Spotlight Sessions

In addition to our keynote speakers, we are delighted to announce four Spotlight Sessions. These sessions will take the form of three 30-minute presentations and one panel-length discussion.

  • Catherine Driscoll (University of Sydney)
  • Margrit Shildrick (Linköping University)
  • Robert McRuer, Gail Weiss and Sharon Snyder (George Washington University)
  • Anna Gibbs (Western Sydney University)


Catherine Driscoll (University of Sydney)

The Trans Girl: Visibility, Anxiety, and Reassurance

This paper considers the challenges posed by contemporary discourses on trans identity, experience and embodiment for the field of girls studies. The growing literature on trans tends to be either socio-medical, and concerned with the management of human subjects, or politically media-oriented, and concerned with representing pre-defined trans subjects. But feminist approaches also need to consider the implications of defining trans girlhood by quantification, whether in socio-medical terms, by hormones and psychometrics, or in terms of such popular representational codes as “traditional gender roles”.

Having insisted on the simultaneously social and embodied dimensions of girlhood, girls studies today must have something to say about the difference of trans girlhood, perhaps shaped by chemical blocking and/or application of hormones, or perhaps not. We should be just as interested in the girlhood of girls who become boys, or who become men later in life, as in those who embrace and thus strive to positively define girlhood for themselves. And we should also engage seriously with how older figures of girl-commodity-spectacle are continued in the visualisation of girlhood claimed or abandoned that centres contemporary representations of trans children and adolescents.

These should not be easy adjustments to our understanding of girlhood, or we would not be taking them seriously. There should thus be room for disagreement and even for anxiety over what we make of the powerful accoutrements of femininity – like dolls and mirrors – by which trans girl credentials are proven in order to access biomedical and social support, especially for the young.


Margrit Shildrick (Linköping University)

(Micro)chimerism, Immunity and Temporality: Towards an Affirmative Bioethics

The recent upsurge of interest in the co-articulation of biopolitical and bioethical entanglements underpin both a concern for the putatively temporal thresholds of human life and the very conception of a bounded humanity itself. Taking a step further, I want to suggest that micro(chimerism) as a very specific form of somatic multiplicity, read together with the contemporary rethinking of the concept of immunity, instantiates a fundamental disordering of linear temporality. And that in turn calls for a further reconceptualization of conventional bioethics. I acknowledge the force of an existing postmodernist bioethics that has attended to the materiality and viscerality of the body and challenged the meaning of human being (Shildrick and Mykitiuk 2005), but, until recently, it has not addressed the bookends of life and death. Once the teleology of the life course is contested, however, death is no longer an insult to being, but merely one event constituting an ongoing vitalism. I propose an atemporal bioethics of coexistence rather than one of successive existence that is faced always with its own finitude.


Robert McRuer, Gail Weiss and Sharon Snyder (George Washington University)

Panel: Disability, Dislocations and Dissidence

Cripistemology of the Crisis: Desiring Disability in an Age of Austerity / Robert McRuer

In 1990, the same year that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in the United States, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick wrote in Epistemology of the Closet that “many of the major nodes of thought and knowledge in twentieth-century Western culture as a whole are structured—indeed, fractured—by a chronic, now endemic crisis of homo/heterosexual definition, indicatively male, dating from the end of the nineteenth century.” Spectres of disability of course already attend Sedgwick’s famous opening lines, given her metaphorical dependence on the fractured and the chronic. Yet the book as a whole often connects the crisis Sedgwick surveys to medical, scientific, and eugenic ways of knowing that were, less metaphorically, the dominant ways of knowing not only homosexuality but disability throughout the twentieth century.

The ADA, however, is only one document of many in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries marking an interruption in the dominant politics of knowledge production around disability. State-based protections materialising disabled people as a minoritized and rights-bearing group emerged globally, and at a proliferating rate, at the turn of this century. Examples include not only the ADA in the U.S. (1990), but also Ley de integración social de las personas con discapacidad in Chile (1994), the Disability Discrimination Act in the UK (1995) and Ley de igualdad de oportunidades, no discriminación y accesibilidad universal [LIONDA] in Spain (2003). These and numerous other state documents participate in what Roderick Ferguson might term “the reorder of things” in relation to disability: a neoliberal affirmation of disability-as-difference emerges (and is codified as official policy) to supplement dominant understandings of disability as lack, loss, or pathology.

My presentation, however, theorizes what happens to this reorder of things, to this production of knowledge around disability, in and through the post-2008 “crisis” and a global politics of austerity. “Cripistemology of the Crisis” argues that the emergent nodes of thought and knowledge about disability in twenty-first century Western culture as a whole are structured – indeed, fractured – by an acute crisis of capacity and debility, dating from the end of the twentieth century. And although integrally connected to Sedgwick’s epistemology of the closet in ways I will detail, this crisis is arguably, contra Sedgwick, indicatively female. Using Jasbir K. Puar’s recent theorisations of “capacity” and “debility,” I examine crip embodiments and ways of knowing (cripistemologies) that have materialized in the face of austerity and in excess of the neoliberal state’s management or containment of “disability.” To fill out this embodied contestation over the state and disability, or the state of disability, I briefly survey a few key sites – including occupied squares or plazas in the US and Spain, student mobilizations in Chile, and anti-cuts activism in the UK – where dissident cripistemologies might be read.

Doing Time in a For-Profit Space: Re-Negotiated Identities in the Prison-Industrial Complex / Gail Weiss

In her 2006 book, Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self, Linda Martín Alcoff identifies two crucial components of individual identity that are often in tension with one another, namely, the “public self,’ or the identity one presents to others and “lived subjectivity,” or an individual’s first-person understanding of herself from one moment to the next. Alcoff insists that both of these aspects of our identity are equally constitutive of the self; one cannot be prioritised over the other. Even though we have less control over our public selves than we might like since these latter are largely defined by others and by the existing social roles and material resources available within a given society, most people try to actively shape their public self in accordance with their personal (yet always socially and culturally mediated) understanding of who they are, who they have been, and who they want to be. This presentation will discuss the unique challenges faced by first-time prisoners who must reconcile their new public selves as convicted felons with their pre-carceral social identities, former identities that are not only invisible but also largely irrelevant in their new situation. I will also address the impact upon one’s lived subjectivity of dwelling within a rigidly confined, sex-segregated, highly technological, hierarchical, ableist, and homogeneous space and time where privacy is virtually non-existent and social interactions, restricted as they are, present both new possibilities for community but also new dangers.

Memorializing Disability: Contemplating Low Level Agency in Non-normative Citizenries / David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder

Disabled people abandoned by their families to life in an institution are always already viewed as incapacitated from participating in the key normative values of humanism such as sociality, productivity, and rationality.  The problem of reconstructing their lives results from what we theorise as “low level agency.”  Low level agency involves the analysis of the compromised pursuits of an abject, devalued citizenry without access to the institutions that traditionally provide avenues for chronicling lives in the most unlivable circumstances. To date, most studies of the T4 program analyse their materials through the perspectives of the perpetrators (Robert Lifton’s The Nazi Doctors and Benno Mueller Hill’s Murderous Medicine provide immediate, influential examples).  As such the perspectives of those who suffered under these “treatment regimes” remain unavailable to researchers and, despite desires to the contrary, scholarship has been doomed to repeat the original evacuation of disabled subjectivities that resulted in their designation as “lives of unworthy of life.” How do we interrupt this propensity in the scholarship of the T4 program to duplicate dehumanizing formulas they seek to expose?

To take up a more active relation to this question, our research uses the responses of contemporary disabled people to imagine disability lives in the killing centres.  In particular we have performed this qualitative research by leading multiple visits to T4 memorial sites with disability studies scholars and students. This paper uses an analysis of post-Holocaust contemporary memorialisation practices of medical mass murder currently operating in the US, Germany and Poland to examine ways of imagining the experiences of a “less agential” population navigating “unworthy” lives.  This is not to say that there was not resistance or agency among disabled participants, but rather that we might come to a more layered and improvisatory understanding of those who experience “extreme subjection” and “suffering” by taking up the most radical promise of posthumanist memory studies (Weheliye, Abbas, Mitchell and Snyder).


Anna Gibbs (Western Sydney University)

Figuring: A Relational Mimetic

Between Arthur and Martha, the devil and the deep blue sea, the frying pan and the fire, a rock and a hard place, now and then, here and there – things happen not at the shaky poles but in the seething space of the in-between where difference endlessly multiplies itself as movement. This is the space in which writing compensates for nothing but composes something else, a space in which darkness has never meant lack, not a site of ‘straight talk’ but a situation of queer torque, a refractory form of diffraction, the muttering of mattering.