Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Biological Anthropology Section
Of interest to: Students
Primary Theme: Biologies
Secondary Theme: Health
The Ideology of Ability, first articulated by the late disability theorist Tobin Siebers, is a hegemonic ideology that romanticizes physical, mental, and sensory ability as the default and desirable human condition. These notions of the body are so pervasive in our studies of human biology that we can scarcely see their effects. Unsurprisingly, this ideology shapes our conceptions and understandings of disease. Our aims are twofold: first to consider disability within a biocultural framework, where impairment and disease are not equivocal to disability-as-identity; and second to center disability and disabled (human and non-human) bodies as valued sites of inquiry. Disease experiences contradict the normative ideals of health, and so, therefore, do disabled bodies. This session brings together scholars of human biology, identity, and the body and its material remains, who use anthropological approaches that challenge traditional disease ideology in various ways.
There has been recent interest in archaeology and bioanthropology in how disability and impairment in the past have been experienced differentially. While early (bio)archaeological studies focused heavily on clear links between disease outcomes and physical impairment through individual case studies, more recent studies have shifted focus towards the study of compassion and care in the past. Theoretical approaches have also considered the possibility of care and empathy as an evolutionary force in the (non)human primate species. This session builds on earlier biocultural approaches and expands them to challenge the preference for able-bodiedness by explicitly valuing variation, disabled bodies, and/or difference. These approaches actively dismantle notions of normativity, decoupling disability from disease and impairment. Some of the questions and issues that come from this work are: how physical impairment and disease conceptions have changed over time, the intersectionality of disease and disability with other factors (such as age, gender, status, or race), the role of medical intervention in perceptions of disease, the spectrum of disease and disability experiences, and the role of behavioral flexibility, agency, and capacity. These perspectives seek to move our understanding of disease beyond its current status as a flaw in an individual, and transform disability beyond a binary of inclusion/exclusion; instead we reformulate disease and disability as part of the shared continuum of human experience, adaptation, vulnerability, and resilience.