Shelley L. Tremain


I enjoyed reading Sarah Tyson's recent guest post about why she wrote her new book, Where Are the Women? Why Expanding the Archive Makes Philosophy Better. Since, in preparation for the Pacific APA, I have been thinking about my reasons for writing Foucault and Feminist Philosophy of Disability, and, furthermore, because I think that some readers and listeners of BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY might like to know what these reasons were, this post attempts to clearly articulate them.

Broadly speaking, my motivation to write Foucault and Feminist Philosophy of Disability derived in large part from a combination of the following: my increasing frustration with the continued marginalization in philosophy of critical work on disability; my growing sense of hopelessness about the minimal career prospects available to disabled philosophers of disability; my heightened impatience with the inertia of professional philosophy associations in regard to the distinct forms of exclusion that disabled philosophers confront; and my ongoing despair about the persistent indifference of nondisabled philosophers to the political, social, and economic situation of disabled people.

I also felt compelled to write the book because I think that most of the work done in philosophy of disability at present is counterproductive; misjudges the political character of disability; lacks an explicit and developed account of power, what it is, how it operates, and why; and, thus, offers an inadequate account of what disability is, how it operates, and why. It has seemed to me that philosophers of disability, including disabled philosophers of disability, too willingly accept the importance conferred upon the conceptual frameworks, theoretical questions, policy concerns, and general philosophical approaches put into place by the philosophers whose positions they ostensibly write against and, thus, are too obediently preoccupied with these conceptual frameworks, questions, concerns, and philosophical approaches.

Hence, I wanted my book to (among other things) move philosophy of disability out of, and away from, a prescribed set of conceptual paradigms, theoretical questions, and empirical concerns, the alleged philosophical importance of which philosophers of disability repeatedly reaffirm and re-entrench, including out of, and away from, the binary opposition of justice and care in which a great deal of critical philosophical work on disability has been virtually deadlocked.

Insofar as philosophers of disability, most of whom are white, have focused their attention almost exclusively on a set of questions and normative agenda that their predominantly nondisabled and white interlocutors have essentially determined for them and, moreover, inasmuch as philosophers of disability have primarily confined their normative analyses to the debate between justice and care that their mainstream philosophy interlocutors initiated in the first place, questions about the metaphysical and epistemological status of disability have for the most part been neglected; the naturalization of disability in philosophy has expanded in new directions; the historical emergence of disability and its contingency have remained obscured; the constitutive forms of power that Foucault identified have been disregarded and dismissed; the denial that certain ontological and ethical commitments condition accessibility to the profession continues; and the ways in which disability is inextricably entwined with other apparatuses of power, including settler colonialism, white supremacy, class, and environmental racism have been almost entirely ignored.

In sum, I wanted my book to prod philosophers out of their complacency with respect to disability, wanted the book to undermine their intransigent belief that disability is fundamentally natural rather than artifactual, and wanted the book to offer a new way in which to understand disability in political terms, that is, wanted the book to advance an understanding of disability that would more adequately take account of its production and collusion by, through, and with racialized, gendered, and otherwise stratified and stratifying forms of social power.


*This essay was originally appeared as a blog post in BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY and is a draft of a longer essay that is forthcoming in Feminist Philosophy Quarterly.


Shelley L. Tremain holds a Ph.D. in philosophy, is the author of Foucault and Feminist Philosophy of Disability (University of Michigan Press, 2017), the manuscript for which was awarded the 2016 Tobin Siebers Prize for Disability Studies in the Humanities, and the editor of Foucault and the Government of Disability (University of Michigan Press, 2005; 2015). She was the 2016 recipient of the Tanis Doe Award for Disability Study and Culture in Canada.