One of the most valuable questions that Disability Studies often calls us to ask, echoing Judith Butler's sentiments on Gilles Deleuze's important essay, is simply "What can a body do?" (Examined Life, 2008; Deleuze, 1992). At first glance, this reflection seems to speak to the normalized and normalizing conditions of the body and its actions–topics which have been tirelessly examined throughout the forging of the field. Yet, perhaps more interesting and more valuable are the ways in which the question bears upon, resists, or grinds up against the sociopolitical and cultural systems within which bodies function. A Critical Disability Studies approach, however, may suggest that the question, "what can a body do?" itself is incomplete, or, at least, inadequate to do this work. A better question might be "what can a body do to ____?" Critical Disability Studies frameworks allow us to fill in new, more flexible, more holistic, and more dissenting questions: what can a (disabled) body do to domesticity? What can it do to industry? To neoliberal capitalism? To national trajectories? When brought to bear on these political and cultural structures, we are provided a lens which destabilizes and denaturalizes, challenging the roles these factors play in producing a more equitable world.

In this way, the field of Critical Disability Studies pushes beyond the simple, sometimes anemic, often apolitical, analyses of Disability Studies, to address not only ableism, and disability oppressions, but also the ways in which disability frameworks can rupture the most basic foundations of modern social structures and political economies. It engages in the practice of imagining alternative futurities, marked not by the developmentalist narratives of mainstream liberal progressivism, but the atemporal horizon-building practices of radical dissent. The best works in Critical Disability Studies press themselves, in the words of Kateřina Kolářová (2014), to imagine "crip horizons"–alternative possibilities in which disability (and its interpretive frames, epistemologies, and ontologies) is rendered desirable, and the structures which surround it, profoundly contested. The potential of the field to shake up normative categories performs an apparent alchemy, drawing new disabled bodies and structures from their hiding in an obscuring able-bodied fold. This brand of Disability Studies, taking on a role as a future-dawned transformative practice, is necessarily interdisciplinary and coalitional. While the field may seek to lend its focus, naturally, to the phenomenon of disability, it must work to assess the ways in which disability oppressions emerge from and interact with other sociopolitical issues and fields of study. We may ultimately suggest that Critical Disability Studies is the following: an investment in the belief that a body, or rather, certain types of bodies, and the orientations which accompany them, can give way to coalitional, radical, alternatively-embodied horizons.

  • Deleuze, G. (1992) Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza. New York: Zone Books.
  • Kolářová, K. (2014) "The inarticulate post-socialist crip: On the cruel optimism of neoliberal transformations in the Czech Republic." Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 8(3), 257-274. https://doi.org/10.3828/jlcds.2014.22
  • Marin, L. & Imperial, B. (Producers), Taylor, A. (Director). (2008). Examined Life [Motion Picture]. United States: Zeitgeist Films.
Return to Top of Page


Copyright (c) 2017 David Heisinger-Nixon

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated. 

If you encounter problems with the site or have comments to offer, including any access difficulty due to incompatibility with adaptive technology, please contact the web manager, Maureen Walsh. Disability Studies Quarterly is published by The Ohio State University Libraries in partnership with the Society for Disability Studies.

ISSN: 2159-8371