In Susan Schweik's contribution to the edited volume Civil Disabilities: Citizenship, Membership, and Belonging, she writes, "In any disability story there are many disability stories" (22). An apt statement for Civil Disabilities itself as the editors, Nancy Hirschmann and Beth Linker, bring together eleven interdisciplinary essays on disability and citizenship. Hirschmann and Linker's opening chapter defines citizenship broadly as "the symbolic representations of what it means to 'belong' as a disabled person within a political society in the Western context" (3). This broad approach means that the essays range widely, tackling issues as disparate as film, immigration, healthcare, eugenics, music, parents, neuroscience, and—perhaps most surprisingly—a souvenir from a French museum. Schweik's statement also captures how the book's individual chapters work best: they resist univocal representations of disability and instead tell new complex stories.
Hirschmann and Linker organize the essays from tales of exclusion to strategies for inclusion, but they also encourage readers to begin where they are most interested. I recommend this strategic approach and here I offer some quick navigation advice. If you are looking for historical analyses of disability or for essays on intersectionality, I suggest starting with the first four chapters. For chapters five through eight, I suggest readers use their substantive interests—such as neurodiversity, rights movements, visual culture, or music—to guide the order they take with these more contemporary selections. Finally, if you are looking for theoretical explorations of citizenship and disability, then start with Hirschmann and Linker's introduction and then jump to the last three chapters. In what follows, I offer a quick roadmap of these three sections: historical, contemporary, and theoretical.
The first four chapters document historical exclusions and here we find Schweik's essay on the 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives. Excavating early drafts of the script, Schweik peals back the familiar story of the film to reveal multiple stories—of veterans with neurological disabilities, disabled doctors as crip mentors, and forgotten intersections of race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality. The next two chapters cover material that may ring familiar: Douglas Baynton analyzes the intersection of disability, race, and ethnicity in early U.S. immigration laws and Susan Birch and Hannah Joyner examine the life of Junius Wilson, an African-American deaf man institutionalized for most of his life. Finally, in "Integrating Disability, Transforming Disease History," Linker and Emily K. Abel show the tight coupling of U.S. citizenship and employment in the early twentieth century, as people with pulmonary tuberculosis were expected to rest in order to be rehabilitated, yet also work to be seen as worthy recipients of state welfare. They also explore the neglected history of people with bone tuberculosis, who were often excluded entirely from the public realm.
The second set of essays are more contemporary and focus on tensions within inclusion. One of my favorites in this section is Catherine Kudlick's insightful analysis of Des Clés Pour Bâtir (Keys for Building), a book that weaves together tactile illustrations, large print, and Braille, which she purchased at the Museum of Science and Industry in Paris. Kudlick argues that the book symbolizes "a colonialist and assimilationist framework that formed blind people as subaltern citizens of French visual culture" and "as a subversive and potentially revolutionary document" (153). Like Schweik, Kudlick shows the multiple and competing stories at the heart of disability and citizenship.
The other essays in this middle section similarly explore modern artifacts of disability culture, yet they strike different chords on the hopefulness for inclusion. In their chapter, Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp suggest that the "increasing public presence of representations by, for, and about people with disabilities is helping build an emergent counterpublic of nonnormative bodies and 'all kinds of minds'" (122). Alison Carey is less sanguine in her analysis of tensions between parents and the disability rights movement, as she shows how parents sacrifice the rights of their children to maintain their own authority. Alex Lubet's chapter on music may offer a kind of answer to Carey's dilemma. Lubet explores the idea of musical citizenship: how the style of musical genres affects the level of access for musicians with disabilities. Lubet's focus on music as a form of governmentality reminds us that inclusion requires not only the right mindset, but also the right structures.
The last three essays move to more theoretical terrain: Lorella Terzi considers the rights of people with cognitive disabilities using Amartya Sen's capabilities approach; Hirschmann explores the multiple ways disability is (or can be made) invisible; and Tobin Siebers closes by defending identity politics. Hirschmann recommends that the invisibly disabled body becomes the norm, as invisibility promotes epistemic ambiguity that expands our public and political imagination. Siebers' chapter examines how the right and left have used disability to pathologize and therefore delegitimize identity politics.
The concluding chapters by Hirschmann and Siebers suggest opposing strategies for inclusion—a conflict that seems particularly appropriate for an edited book on the multiplicity of disability and citizenship. Siebers' argument sidesteps the problem for identity politics raised by Hirschmann's essay—as well as the larger volume of Civil Disabilities. Identity politics presumes that people share a stable set of knowledge claims about themselves, whereas Civil Disabilities shows how disability experiences promote ambiguous, changing, conflicting, and multiple stories. Indeed, if organizing eleven essays on disability and citizenship take on a "slightly random quality" (15), then what disability stories do we sacrifice when we insist that they all cohere into a shared narrative fit for identity politics? While readers will not find the answer in Civil Disabilities, they will find ample material to ponder this question anew.