Writing intellectual disability: glimpses into precarious processes or re/making a cultural phenomenon
thesisposted on 2021-05-24, 12:10 authored by Chelsea T. Jones
We make each other mean through precarious processes of engagement. This dissertation posits intellectual disability as a modernist subject category characterized by un-belonging and a presumed lack of normative expression. The author takes a hesitant, interpretive, and phenomenological approach to confronting the question of what it means to re/make intellectual disability as presence and process rather than as problem. The researcher engages with intellectual disability by introducing expressive writing as method under a feminist post structuralist framework of exploratory, relational ethics. In doing so, this project introduces the concepts of wonderment and triple-labelling to the fields of cultural studies and critical disability studies. This work advocates for a reorientation toward meaning-making and research-based engagement with intellectual disability as cultural, contextual, and relational phenomenon that remains unsettled as it situates researchers at a perceived limit of knowledge. This dissertation privileges process over resolution. The writing launches from an affect-laden epistemology of wonderment, and thus struggles to resolve its own ethical and methodological uncertainty as it attempts to center intellectual disability without (completely)privileging normative ways of un/knowing. This approach allows that the body is implicated in uncertain discursive processes that re-construct and circulate meanings about the body, the self,and the Other. Then, relying on Foucault’s conceptions of power and knowledge and Snyder and Mitchell's cultural location of disability framework, the study describes Western cultural memory: processes of mind/body splitting and subject-category building traceable through esoteric pre-modernity, eugenic modernity, and the post-identity politics of Davis’s dismodernity. A discussion of research ethics follows, which challenges rational methodological conceptions of intellectual disability that rely on preconceived notions of vulnerability. Before describing expressive writing as a primary research method, the author also makes a case for engaging with triple-labeled people (those labeled disabled, vulnerable, and incompetent) by writing in-relation-to, privileging silence and absence over “giving voice,” engaging in unfamiliarity and untranslatability, and attending to “the space between” the self and the Other.This writing uses reflexive vignettes and critical analysis to lead readers toward the researcher’s final phenomenological reflections on experiences with triple-labeled people writing in a Toronto day program.