I bought this book to learn a little more about disability studies and also because of the author, since Davis in a know CODA (child of deaf adults) and I'm doing a little research on CODAs as well. I really liked his argument of incorporating disability alongside, and not just stuffing them within the discussion on race, class and gender, and I believe he was very convincing and did an excellent job at proving his point. I also appreciated the fact that he used popular novels like Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Austen's Emma, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to address the issues on the portrayal of disability, language ideologies, and eugenics in literature. Finally, not to give away any spoilers, but I was deeply moved with the ending, which I don't particularly believe was his intention, but me being a Puerto Rican and for him to meditate on the case of another belonging to the same culture as myself, and shedding a little light (again, I don't think it was his intention) on the reality of a lot of deaf people in my country, was something that took me by surprise. An overall, great purchase.
Anyone interested in either the history or theory of disability should read this book. I would think it would also be helpful for those with disabilities and their family members to find a social-historical context regarding their experiences. My favoroite chapter was the one regarding how statisitics, Sir Francis Galton, and eugenics are connected to formulate our current conceptions of what we call "normal". He also makes connections to the positon/role of disability in both literature and art. Highly recommended.
This book, seven strong chapters and a brief, personal Preface, ably discusses and deconstructs historic notions of disability ("the missing term in the race, class gender triad")and fully describes the harrowingly destructive - because so socially, culturally, and psychically damaging - concept of 'the norm,' historic uses (and abuse) of the body, and with it: the body politic. Dr Davis supplies the reader with a bit of context. He grew up as the hearing child of Deaf parents in New York's South Bronx, where his parents, he reports, "were as good as any other person in the South Bronx, which is to say they were pretty badly off." Chapter Four, "Nationalism and Deafness: The Nineteenth Century" offers historic perspectives on deafness, including the fact that by the beginning of the nineteenth century, sign language had become a transnational language. Anyone fluent in sign language could communicate with any other signer - worldwide. This is no small thing. The Deaf "became a subgroup within each state throughout Europe." Some additional topics are: oralism and sign language, disability, class, nationalism, eugenics, politics, poverty, industrialization, and health. The bigger concepts of inclusion and exclusion are touched upon, too. "Deafness and Insight" is a challenging and complex chapter in which Davis explores "deafness as a critical modality." A main assertion throughout this book is that the concept of the "normal" body informs cultural assumptions about art, literature, and the totality, in fact, of culture. Other chapters with much to offer and challenge the reader are "Universalizing Marginality," in which Davis explores the reasons behind the intense cultural and philosophical interest during the European eighteenth century of deafness. Health and 'fitness,' images of the 'normal' and the not-normal body, and the fact that disability is most often an acquired thing (you get hurt or get old - and wind up with a 'disability.') are investigated. Art, literature, and media are cited with success. This is a book that is thought-provoking, remarkably informative, and completely worth the effort it requires. Dr. Davis'world view is clearly presented and wholly graspable. His methods of analysis are consistently intellectually muscular, Occasionally he ventures into academic methodologies that are a bit out of the range of the common reader. Tough stuff, and worth the effort. Many pages of endnotes, a (long) list of works cited, and a very good index.