Anthropology and ableism

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14 Scopus citations


This article continues the tradition of writing about embodied knowledge production to highlight the underanalyzed issue of ableism, providing an opening for a disciplinary reckoning with oppressive legacies towards creating collective access in anthropology and academia. Building on the creative and collaborative labor of disabled and allied anthropologists, I argue that ableism is inherent to anthropology's disciplinary formations—especially expectations pertaining to fieldwork. I make a series of claims related to this argument: The continuation of fieldwork practices from the colonial model naturalizes able bodyminds, and without intervention, reproduces ableist anthropology. The normate anthropologist has always had a “nondisabled” bodymind, but once disability became a proper object for anthropology, a line was solidified between “anthropologist” and “the disabled,” thereby making disabled anthropologist a seemingly conceptual impossibility. The effect of the anthropological gaze turning towards disability introduced a “corporeal unconscious” in the discipline; the specter of becoming disabled (becoming subject to the anthropological gaze rather than being its source) haunts fieldwork and heightens the anxious relation of anthropology to disability. Illuminating the normative underpinnings of anthropology and embracing the unbearable possibility that we all might be(come) disabled should move us to collectively consider what anthropology might be otherwise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-20
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 18 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the American Anthropological Association


  • ableism
  • accessibility
  • disability
  • ethnograph
  • fieldwork


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