In Tobin Siebers’, “Disability in Theory” the concepts of social constructionism, the new realism of the body, and the presented challenge of representation are discussed. A struggle to understand or even accept the realities of the disabled body and how it should be represented is a present and ongoing issue in today’s society. Disabled bodies often change the process of representation due to the fact that different bodies require new modes of representation. Therefore, though there are many methods and theories in which to craft an image of the body, both social constructionism, the body theory of pain, and the idea of realism all present challenges in crafting an accurate representation of the disabled body.
Social constructionism attempts to define disability through environments that may be hostile to some bodies in comparison to others. Social constructionism can be broken into two ideas: weak and strong construction. The weak construction being that the society’s attitude influences the perception of bodies. Thus, advancing a “commonsense” approach that people may victimize those who are different from them. The strong construction, on the other hand, does not rely on merely the attitudes of society. Rather, it relies on a “linguistic model that describes representation itself as a primary ideological force (Siebers 174).” Therefore, the body itself doesn’t determine its own representation. Scholars insist though, that this social construction either fails to acknowledge the difficult physical realities faced by people with disabilities or it presents their bodies in ways that are conventional, conformist, and unrecognizable to them (Siebers 175).
Pain is a subjective phenomenon, thus making it a tempting way to see it as a way of describing individuality. This can be troublesome because individuality is a social object and because “both medical science and rehabilitation represent the pain of the disabled body as individual, which has also had dire consequences for the political struggles of people with disabilities (Siebers 176).” Pain in body theory is rarely physical pain. Rather it is pain that is created by society and based on guilt or social repression. The pain of disability is much less bearable in this sense because people with disabilities suffer intolerance and loneliness every day because the able-bodied refuse to accept them as part of the human community (Siebers 177). Therefore, the challenge of managing the body’s pain is faced on a regular basis.
The idea of realism is another difficult method to put together. Art works concerning disability or art that is created by artists with disabilities do not hesitate to represent “the rough edges and blunt angles” of the disabled body in a matter-of-fact way (Siebers 179). Their methods are deliberate, as if they are trying to get people to see what is right in front of them but is somehow still invisible to most. Siebers quotes Wade and how she brought out the reality of disability in her passage concerning those who need care, and risk paying for it with their independence and personal self-esteem. “Crudely put,” Siebers writes, “unless all adults have their ass wiped by someone else, unless the caregiver cannot wipe [their] own ass, the people who alone require this service will be represented as weak or inferior (Siebers 179).” Thus, emphasizing the struggle that the disabled may have to maintain a portion of equality with their caregivers.
Though these theories present different modes in which to understand the disabled body, an accurate representation of a disabled person is not cookie-cutter and is instead individual to that person alone.
I pledge… Nathalie Luciano