Bioethics Blogs

Disability as Diversity: A New Biopolitics by Michele Friedner

We’re a medical anthropologist and a literary critic, and while our research interests seemingly have little overlap, we found ourselves engaged in a series of conversations about how the language of diversity shapes representations of disability and reproductive politics, and how this representation stems from the biopolitical management of life in the twenty-first century. In the short essay that follows, we’ll reflect on the ways that diversity discourses have become an organizing concept for some disability and deaf scholars and activists. We’ll show how in conversations about prenatal testing for disability, in political claims made about the value of deafness and disability in international arenas, and in popular media representations of deafness and disability, deafness and disability are often (re)presented as forms of diversity. In particular, we’re interested in the ways that a focus on disability or deafness as diversity works to erase difference, or to present difference as easily surmountable through a rhetoric that erases the actual difficult work of what Wendy Brown has called, “making a world with others.”[1]

Sociologists and critical race and feminist theorists, among others, have long critiqued diversity as a tool in neoliberal political economies that works to promote the status quo through “feel good” politics (see, for example, Ahmed 2012; Brown 1995; Faist 2009; Vertovec 2012); we’d like to extend this critique to look at how appeals to diversity are employed in disability discourses. We believe that this move from disability to diversity functions as a form of biopolitics because it works simultaneously to enable and obscure the means by which the state manages life in an increasingly neoliberal world.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.