Disability and The Inhuman
Presented at ‘The Inhuman Gaze and Perceiving Otherwise’, Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris, France, 6-9 June 2018. This is a work in progress and not for citation.
A final version of this paper is published as “Disability and the Inhuman”, in Perception and the Inhuman Gaze: Perspectives from Philosophy, Phenomenology and the Sciences, edited by Anya Daly, James Jardine, Fred Cummins, and Dermot Moran, 298-307. London: Routledge, 2020.
When presented with the term ‘inhuman’, I was drawn to consider how certain ways of existing come to be considered as not fully human, and associated with something inhuman; how such associations are in fact involved in the constitution of what is taken to be fully or properly human; and finally, the deleterious effects for those who, because they move or think in unconventional ways, become associated with the inhuman.
I address these topics in three stages. First, I briefly sketch how common understandings of disability might be thought of as ‘dehumanising’ for those who are apprehended in this way. Next, I outline why I think that appeals to the category of ’the human’, and calls to be recognised as fully and equally human, are inapt as a response to such dehumanisation: this category is ill-suited to the apprehension and valuation of the existing heterogeneity of bodies and minds, precisely because it attains its consistency by forcibly excluding those anomalies it deems to be inhuman or ambiguously human. Finally, I point towards an alternative, affirmative sense of inhuman, and a disposition towards an inhuman future: an orientation that attempts to imagine and move towards a future that is not already circumscribed by existing humanist ideals.