Making Space for Others: Disability, Subjectivity, and Acknowledgement in Adrienne Asch and Fernand Deligny

Paper delivered at Breaking Through: Textures and Aesthetics of Rupture–English Student Association Graduate Conference. The Graduate Center, CUNY.

In the article “Critical Race Theory, Feminism, and Disability: Reflections on Social Justice and Personal Identity” (2001), Adrienne Asch, disability scholar and proponent of the model of disability as human variation, argues that what people perceive as disability is often the result of adverse environmental conditions that cause differences in performance by privileging certain types of bodies over others. The model of disability as human variation frames impairment as a universal condition and suggests that environmental accommodations can facilitate the integration of disabled bodies to the productive apparatus. This paper argues that Asch’s support of the model of disability as human variation follows a neoliberal logic in that it equates validation with productivity and it fails to consider alternative modes of validation for beings who experience severe forms of disability that foreclose any possibility for the “productive subject” to emerge. Following, it examines Adrienne Asch’s model of disability as human variation alongside the work of Fernand Deligny, French philosopher and psychologist who between the 1960s and 1980s led a series of experiences in communal living with profoundly or “non-functional” autistic children. His project attempted to explore modes of being outside the subject, outside language and interpretation. Although his work remains unknown to many, several post-Foucauldian theorists of subjectivity including Deleuze and Guattari, Giorgio Agamben, Erin Manning, and Brian Massumi have picked up his thoughts on other ways of being in the world. This paper yuxtaposes Deligny’s and Asch’s approaches to disability to think about validation of beings beyond functionality and to imagine what it would mean to assume the responsibility of guaranteeing environmental conditions that allow for other modes of existence to emerge and thrive.

Full article available upon request.