Imagining Justice Alchemically: Articulating a Rhetoricity of Rights and Vulnerabilities

I’m headed home to Atlanta for the NWSA conference where I will be presenting a paper called “Imagining Justice Alchemically: Articulating a Rhetoricity of Rights and Vulnerabilities” on Thursday, November 8 at 4 pm at the Hilton Atlanta, 3, 315 (LCD). My paper is part of a panel on Vulnerable Desires. Here is a teaser on what I’ll be talking about:

In their groundbreaking intersectional analysis of race and disability, Nirmala Erevelles and Andrea Minear begin by offering a critique of law professor and critical legal and race theorist Patricia Williams’s essay “Spirit Murdering the Messenger.” Williams’s essay discusses the killing of Eleanor Bumpurs by police officers who were attempting to evict her from her home in the Bronx in 1984. Press coverage at the time described Bumpurs as “violent and uncontrollable” during the encounter, and the police officer who shot her claimed he feared for his life when confronted with a knife-wielding Bumpurs. In their critique of Williams’s analysis of the complex social factors that led to Bumpurs’s killing, Erevelles and Minear argue that, “Williams deploys disability merely as a descriptor.” They then make a more general claim about the problem of an “(unconscious) nonanalysis of disability as it intersects with race, class, and gender oppression” in work by many critical race feminists. I share Erevelles and Minear’s desire to include disability as an essential component of intersectional analysis, and I value and am motivated by their forceful critique of the problem of the “nonanalysis of disability” in much intersectional analysis. Yet, in this paper, I want to offer a different reading of Williams that engages with her work more explicitly for critical disability studies. Although Williams doesn’t use the term “disability” in her early work, I contend that her preoccupation with thinking vulnerability and rights together indicates an attempt to account for forms of disablement, including racism, in and across the spaces and performances of the law, academia, and medicine. I draw on both the content and formal and methodological innovation of Williams’s work on race and rights, as well as on the strategies and practices of critical legal and race studies more generally, in order to explore the conjunctures and disjunctures—or what I call a structural and structuring double bind—between a rhetoricity of rights and vulnerability.

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