International critical disability studies scholar, Professor Rosemarie Garland-Thomson from Emory University in the USA spent last week at La Trobe University. Professor Garland-Thomson was a guest of the La Trobe Law School. During her visit she spoke at two events hosted by the Human Rights, Gender and Sexuality Cluster of the Transforming Human Societies RFA: a workshop on “Critical Disability Studies” at the Melbourne campus and a Public Lecture on “Eugenic World Building and the Problem of Disability” at the State Library of Victoria.
The workshop explored the crucial challenge for Critical Disability Studies – developing an argument for why disabled people should be in the world, should inhabit our democratic, shared public sphere. The workshop explored the ideological and material separation of a national citizenry into the worthy and unworthy based on physiological variations imagined as immutable differences.
The public lecture focused on the way “Eugenic World Building” strives to eliminate disability and, along with it, people with disabilities from human communities through scientific and medical technologies, such as genetic manipulation, selective abortion, and medical normalisation. Professor Garland-Thomson argued that a eugenic understanding of disability as inherent biological inferiority leads only to addressing disability through systems of compensation and normalisation and, when this fails, through systems of exclusion and elimination. She argued, instead, that the traits and ways of being in the world we think of as disabilities must be understood as the natural variations, abilities, and limitations inherent in human embodiment.
These events were supported by the Law School and the Living with Disability Research Centre at La Trobe University