The materials below are from Margaret’s 2014 SDS presentation. Please visit Margaret’s website for her current work.
Transient Spaces and the Traces They Leave
Image description: A profile view of a small audience sitting in orange-gold conference chairs, all facing to the right of the photo frame. One audience member is typing on a laptop while looking up from the screen; another is knitting; another is peering into a mobile phone. In the background is a plain beige wall dotted with a telephone, an emergency-exit chart, and a plate of switches for the room’s fluorescent lights. Photo credit: Margaret Price.
Today, like Johnna and Aimi, I want to open up some questions for the group’s discussion. The question I’m asking—or the set of questions—is based on my research, which explores the design of spaces where bodyminds come together. Lately, I’ve become particularly interested in exploring the affective dimensions and costs of creating, organizing, inhabiting and facilitating such spaces. The question I’m asking is this: How do social justice and injustice play out in the spaces of academe, and how can we stop perpetuating injustice in the spaces we design and inhabit?
As a rhetorician who studies disability in the spaces of higher education, when I say “space” I often mean something temporary. The spaces I focus on, including conferences, meetings, and interviews, typically are assembled, inhabited, and disassembled over just a few days—or at most, weeks. They are intertwined with more enduring designed structures, such as buildings or digital interfaces, but the “spaces” of academe tend to be transient. And yet, these spaces, intertwined with time—including, importantly, crip time—are in another sense anything but temporary. The traces they leave in our memories, digital, neurobiological, and cultural, tend to persist. My thinking here is influenced by Ellen Samuels’s and Alison Kafer’s on crip time, and especially by an article co-authored by Clare Mullaney and Anne Dalke, “On Being Transminded: Disabling Achievement, Enabling Exchange.” In that article, Mullaney and Dalke conduct an extended meditation on time, including crip time, academic time, and mad time, and they point out that disability studies has not yet fully explored what it might mean to—in their words—“waste time.” [Do not read the quote and my commentary … just have it handy.] That is:
Like the women’s movement, and the women’s colleges like Bryn Mawr that emerged from it, the disability movement seems particularly, and somewhat paradoxically, invested in a narrative of “overcoming” particular impairments, in order to be taken seriously in the academy. The field hasn’t yet offered us, we think, the tools we need to interrupt the narrative of academic achievement, to find a space where nothing happens, to discover gaps in which normative time is ruptured, suspended.
To be clear about Mullaney and Dalke’s point, they are not saying that DS and the disability movement embrace the notion of overcoming impairments in the usual sense—that is, the loss of some limb, organ, or other embodiment. Rather, Mullaney and Dalke suggest that perhaps we as a field are engaged in a persistent struggle to overcome time itself—to ensure that all our time is packed full and optimized. In doing so, they suggest, perhaps the design of our communal spaces has overlooked an important facet of accessibility.]
Bodyminds in Space
[Define “bodymind” briefly, drawing on Hypatia article. Babette Rothschild (trauma; The Body Remembers); Shigenori Nagatomo’s (1992) Attunement Through the Body; also Eunjung Kim’s point about body and mind as an expression of disability for the subject/object.]
I find it extraordinarily important to account for the presence and telepresence of bodyminds in the spaces we create and inhabit. While it’s assumed that humans and in some cases non-humans will be using designed spaces, I believe that an under-emphasis on the full implications of bodymind (as a concept, as a lived reality) cause spaces to be designed in non-ideal, sometimes unjust ways. For example: The typical conference day, which runs 12+ hours of constant stimulation.
Image description: A row of orange-gold conference-room chairs, set in line and locked together with gold-colored hardware between the seats. In the upper left corner of the photo frame is a pink hand dangling over the back of one chair. Photo credit: Margaret Price.
Now, there are many advantages to this setup, as well as hard limits—perhaps—that brought this Herculean design for a day into being. Moreover, many would point out that the conference day is not intended to be approached as a single meal, ingested all in one go, but rather as a series of small meals with breaks between. Even with these considerations, I still believe it is important to at least ask the question: Why do we define “day” in conference time as a marathon? What are we gaining and losing by defining it that way? And, most to the point of today’s presentation, who is most disadvantaged and who most privileged by such a design? Who does it cost the most?
Following is a list of considerations I’d like to bring to the forefront when we think about the presence and telepresence of bodyminds in academic space.
- The subject positions of organizer and organizee.
- “Welcome to being part of the problem.”
- The ontological shift that occurs when a bodymind moves from the space of “organizer” (designer) to “participant” or even “subject.”
- Draw from Jeff Grabill (infrastructure) and Sheard (the ethical dimensions of kairos).
- The emotional labor of trying to create a space and of trying to inhabit a space.
- Part of why the affective dimension of these exchanges (between organizers and attendees) is so charged might be that both parties are close to, or even over, their limits in terms of economic, time, and energy costs.
- It is relatively easy to say, “Open source, participatory design, gather virtually” etc. It is much harder to implement these goals, especially in areas that are already under-resourced / among groups that are already marginalized.
- I want to ask: To what degree are our own practices, within DS, replicating the structural inequities we seek to dismantle?
- The queer failures / vulnerabilities of both human and space. Affordances, limitations. Loss and pain.
- My experience co-organizing “Disability Disclosure.”
Principles for going forward
- Collective self-care (Mingus; Azolla Story).
- Accountability (a problem with transience; also a problem in an academic culture that is structured against collective action and sharing of resources).
- Feedback loops that are more than desultory.
- Practicing alliance.
- Open access as ordinary practice.
The Azolla Story (with writing by Stacey Milbern, Mia Mingus, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha). 2011. Pieces of us: The telling of our transformation. make/shift 9: 20-22.
Dalke, Anne and Clare Mullaney. “On Being Transminded: Disabling Achievement, Enabling Exchange.” Disability Studies Quarterly 34.2 (2014). http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/4247
Grabill, Jeffrey T. “On divides and interfaces: Access, class, and computers.” Computers and Composition 20.4 (2003), 455-472.
Kim, Eunjung. 2015. “Unbecoming human: An ethics of objects.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. Special issue on Queer Inhumanisms. Ed. Mel Chen and Dana Luciano. Forthcoming.
Mingus, Mia. 2010. Wherever you are is where I want to be: Crip solidarity. Leaving Evidence. May 3. http://leavingevidence.wordpress.com/2010/05/03/where-ever-you-are-is-where-i-want-to-be-crip-solidarity/ (accessed March 1, 2014).
Nagatomo, Shigenori. Attunement Through the Body. Albany: SUNY Press, 1992.
Rothschild, Babette. 2000. The body remembers: The psychophysiology of trauma and trauma treatment. New York: Norton.
Sheard, Cynthia Miecznikowski. “Kairos and Kenneth Burke’s Psychology of Political and Social Communication.” College English 55.3 (1993): 291-310.
Yergeau, Melanie. 2011. Defending and (re)defining self-advocacy. Aspie Rhetor: On Autism, Rhetoric, Technology & ELO. http://aspierhetor.com/2011/06/19/defending-and-redefining-self-advocacy/ (accessed March 1, 2014).