Quackenbush, Nicole Marie
In this dissertation I historicize dominant discourses of disability and place my analysis of five published disability narratives in dialogue with those discourses in order to show how the authors of these narratives craft alternative rhetorics to resist representation that casts them as unsuited to public space. Critical to my dissertation is my belief that personal narratives by rhetoricians with disabilities are invaluable sites of rhetorical inquiry, especially in light of the marginalized subject position of people with disabilities in the larger culture. Because my dissertation connects rhetoric and disability studies, my purpose is two-fold. For rhetorical theorists, I argue that attention to dominant discourses of disability and the alternative rhetorics in disability narratives can expand our present understanding of rhetorics of the body to interrogate: (1) who has the authority to speak and who doesn't; (2) who the dominant culture grants the position of subject and who the dominant culture sees as inherently "Other" or an object; and (3) how differing intersections of identity as configured by the actual appearance of the body can often determine whether or not the body "speaks" or is "spoken of" and, in conjunction, whether or not that body is heard, ignored, or silenced. For disability studies scholars, I rediscover the disability narrative as a genre that provides people with disabilities an opportunity to make meaning of their embodied experiences and their material circumstances while simultaneously addressing the ways in which disability itself is also a social construction similar to race, class, and gender. Ultimately, I argue that disability narrative can be a vehicle for a "rhetoric of resistance" that I posit allows people with disabilities to: (1) move their bodies and their voices from the margins to the center of public space; (2) revalue the embodied experience of disability as a site for knowledge and meaning making; and (3) challenge dominant discourses of disability that cast the disabled body as inferior and thereby serve as justification for the cultural devaluation and social marginalization of people with disabilities.
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