Dismodernist ethics

A few choice quotes from Davis about Dismodernism as ethics (and not just as an identity category):

This is a very different notion from subjectivity organized around wounded identities; rather, all humans are seen as wounded. Wounds are not the result of oppression, but rather the other way around. Protections are not inherent, endowed by the creator, but created by society at large and administered to all. The idea of a protected class in law now becomes less necessary since the protections offered to that class are offered to all. (p. 30)

Here, Davis is (in part) responding to some critiques of the ADA, where it can seem that almost anyone can qualifying as part of a protected class. He goes on to discuss the ethical importance of incompleteness:

 The dismodernist subject is in fact disabled, only completed by technology and by interventions. Rather than the idea of the complete, independent subject, endowed with rights (which are in actuality conferred by privilege), the dismodernist subject sees that metanarratives are only “socially created” and accepts them as that, gaining help and relying on legislation, law, and technology. It acknowledges the social and technological to arrive at functionality. As the quadriplegic is incomplete without the motorized wheelchair and the controls of manipulated by the mouth or tongue, so the citizen is incomplete without information technology, protective legislation, and globalized forms of securing order and peace. The fracturing of identities based on somatic markers will eventually be seen as a device to distract us from the unity of new ways of regarding humans and their bodies to further social justice and freedom.

What I find most significant is not the possible claim that we are all disabled (though we all do move in and out of varying forms of disability throughout life), but that we are incomplete.  The dismodern subject position allows us to think about this ethics of incompleteness, how laws and advocacy are not just supplements, but are necessary.

As I wrote in my last piece, I have always been uncomfortable with a notion of disability culture, but I do identify with this dismodern ethics, that we are all in need of completion. The rugged individual, alone, self-sustaining and self-constituting, is an attractive fantasy. But it’s only that.

I am quite intrigued by the idea of “arriving at functionality,” that it is possibly a temporary and tenuous state. Are we ever able? Or just enabled in certain situations and for certain durations of time?

As a citizen, who also happens to be disabled, I have an abiding concern about the ethical questions of a dismodernist subject position. But in my work as an academic medievalist, I am also concerned with some implications of these ethical questions for the study of literature. (I do not wish to rigid line of separation between ethics/politics/advocacy and academic work–I see reading and scholarship as an ethical, and often public act.) Specifically, I want to continue to think about the problems of time from a disabled perspective, and especially from a dismodernist one. In thinking about crip or dismodern temporalities, I am quite indebted to articulations of queer time. Look for a blog post on this subject soon.


  1. Thank for the thoughtful post. Am researching dismodernism and found your reflections helpful.

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