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Disability and the promises of technology: Technology, subjectivity and embodiment within an order of the normal

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The topic of this article is the promises of technology for disabled people. The starting point is that disabled is not something one is but something one becomes, and, further, that disability is enacted and ordered in situated and quite specific ways. The question, then, is how people become, and are made, disabled – and, in particular, what role technologies and other material arrangements play in enabling and or disabling interactions. Drawing on a study of the uses of new technologies in the lives of disabled people in Norway, and recent work in disability studies as well as social studies of science and technology, this article explores precisely what positions and capacities are enabled; how these are made possible in practice; the specific configuration of subjectivity, embodiment and disability that emerges; and the limits to this mode of ordering disability and its technologies. The argument is that in this context the mobilization of new technologies works to build an order of the normal and turn disabled people into competent normal subjects. However, this strategy based on compensation achieves its goals only at a very high price: by continuing to reproduce boundaries between abled and disabled, and normal and deviant, which constitute some people as disabled in the first place. There are thus limits to normalization. And so, notwithstanding their generative and transformative power, technologies working within an order of the normal are implicated in the (re)production of the asymmetries that they and it seek to undo.
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Keywords: disability; normalisation; ordering; subjectivity; technology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture, University of Oslo, P.O.Box 1108, Blindern, N – 0317, OSLO, Norway

Publication date: June 1, 2006

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