What work does colonialism do in shaping disability narratives? To this end, how might work by postcolonial theorists move beyond an understanding of disability as metaphor and toward a more generative understanding of the ongoing impact of processes of disablement? Karen Soldatic and Shaun Grech's edited volume Disability and Colonialism is a timely, concise attempt to bring together work by disability theorists and postcolonial theorists toward the development of a new decolonial praxis. Through an examination of the theoretical foundations for decolonial approaches within the field of disability studies as well as a discussion of historical junctures that have influenced current understandings of disability, this wide-ranging, impressive volume also strengthens theoretical engagements between the two disciplines.

The book consists of an introduction and seven chapters, all previously published in Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture. The introduction frames the first five chapters, all of which were published together in a special issue of the journal. Succinctly summarizing prior work on postcolonial anxieties and disablement, Soldatic and Grech frame a generative conversation on the ways in which disability must be contextually understood as a site through which (post)colonial administrative control is exercised. With great skill and thoughtfulness, they connect five theoretical and analytical pieces to expand upon Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang's proposition that decolonization is not a metaphor (2012).

In Chapter 1, "Decolonising Eurocentric Disability Studies: Why Colonialism Matters in the Disability and Global South Debate," Shaun Grech analyzes the violence of colonialism as both historic and ongoing to make the case for disability as a lens through which to examine the impact of colonial processes. He also notes the disjunctions between work on disability in the global South and the heavy global North presence in disability studies, arguing for more sustained theoretical engagements with colonialism in work on disability. Further, pointing to the ways in which North/South, abled/disabled and other binaries come to be co-constituted, Grech suggests that the far-reaching implications of colonialism can best be analyzed through the repositioning of disabled bodies as neocolonised bodies. It is through this re-framing that the centrality of and necessity for ongoing decolonizing work within disability studies is made evident.

Subsequently, Chapter 2, "Orientalising Deafness: Race and Disability in Imperial Britain," is an exploration of the ways in which disability and race intersected as categories of difference in 19th century Britain. Here, historian Esme Cleall's careful, clever analysis focuses on the historical presence of the deaf other, providing a thorough overview of the processes through which deafness came to be 'orientalised.' Relatedly, in Chapter 3, "'Let Them Be Young and Stoutly Set in Limbs': Race, Labor and Disability in the British Atlantic World," Stefanie Kennedy discusses the histories of enslaved, often disabled Caribbean bondspeople to argue for slavery as a site of disablement. She closely examines an impressive range of archival sources to consider the ways in which worth and productivity were defined, highlighting the laboring, enslaved body as the primary site through which imperial power was exercised at several junctures.

Following a similar line of historical inquiry, albeit in a significantly different context, Chapter 4, "Postcolonial Reproductions: Disability, Indigeneity and the Formations of the White Masculine Settler State of Australia," examines the ways in which disability played a significant role in the making of the settler-colonial state of Australia. Here, Karen Soldatic provides a thorough, nuanced examination of the state's response to two kinds of bodies – disabled and indigenous – that have historically been seen as transgressive. Acknowledging the ongoing effects of settler-colonial practices, she points to the need to develop practices of cross-group solidarity that work to unsettle the aims of the state. Subsequently, in Chapter 5, "WHO's MIND, Whose Future? Mental Health Projects as Colonial Logics," Tanya Titchkosky and Katie Aubrecht study the effects of the colonial nation-state through an analysis of documents from the Mental Health Improvements for Nations Development project by the World Health Organization. The authors of this chapter pay close attention to the ways in which specific notions of human-ness and ability are produced through the program, thereby continually replicating environments that are fundamentally colonial in nature.

Next, in Chapter 6, "A Foucauldian Journey Into The Islands of the Deaf and Blind," Ann Lazarsfeld-Jensen employs a genealogical autoethnographic approach to understanding historic and current linguistic categorizations of deafness and blindness. Weaving between media reports, the embodied experiences of disability among her family members and the archival reports on the lives of two disabled relatives in the UK and the USA, she begins with a discussion of the historical constitution of discourses around disability as distinction. Comparatively, she argues that the present moment is rife with discourses that are more destructive to the lives and identities of disabled people, particularly as experienced in her family.

Finally, in Chapter 7, "Ain't I A Woman? Female Landmine Survivors' Beauty Pageants and the Ethics of Staring," Rachel A. D. Bloul compares beauty pageants across seemingly disparate sites in Africa and Asia to discuss their role as reintegration rituals for recently disabled people. She touches upon several themes that emerge in her analysis of pageants such as Miss HIV, Mr./Ms. AIDS and Miss Landmine to argue for these pageants as one of the few sites of collective affirmation amidst otherwise heavy stigmatization of corporeal disfigurement. Bloul concludes by highlighting the possibilities that these pageants present for wider reflection and engagement with activism around ableist, normative assumptions.

The collection is noteworthy for its diversity of perspectives and its timely contribution to the debate. However, the last two chapters appear somewhat disparate, as the introductory note does not generate a conversation between these contributions and the first five pieces that appear in the volume. Despite this, readers will appreciate the book's crucial contribution to conversations on the historical and current intersections between disability and colonialism. This valuable volume makes a powerful, critical contribution to an emerging debate and would be of interest to scholars of disability studies and postcolonial theorists alike.

Works Cited

  • Bloul, Rachel A. D. (2012). "Ain't I A Woman? Female Landmine Survivors' Beauty Pageants and the Ethics of Staring." Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture 18(1): 3 – 18. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504630.2012.629507
  • Cleall, Esme. (2015). "Orientalising Deafness: Race and Disability in Imperial Britain." Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture 21(1): 22 – 36. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504630.2014.995348
  • Grech, Shaun. (2015). "Decolonising Eurocentric Disability Studies: Why Colonialism Matters in the Disability and Global South Debate." Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture 21(1): 6 – 21. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504630.2014.995347
  • Grech, Shaun and Karen Soldatic. (2012). "Introduction - Disability and Colonialism: (Dis)encounters and Anxious Intersectionalities." Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture 21(1): 1 – 5. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504630.2014.995394
  • Kennedy, Stefanie. (2015). "'Let Them Be Young and Stoutly Set in Limbs': Race, Labor and Disability in the British Atlantic World." Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture 21(1): 37 – 52. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504630.2014.995349
  • Lazarsfeld-Jensen, Ann. (2014). "A Foucauldian Journey into the Islands of the Deaf and Blind." Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture 20(2-3): 214 – 223. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504630.2014.893816
  • Soldatic, Karen. (2015). "Postcolonial Reproductions: Disability, Indigeneity and the Formation of the White Masculine Settler State of Australia." Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture 21(1): 53 – 68. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504630.2014.995352
  • Soldatic, Karen and Shaun Grech (eds.). (2016). Disability and Colonialism: (Dis)encounters and Anxious Intersectionalities. New York: Routledge.
  • Titchkosky, Tanya and Katie Aubrecht. (2015). "WHO's MIND, Whose Future? Mental Health Projects as Colonial Logics." Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture 21(1): 69 – 84. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504630.2014.996994
  • Tuck, Eve and K. Wayne Yang. (2012). "Decolonization is Not a Metaphor." Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society 1(1): 1 – 40.
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