Petra Kuppers is an internationally-known performing artist, writer, activist, and disability studies scholar. Her latest book, Studying Disability Arts and Culture: An Introduction allows readers the opportunity to witness her equally prodigious skills as a teacher. The book not only provides a broad overview of disability arts culture in the US and abroad, but also offers truly innovative approaches to engage students with the material.

The book's eleven chapters with titles like, "Embodiment/Enmindment: Processes of Living," "Freak Shows and the Theater," "Disabled Dance and Dancerly Bodies" cover a wide range of topics and include a multitude of classroom exercises, writing and discussion prompts, and suggestions for research and creative projects. The book is not a reader or anthology. While it features passages by well-known disability studies theorists and disabled writers, it sends readers to explore anthologies such as Beauty is a Verb or Beyond Victims and Villains, and to discover the collected works of disabled writers such as Jim Ferris, Anne Finger and others. There are images of works by disabled artists and links to online videos of theater and dance. But Kuppers's goal is not to codify a canon of disability arts culture. The breathtaking range of international examples shows that disability arts culture is both flourishing and growing around the world. For this reason, Kuppers acknowledges that the book is destined to lose its currency in that new artists and groups are emerging all the time. In addition, Kuppers encourages readers who do not live in metropolitan areas or the current centers of disability arts culture such as New York, Chicago or the San Francisco bay area to seek out disability artists and organizations closer to home.

While it is unfortunately still relatively rare that disability studies scholars have the opportunity to offer a whole course on the field, for those of us who enjoy this privilege, this book could be assigned as a primary text, serve as a convenient study guide or function as a model syllabus for a course focused on disability arts. Instructors who do not enjoy the privilege of teaching a complete course on disability arts and culture can readily mine this book for ideas about designing a single class or group of classes as a part of another course. For example, early sections of the book cover issues of language and definition that would be useful in any course in disability studies, while other sections would be relevant to courses in representations of disability in literature, art or film, the history of the disability rights movement, performance studies, the history of social movements, community theater, art and social change and so forth. But in fact, the book will be useful to anyone teaching any subject for the way it models inclusive pedagogic practices. From the first chapter, Kuppers guides students and instructors to scrutinize standard classroom practices to discover the barriers that can impair the participation of people whose embodiment or enmindment deviate from what's presumed to be the norm. Her suggestions are at once powerful in the way they promote an ideal of community and interdependency, and refreshingly practical in the way they show that small, low-tech, low-cost changes make a big difference. Access features intended for an individual student or instructor can enhance the participation of everyone. Moreover, she continually foregrounds how multi-modal classrooms where access features such as sign language interpreters, CART captioning and audio description, can overlap and yes, interfere with each other, but even that messiness can open up new avenues for communication, meaning-making and learning.

There is also remarkable intellectual generosity here. In various sections, Kuppers includes preliminary drafts of her own writing, to make the valuable point to students that writing and thinking are processes performed over time and that revision is more than merely a matter of correcting mistakes but an opportunity to generate new ideas and spark creativity.

Studying Disability Arts and Culture: An introduction will be readily accessible to undergraduate readers with its clarity and jargon-free style, and equally valuable to disability scholars who want an education in disability arts culture around the world today. True to the ideals of our field, the book also reminds us that when we study disability it demands a wholesale examination of normative assumptions about teaching and learning.

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Copyright (c) 2015 Georgina Kleege

Volume 1 through Volume 20, no. 3 of Disability Studies Quarterly is archived on the Knowledge Bank site; Volume 20, no. 4 through the present can be found on this site under Archives.

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

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ISSN: 2159-8371 (Online); 1041-5718 (Print)