums, as well as medical and entertainment institutions, all had their share in straightening out the understanding of time and history, harnessing a racialized and hetero-normative ideology of straight time that could manage and control ‘anachronistic’ subjects that slowed down the progress of Modernity.” (Danbolt 2011: 1986)

Critiquing the “project of ableism” (Campbell) today, as a system of thought that constantly references and brings about normativity, breaks with the neoliberal, normative ethos of wellness, ability, proficiency, competence, perfection, or productivity and use-value. (EE)

Campbell, Fiona Kumari (2009): Concours of Ableism: The Production of Disability and Abledness, Palgrave Macmillan.
Danbolt, Mathias (2011): Disruptive Anachronisms: Feeling historical with N.O. Body, in: Temporary Drag (ed. Lorenz, Renate/Bourdy, Pauline), Osterfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz.
Imrie, Rob (1996): Disability and the City. International Perspectives, London: Paul Chapman Publishing.
Schweik, Susan (2009): The Ugly Laws, Disability in Public, New York/London: New York University Press.
Eva Egermann - 2012-03-03