Andrew W. Mellon Penn Faculty Fellow in the Humanities
2008—2009 Forum on Change
R. Jean Brownlee Endowed Professor, Political Science
Change of Life: A Political Theory of Illness and Disability
I wish to explore the issue of “change” through the lens of illness and disability. “Change” ranges from the most practical changes the body experiences to the more abstract questions of self-identity and one’s relation to others and the social. These changes brought by illness and disability pose a threat to the able-bodied: for anyone could become disabled or ill at any time. The fear of such change, and the uncertainty and indeterminacy of the body they reveal, are issues that we refuse to confront: the sick and disabled are the “ultimate other” because “they” embody what “we” most fear becoming. This fear poses the greatest paradox, namely the difficulty in changing how the able-bodied think about disability and illness when “we” refuse to acknowledge our current beliefs. I plan to use the seminar as a way to help me think through this paradoxical dimension of change, of how changes occur in the self and the social, in the framing of identity and in the shaping of social categories.