APA presentation on negative genetic selection

Thanks to Massimo Pigliucci, of the Philosophy Department at the CUNY Graduate Center, for reviewing my talk (along with reviewing those of the other members of my panel) on his blog, Rationally Speaking. I really enjoyed reading it, as I thought it provided a fair and comprehensive representation of my argument as I presented it, and I was glad to read Picliucci’s  thoughts on my ideas.

I’d like to respond to one point. Pigliucci quibbles with my intimation that I have trouble thinking of disability as a “problem.” I didn’t have an opportunity to say more at the time, as it was a brief aside, but I will briefly clarify what I meant now. Following feminist disability theorists like Susan Wendell, I argue that “disability” is a cultural concept and a way of talking about the body and its (often painful or difficult) variation. On my view, disability involves both biological and social aspects, and so reducing the notion of disability to biology is a mistake.

The point of my aside at the APA was that practices like negative genetic selection are often posed as a medical or technological “solution” to the “problem” of disability. But, viewing genetic screening and related technologies in this way ignores the social aspects and social construction of disability, thus making the reduction to the biological that I wish to avoid.

I also believe, however, that wholesale endorsement of the social model of disability by disability activists and theorists, which persists today, serves to ignore or disguise important bodily dimensions of disability (such as pain). This regrettably shifts the embodied aspect of disability out of the picture. So, reducing disability to either pole is a mistake.

Finally, I would add that not every instance of disability identity must be a problem to solve; many find celebration of disability identity to be an integral part of their lives and I would be hesitant to adopt any model of disability that failed to account for that fact.

For more on some of the productive tensions among models of disability, see the “Introduction” to Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell’s Cultural Locations of Disability. Thanks again to Pigliucci!

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