Monday, February 13, 2012

Disabling Culture, Multidimensional Disorder?

I just finished reading an article by McDermott and Varenne that my advisor has been trying to get me to read since before winter break and that I, in my inherent pseudo-laziness, have failed (until now) to look up. The title of the article is "Culture as Disability," and it goes on to argue that culture, in its constructed-ness, creates both opportunity (able-ing) and disability (disabling). When a culture decides something is "good" or "favored" it also implicitly identifies whatever is opposite of that "good" or "favorable" thing as un-useful, unnecessary, or even disadvantageous.

The article mainly focuses on disability as what happens when one doesn't conform to culture. For example, a person in a wheelchair isn't considered disabled until he is unable to surmount a curb. Similarly, a child who is dyslexic is considered disabled only when he cannot engage in the culturally constructed practice of reading text. What the article fails to consider (and what I am most interested in), however, is what happens when culture has it so that extreme conformation is also labeled disability. Hornbacher writes of a social etiology of her eating disorder. She talks about how we've developed a culture that worships thinness as a sign of beauty, intelligence, positive personality, and self-control. But what happens when, in an effort to conform, we surpass the line between beautiful and enter into the realm of emaciation? It would here seem that for eating disorders, culture reinforces negative behaviors and only when those negative behaviors reach a certain point (determined by what? - degree of malnutrition? medical problems? destroyed interpersonal relationships?) are they collectively labeled "disabling."

Eating disorders oppose what McDermott and Varenne argue. In "Culture and Disability," difference exists and then culture pathologizes it. With eating disorders, as Hornbacher points out, culture reinforces conformation and then pathologizes its own "ideal" for being too extreme. So what do we do when culture itself is disability - when it does not simply create disability by exclusion? Perhaps the idea that "cultures actively organize ways for persons to be disabled"(see subsection, "Culture as Disability Approach") is more accurate than talking about how culture creates disability by exclusion. If culture creates ways by which we may find disability - whether that disability arise from exclusion, like learning disabilities, or inclusion, like an eating disorder - perhaps thinking as culture itself as disabling is useful.

I'm not sure where McDermott and Varenne fit in with Price, Butler, Jelinek, and Nereen, but I'm also not sure if they necessarily need to fit in with my other theorists. If, like Jelinek points out, women are multidimensional, can't I view an eating disorder as multidimensional? Maybe I'll view the woman with the disorder in a multidimensional way, and I'll also think of the eating disorder itself (since clinical literature shows that ED's have been personified, e.g. "ana" and "mia") in a multidimensional way as well. ED's are the result of a combination of factors, and perhaps one lens through which to view them (apart from the psychological lenses and the pseudo-literary lenses with which I've been working) is through McDermott and Varenne's anthropological lens.

1 comment:

  1. There's a second essay, following the first, in which Varenne argues for the inevitability of cultural disabilities (see )--what do you think of that idea? Does that fit more tightly w/ your notion of what Hornbacher is teaching us about the culture that created the disability that is anorexia?