Disability Studies (Minor Exam Area)

The field of disability studies has developed as a way to critically respond to conceptions of disability as a static deficiency that is a problem of the individual body. Challenging the tendencies to see disability only in terms of pity or to apply a medical model focused on finding a “cure,” scholars in the field have been working for the past few decades to resignify disability as a positive category of being. Early work in the field made significant progress in this resignification process by advocating a social model of disability that argues that disability is a problem of the built environment. As Jay Dolmage and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson explain, “[D]isability studies holds that disability is a complex political and cultural effect of one’s interaction with an environment, not simply a medical condition to be eliminated” (30).[1] According to the social model of disability, impairment is not what renders a person disabled; rather, it’s a combination of social stigma and lack of access to resources, opportunities, and public and private spaces that proves disabling. While the social model of disability has proved politically useful, disability studies scholars have now moved towards complicating this model, using critical theory to theorize disability as a significant part of subjectivity and troubling categories of the “normal.”


Disability Studies has flourished in Rhetoric and Composition, due in no small part to the fact that so much of the work of disability studies centers around analysis and critique of language use and representation. From frequently used metaphors that invoke disability to the cultural authority granted the seemingly objective, pathologizing terms of medicine, disability studies argues that the language we use to talk about disability has the power to deepen the stigma surrounding disability. Of course, by the same coin, changing the way we talk about and represent disability has great potential to shift conceptions of disability for the better, and scholars in Rhetoric and Composition like Brenda Brueggemann, Jay Dolmage, Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson, and Margaret Price have eagerly embraced this social justice project. Work on disability in Rhetoric and Composition has taken a variety of forms including rhetorical histories of disability, recovery projects that bring forward the voices of disabled rhetors, analyses of visual rhetorics of disability, pedagogical work that considers the place of disability in the classroom, and critiques of the medical and scientific language used to talk about disability.


This list brings together a number of key works on disability from within the field with interdisciplinary disability studies scholarship. I will be reading all of these texts through a rhetorical lens in order to identify areas in disability studies where a rhetorical perspective might be brought to bear as well as places where insights from disability studies might enhance and extend work in Rhetoric and Composition. Ultimately, this exam will help me explore the following questions:


  • How do the insights of disability studies affect the way we understand the body?
  • How have conceptions of disability changed over time?
  • In what ways do other identity categories such as race, gender, and class intersect with disability?
  • How does a feminist lens challenge and enrich disability studies? How does disability studies challenge and enrich feminist theory?
  • How does disability studies alter and expand what we consider as rhetoric and who we consider a “fit” rhetor?
  • What implications does disability studies have for composition pedagogy?


This list will better enable me to bring a critical disability studies perspective to bear on the discourses of health, medicine, and bodily ideals that are at the center of my work. I believe disability studies will provide an important critical lens to analyze these discourses in a way that challenges the privilege accorded the able body and the authority granted to scientific knowledge, while also giving me a foundation upon which to explore intersections of race, gender, class, and ability.




Reading List

Brueggemann, Brenda Jo. Lend Me Your Ear: Rhetorical Constructions of Deafness. Washington, DC: Gallaudet UP, 1999. Print.

—. “An Enabling Pedagogy: Meditations on Writing and Disability.” JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory 21.4 (2001): 791-820. Print.

Brueggemann, Brenda Jo, Linda Feldmeier White, Patricia A. Dunn, Barbara A. Heifferon, and Cheu Johnson. “Becoming Visible: Lessons in Disability.” College Composition and Communication 52.3 (2001): 368-98. Print.

Connor, David J., and Beth A. Ferri. Learning Disabilities. Special Issue of Disability Studies Quarterly 30.2 (2010). Web. 27 Nov. 2011.

Corker, Mairian and Tom Shakespeare, eds. Disability/Postmodernity: Embodying Political Theory. London: Continuum, 2002. Print.

Davis, Lennard, ed. The Disability Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Dolmage, Jay. “Disabled Upon Arrival: The Rhetorical Construction of Disability and Race at Ellis Island.” Cultural Critique 77 (2011): 24-69. Print.

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

—. “Disability Studies Pedagogy, Usability and Universal Design.” Disability Studies Quarterly 25.4 (2005). Print.

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia UP, 1997. Print.

—. “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory.” NWSA Journal: National Women’s Studies Association Journal 14.3 (2002): 1-32. Print.

Goggin, Gerard and Christopher Newell. Digital Disability: The Social Construction of Disability in New Media. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. Print.

Jack, Jordynn, ed. Neurorhetorics. Special Issue of Rhetoric Society Quarterly 40.5 (2010). Print.

Jung, Julie. “Textual Mainstreaming and Rhetorics of Accomodation.” Rhetoric Review 26.2 (2007): 160-78. Print.

Kuppers, Petra. Disability and Contemporary Performance: Bodies on the Edge. Routledge: New York, 2003. Print.

Lewiecki-Wilson, Cynthia, and Brenda Jo Brueggamann, with Jay Dolmage, eds. Disability and the Teaching of Writing: A Critical Sourcebook. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. Print.

Linton, Simi. Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity. New York: New York UP, 1998. Print.

Lunsford, Scott. “Seeking a Rhetoric of the Rhetoric of Dis/Abilities.” Rhetoric Review 24.3 (2005): 330-33. Print.

May, Vivian M., and Beth Ferri. “Fixated on Ability: Questioning Ableist Metaphors in Feminist Theories of Resistance.” Prose Studies 27.1-2 (2005): 120-40. Print.

McRuer, Robert. Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. New York: New York UP, 2006. Print.

Mitchell, David, and Sharon Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependence of Disclosure. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2001. Print.

—. Cultural Locations of Disability. Chicago: Chicago UP, 2006. Print.

Price, Margaret. “Access Imagined: The Construction of Disability in Conference Policy Documents.” Disability Studies Quarterly 29.2 (2009): n. pag. Web. 27 Nov. 2011.

—. Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2011. Print.

Rinaldi, Jacqueline. “Rhetoric and Healing: Revising Narratives about Disability.” College English 58.7 (1996): 820-34. Print.

Roets, Griet, and Dan Goodley. “Disability, Citizenship and Uncivilized Society: The Smooth and Nomadic Qualities of Self-Advocacy.” Disability Studies Quarterly 28.4 (2008): n. pag. Web. 27 Nov. 2011.

Schweik, Susan M. The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public. New York: New York UP, 2009. Print.

Siebers, Tobin. Disability Theory. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2008. Print.

Smith, Bonnie G., and Beth Hutchinson, eds. Gendering Disability. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2004. Print.

Snyder, Sharon, Brenda Jo Brueggemann, and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, eds. Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities. New York: MLA, 2002. Print.

Titchkosky, Tanya. “Clenched Subjectivity: Disability, Women, and Medical Discourse.” Disability Studies Quarterly 25.3 (2005): n. pag. Web. 27 Nov 2011.

—. Reading and Writing Disability Differently: The Textured Life of Embodiment. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2007. Print.

Vidali, Amy. “Performing the Rhetorical Freak Show: Disability, Student Writing, and College Admissions.” College English 69.6 (2007): 615-641. Print.

Wilson, James C. and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson, eds. Embodied Rhetorics: Disability in Language and Culture. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2001. Print.


[1] Dolmage and Lewiecki-Wilson, “Refiguring Rhetorica: Linking Feminist Rhetoric and Disability Studies.” In Rhetorica in Motion: Feminist Rhetorical Methods and Methodologies. Ed. Eileen Schell and K.J. Rawson. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2010. 23-38.