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.

Locked-together conference room chairs

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.

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).

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. (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. (accessed March 1, 2014).

9 thoughts on “Margaret

  1. I haven’t read that Dalke & Mullaney article, so thanks for sharing! I’m super interested in thinking about what counts as “wasting time,” particularly thinking about a few conversations I had at Computers & Writing about what counts as a valued part of our scholarly activity (& what might be cast off as “wasting time” toward something that’s not tenure but could be incredibly important for mental health or fuller conceptions of ourselves as academic beings). I’m also thinking about the value of wasting time in the classroom…and what it might mean for recognizing different dis/embodied learning & composing processes.

    • Agreed!–This concept of “wasted time” from Dalke & Mullaney has resonated with me so much. Maybe the reason why it’s sticking with me is that I’ve been getting really interested in philosophical notions of evaluation (what’s good? what’s bad? how do we make those judgments?) with regard to disability. I like Judith Halberstam’s concept of queer failure, which has been enthusiastically taken up by DS folks, but I also feel like it may not go far enough. Without falling into pure relativism, it seems to me that we can ask questions like, “What might it mean to radically ‘waste time’ as an academic (or any kind of worker) … and to examine the privileges, pain, and costs that entails?”

      • There are also these new initiatives at Canadian schools (maybe US too?) promoting mental health by asking students to “wonder” and “daydream” and all these other Oprah-fied buzz words. Real juxtaposition with how hard it is to get temporal accommodations, and how impossible it is to find classes where time is anything but oppressive. Really seems that the framing is so important here: who gets to label what time with what value?

        • Yes! This makes me want to do a search for all the words that come before “time”

          (quality, wasted, couple, space, queer, crip, hard … off the top of my head)

          and do a discourse analysis. 🙂

          • ooh that would be interesting, Margaret! “lost” would be a good one, too, particularly for students & faculty who take leaves of absence/leave of absences(?) or for the students that disappear at various moments in the semester.

            and I like your questions about who gets to label & assign value to these different notions of time, Jay!

  2. Thank you for your thought-provoking piece. One of the things I have been thinking about is how -as Tanya Titchkosky shows in ‘Questions of Access’ – inter-relationships between space, time and bodies are normalised in particular forms rather than others precisely through ‘forgetting’ the time things take to do, and the effort involved in maintaining everyday ‘normal’ social and material practices.

    And I remember going to a presentation at Tate Modern in London, UK which was about disability arts; and where – partially at least – the space/time of the public lecture was slowed down and re-made through the many negotiations of the (mainly) disabled participants. Below is what I wrote at the time – and I guess my key point is how important it is to expose the unnoticed space and time of the abled, and that this was, for me, a good example:

    “I am in the East Room at Tate Modern in London for a public lecture about disability arts. It is rectilinear, monochrome, modern, minimal with floor to ceiling glazing on three sides, currently curtained, and with a long table in front of the remaining blank wall. The occupants are settling: time is taken negotiating and sorting the space for a better fit. A woman lies across a large black sofa (out of her wheelchair and in less pain on her back). One of the speakers is short. He rests his chin and arm directly on the table. Other people position themselves and are positioned – for comfort, for view, for friendship. Sightlines are orchestrated to BSL and SSC interpreters and other bits of useful technology. Signing makes it’s own spaces for the deaf participants. The conventional serried ranks of chairs are disrupted, adapted, some shuffled into smaller semi-circles of parallel conversations.

    Throughout the talks, speakers are interrupted where a point is not clear. Tensions open up momentarily between speaker and participant or between participants where their preferences do not align, or where translatory devices are not working properly. A deaf and learning disabled participant questions the cultural ‘jargon’. Signers stop proceedings to check if they have understood properly. All sorts of spaces are endlessly being negotiated. I am in a slow space, that is, a positive, thoughtful, enlivening slowness

    In this lecture room, the long table with few chairs behind and many in front indicates the ‘normal’ form of socio-spatial practice; unspoken but assumed relationships of talking, listening, viewing, of specifically located moments for verbal exchange – of what it is to be an audience or a speaker. Such seemingly transparent relationships are disrupted and rippled when the ‘normal’ rules of recognition don’t fit or are refused. Hitherto unnoticed relationships reveal themselves as needing explicit actions between space, event and bodies, which cannot be merely assumed or distractedly enacted; which here produce a kind of positive durational stutter. This is the process Bhabha continually points to –how he uses the concept of hybridity – the endless unequal intersections across a multiplicity of moments of enunciation, translation, negotiation and recognition (to which we interior designers might add such spatial, representational and performative moments as engagement, embodiment and enactment.)

    The participants here, then, disentangle themselves from the homogeneous mass of assumed normality and open up processes of recognition and enactment to discussion, to the taking of time, and to the explicit re-adjustment of relationships in the room. At the same time the differentiality of socio-spatial practices is exposed; both between different disabled people and between disabled people and their ‘naming’ through stereotypes. Just as everywhere else, these various stutterings are built on a mixture of consensus, tensions, contradictions, mismatches or unintended consequences.

    • Jos, this is incredible–and YES, this is just the kind of “mixture of consensus, tensions, contradictions, mismatches or unintended consequences” I am looking for, and trying to imagine, with regard to transient spaces where people gather. I love this line:

      “I am in a slow space, that is, a positive, thoughtful, enlivening slowness.”

      I am going to keep thinking and thinking about this, and reading it over again. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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