ASA11: Vital powers and politics: human interactions with living things

University of Wales Trinity Saint David, 13/09/2011 – 16/09/2011

(P10)

Imagining disabilities in multiple agents

Location Room 4
Date and Start Time 16 Sep, 2011 at 09:00

Convenor

Kathleen Richardson (De Montfort University)  email
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Short Abstract

Disabled people are often imagined as incomplete entities, lacking in bodies, capacities or sociality. In the construction of disability various techniques and intervention technologies are generated to "complete" or "assist" with what are considered 'impairments'.

Long Abstract

Bodies are considered whole, but the disabled body is often imagined as incomplete or lacking. Nonhuman agents (such as medical interventions, artificial limbs, animals and robots) are called upon to act therapeutically as completion tools. To do this, the disabled bodies and other kinds of socialities are reimagined in new ways. Yet what is often lacking in the scholarship is the how tools and techniques are as much inspired by themes in disabilities as they are created to alleviate perceived problems. This session will address these themes by exploring a range of what are considered 'impairments' across different human groups and the multiple agents (organic and inorganic and human and nonhuman) drawn upon to therapeutically assist them.

Chair: James Staples

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Comparative socialities of migrants and the disabled

Author: Beata Switek (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology) email
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Short Abstract

This paper proposes looking at human disability and migration as comparable experiences resulting in similar limitations of the individuals' social capacities. Applying the disability theories to migration it investigates the nature of the negotiations between the different modes of sociality.

Long Abstract

If disability is a limitation of the social capacities of a person due to their impairment and the resulting 'alternative' mode(s) of interaction with the physical and social environment, then the sociality of a migrant represents a comparable alternative resulting in certain social limitations, too. The notion of 'impairment' suggests diminished functionality, which is an amalgamation of individual abilities and preferences, and the externally imposed impediments. Both, the disabled and migrants experience confinement to designated spaces, either physical or discoursive.

Imposing limitations on individuals does not sit well with the ideas of equality. It has been acknowledged, that equality does not always mean uniform treatment, but the focus remains on the disabled/migrant individuals to achieve full social and/or physical capacities by supplementing whatever is missing and to unify as mush as possible their functionality with the majority archetype.

What requires attention is who is making these adjustments, how and why. Basing on the idea that becoming disabled and becoming a migrant requires and results in adjustments to the 'code' of social practices, and seeing the two conditions as corresponding experiences in terms of alternative mode(s) of sociality, I look at the experiences of the Indonesian migrant workers to Japan through the prism of the disability theories. I aim to track the various tactics, negotiations, experiments, and mutual adjustments, to show how the 'alien' can become the 'alternative', or even 'familiar', and how the unquestioned archetype may fall under closer scrutiny while the migrants are given back some of their agency.

Agency, wheelchairs and the arts disability movement

Author: Andrea Stockl (University of East Anglia) email
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Short Abstract

Looking at the disability arts movement, we will examine how the anthropology of art and agency, following Alfred Gell’s theorem, is indeed the ‘mobilisation of aesthetic principles in the course of social interaction’, as Gell argued in his Art and Agency.

Long Abstract

This paper will bring together three strands of theory, namely the anthropology of art and artefacts, the phenomenological approach to the study of personhood, and the disability arts movement. Strikingly, all three of these different perspectives have one thing in common: they seek to understand entities - be they human or nonhuman - as defined by their agency and their intentionality. Looking at the disability arts movement, we will examine how the anthropology of art and agency, following Alfred Gell's theorem, is indeed the 'mobilisation of aesthetic principles in the course of social interaction', as Gell argued in his Art and Agency. Art, thus, should be studied as a space in which agency, intention, causation, result and transformation are enacted and imagined. This has a striking resonance with debates within the disability arts movement, which suggests an affirmative model of disability and handicap, and in which art is seen as a tool to affirm, celebrate and transform rather than a way of expressing pain and sorrow. I will use case studies of artistic representations of the wheelchair in order to further explore these striking similarities and their potential to redefine the role of art in imagining the relationship between technology and personhood.

Dancing impatience/in patients: building a new aesthetic in dance through fusion of disability as capacity and wheelchair as creative technology

Author: Jonathan Skinner (University of Roehampton) email
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Short Abstract

This paper critiques notions of moderate to severe disability and perceived “impairment” as experienced in the dancing patient. It does so through an assessment of arts in health collaborative creative placements and performances involving students, service users and dance choreographer/artist.

Long Abstract

This paper critiques notions of moderate to severe disability and perceived "impairment" as experienced in the dancing patient. It does so through an assessment of arts in health collaborative creative placements and performances involving students, service users and dance choreographer/artist. The placement and performance developed an interactive participatory model of art engagement where the students and staff come together with a group of service users availing of mental health and disability services to explore, inform and potentially transform perceptions and experiences of mental illness and disability. Service users with wheelchairs metamorphisise into a dancing body of flesh, steel and canvas using non-human and human technologies to create a challenging aesthetic in the creation of a contemporary dancing text. The shared non-human and human material demonstrate a capacity for creativity, spontaneity and humour that informs students on a traditional medical education journey of a new way of developing professional creative care relationships. Here, the wheelchair becomes an enabling and enhancing tool that goes beyond the functional to the collaborative aesthetic through to the transformative .

Robots and autism spectrum conditions

Author: Kathleen Richardson (De Montfort University) email
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Short Abstract

Artificially intelligent robots and machines are often imagined, by their designers to be disabled and impaired. As AI researchers try to recreate partial or complete aspects of the human being (the body, the mind, emotion, vision, manipulation, social awareness), studies of persons with various disabilities and impairments are used as analogous models.

Long Abstract

Artificially intelligent robots and machines are often imagined, by their designers to be disabled and impaired. As AI researchers try to recreate partial or complete aspects of the human being (the body, the mind, emotion, vision, manipulation, social awareness), studies of persons with various disabilities and impairments are used as analogous models. The new IBM Watson machine was described by its designers as deaf and blind. In studies of autism, robots are used a means to both reflect on the robots own social incapacities, whilst at the same time imagined as a mediator between socially typically people and children with autism. This paper will examine novel experiments in robots and autism, and illustrate the ways in which disability is used in the making of AI machines.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.