Keynote

Why Disability?
Or,
Who Should and Should Not Inhabit the World?

This presentation addresses the question of why we might want disabled people in the world. Much has been written about the logic of eugenics, the pseudoscience that developed along with modernity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Enacted worldwide in policies and practices that range from segregation to extermination, the aim of eugenics was to rid society of disability and, by extension, disabled people. Eliminating disability and disabled people from the world as a utopian effort to improve the social order, a practical health program, or a social justice initiative is simply common sense to most people. This presentation puts forward a range of counterarguments asserting that disability might be conserved and that we might want disabled people to inhabit the world. To do so, it examines an eclectic variety of positions and perspectives–often instrumental or pragmatic–that defend disability against the eugenic understanding that individual citizens and social orders should be liberated from disability. In short then, this presentation collects up speculations that range from ardent to skeptical about what disability might be good for.

The keynote address will be delivered by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson on the evening of Friday, March 23; Jasbir Puar will serve as keynote respondent.

This event is co-sponsored by The Center for the Humanities at CUNY.


Rosemarie Garland-Thomson is Professor of Women’s Studies and English at Emory University. Her fields of study are feminist theory, American literature, and disability studies. Her work develops the field of disability studies in the humanities and women’s and gender studies. This year she is a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

Garland-Thomson is author of Staring: How We Look and Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Literature and Culture; co-editor of Re-Presenting Disability: Museums and the Politics of Display and Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities; and editor of Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body.  Her current book-in-progress, entitled Habitable Worlds, concerns the logic and design of inclusive public space.

Click here to visit Garland-Thomson’s official home page >>


Jasbir Puar is a core faculty member in the department of Women’s & Gender Studies at Rutgers University. She is currently working on a new book project focused on queer disability studies and theories of affect and assemblage.

Click here to visit Puar’s Rutgers faculty page >>


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