Dolmage, Jay. “Between the Valley and the Field: Metaphor and the Construction of Disability.” Prose Studies 27.1 (2005): 108-19. Print.



In this piece, Dolmage is responding to the objectifying and controlling functions of scientific discourse, which exercises much of its power by laying claim to objectivity. He juxtaposes examples of scientific writing about disability (paying careful attention to the metaphors this writing relies on) with disability narratives that trouble the view presented in scientific discourse. Dolmage argues that “all writing is metaphorical” and that metaphors do not make our accounts “less real or less true,” but rather that the metaphors we use have revolutionary potential (108). This argument is based on the belief that metaphors are primary to our ways of knowing and that they are what allow us to know and make sense of our lives.

To illustrate this argument, Dolmage looks at some specific examples of metaphors of disability that come out of science and medicine and discusses how these metaphors (and the attitudes they carry with them) spill out into other arenas of life, even after they are no longer used in the fields where they originated. For example, he talks about how educators “slow down” the pace of education for those labeled “retarded” but this treatment isn’t based in observable fact–it’s based in the metaphorical elements of the label itself which assumes that intelligence is the same as quick-moving thought. Because these metaphors inform the way that we see and understand the world, they have the potential to do real harm to the people that they erase and/or dehumanize. Dolmage argues that we need to become more conscious of our use of metaphors (and the use of metaphors around us) so that we can think more critically about the meaning they carry and begin to imagine new, revolutionary representations.


Dolmage’s analysis of the way metaphor has the power to cause material harm is spot-on, but I really appreciate the way that he works with this analysis to argue that because metaphor is so important to the way we see the world, metaphor also has a revolutionary potential.

Key Quotes:

“The author would like to communicate the idea that metaphor can be used both to challenge these negative constructions, and to create new knowledge that demystifies the experience of being human and expands understanding by broadening perspectives. When a different body conceptualizes the world, the world opens up and the fences come down.” (116)