The Useful Body: Disability, Gender and the State Open Access
Downloadable ContentDownload PDF
This dissertation considers the non-normative athleticized body as it is represented in different genres as an expression of patriotism and embodiment of nation. Going beyond previous work in disability studies focusing on stigma and exclusion, I consider how abnormal bodies can be powerful symbols in both fictional and non-fictional contexts across different genres. Following Snyder and Mitchell's analytical model, I consider the ways in which problem bodies of various kinds under different circumstances are locked in or locked out of particular cultural interactions. This project begins to chart contemporary understandings and representations of the athleticized body through tracing emerging discourses of legitimacy available to problem bodies. Building on the work of Arthur Frank, I consider how the neoliberal insistence on order demands that disabled and aberrant bodies, problem bodies, reject chaos in favor of recuperative narratives that internalize compulsory ablebodiedness and hegemonic gender order. I apply Michael Foucault's work on the docile body, deviancy and governmentality, Judith Butlers' theories of gender performativity and subject legitimacy, and R.W. Connell's structure of gender to the identities available to athletes with non-normative bodies. Chaos, while natural, is disruptive both individually and culturally and must be managed and contained. Successful individual and cultural containment of chaos via normalization efforts affords legitimacy to problem bodies, or at least the potential for legitimacy. Unsuccessful containment of chaos or refusal to comply with the neoliberal demand for order is illegitimate and such bodies are marked for exclusion because they are unpatriotic. What emerges is a hierarchy in which useful bodies are distinguished from non-compliant or aberrant bodies. Problem bodies that can be recuperated for sport or war (normative disabled bodies) are culturally and politically valuable while bodies that refuse or that are not susceptible to normalization techniques become disposable as well as being a potential threat to nation.