Contributors are invited to write on the topic above from either a research or an activism perspective. Abstracts and contributions must be written in English and in a style accessible to a wide audience. Please submit abstracts to or

No later than 1st September 2014

GUEST EDITORS: Tamara Shefer and Kharnita Mohamed

Conceptual Rationale:

Discourses of normalcy are fundamental to the construction of the social world and organise relations between persons, persons and the state, persons and institutions and intra-psychic relations. Conversely discourses about pathology and the abnormal underpin the regulation and disciplining of subjectivities intersected with ideas about race, gender, class, ethnicities, nationalisms, and other identity vectors. The binarism of normal/abnormal is profoundly interwoven into existing power and privilege, reflecting and serving to rationalise and bolster the marginalisation and ‘othering’ of certain bodies, minds, affects and so on. Disability discourse is pervasive, is invariably normalised and ranges through idealized notions of bodies, relations, psyches, institutions, and nation-states. The suppression of diversity, the negation of potential futures (and presents and pasts) and notions about the im/perfectibility of the human are infused with fears about disability.

For example, disability discourse provides the impetus for neo-eugenics projects centred on genome testing and undergirds ideas about parenting and reproductive choice and what kinds of people count as fully human. The relations between reproduction and disability is mediated through women’s bodies which are often the battlegrounds through which normalcy is negotiated. Regardless of whether a decision is pro-life or pro-choice, many aspects of the social are mobilised and come together to make a seemingly normative choice about termination when a foetus presents as ‘risky’ or ‘defective’ or ‘disabled’: medical, legal, social, bioethical, cultural, religious, gendered notions of parenting and care, ideas about the foetus/child’s possibility for labour and work in the future, the foetus/child’s possibility for interacting as a social being in the future and so forth. It is the ideology of ability (Siebers, 2008) or the discourse of normalcy (Davis, 2006) that provides the horizon of possibilities or limitations through which these bioethical considerations are made. This is merely one of myriad examples in which disability prefigures, modifies, and codifies possibilities and regulates everyday life.

Needless to say, disability is deeply gendered (Fine & Asch, 1988; Gerschick, 2000, Garland-Thompson, 2002; Smith & Hutchison, 2004; Wendell, 2006; Hall, 2011). Women are invariably adversely affected by disability (Fine & Asch; 1988; Smith & Hutchison; Hall, 2011). Disabled women tend to be poorer than their male counterparts, undereducated (Emmett, 2006) more likely to be at risk from sexual abuse, may be forcibly sterilised, tend to be desexualised and undesirable as potential partners (Sait et al, 2009) or as Asch and Fine (1988) have argued, experience sexism without the pedestal. Disabled men develop strategies in relation to hegemonic masculinity (Gerschick and Miller, 2000) and destabilise ideas about masculinity and patriarchal privilege (Shuttleworth, Wedgwood & Wilson, 2012). In an influential essay, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (2002: 1) stated that ‘integrating disability as a category of analysis and a system of representation deepens, expands, and challenges feminist theory’ and reimagines and transforms both gender and disability (see Hall, 2011; Wendell, 2006).

Disability studies provides crucial insights into amongst others subjectivity, identities, embodiment, epistemology, ontology, methodology, pedagogy, practices and resources for citizenship, representation, the relation between language and materiality, institutional praxis, exclusion and inclusion, capital, liberalism and neoliberalism; spatiality and the built environment. Disability is part of the discourse on euthanasia and what counts as life and who has the right to determine the end of life (Ouellette, 2011). Disability figures in racialised and heteronormative ideas about sexualities when certain sexualities like LGBT and black desire and sexual expression are pathologised and treated as deviant. Un/desirable body types, female genital cutting and male circumcision, whether bodies should have either a penis or a vagina and corrected if they have both; ideas about women’s hysteria and black men’s hypermasculinity are mediated by discourses on ‘proper’ gendered behaviour and bodies. Normative notions of ability/disability may also shape whether buildings need stairs or ramps and how the built environment is configured. Communicative practices and pedagogy are informed by dis/ability discourse such as whether writing should be visual or tactile; language should be spoken or signed; what kinds of learning count at schools and what forms of intelligence are socially valuable and marketable. This is by no means a comprehensive catalogue. As a category of analysis disability enables a range of entry points into what it means to be human and the conditions for inclusion and exclusion.

Although there has been some work done on disability in South Africa (e.g. Watermeyer et al, 2006; Machlachlan & Swartz, 2009; Sait et al, 2009; Popplestone, 2009) and globally disability is emerging as a field of study, disability and its complex intersection with gender and other forms of inequality, remains understudied. There are very few studies of disability from a feminist or gendered perspective and less so from an African feminist perspective. This special issue attempts to address this lacuna and calls for papers that looks at the intersection of disability and gender.

Articles that speak to any of the following areas and/or others related to disability and gender are welcomed:

  • Embodiment
  • Representations of disability
  • Sociocultural experiences of disability and intersections with race, class, geography etc.
  • Reflections on gender and the intersection with particular disabilities: sensory, physical, intellectual, psychological etc.
  • Citizenship, nationalism, ethnicities
  • Education
  • Labour and employment
  • Spatiality and the built environment
  • Childhood, parenting and care
  • Sexuality and intimacy
  • Communicative practices
  • Methodology and research praxis
  • Access to services



Asch, A. & Fine, M. 1988. Introduction: Beyond pedestals. In M. Fine & A. Asch (eds) 1988. Women with Disabilities: Essays in Psychology, Culture and Politics (pp. 1-38). Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Davis, L. 2006. Constructing Normalcy: the Bell Curve, the Novel and the Invention of the Normal Body in the Nineteenth Century. In L. Davis (ed.) The Disability Studies Reader, 2nd ed. (pp. 3-16). New York and London: Routledge.
Emmett, T. 2006. Disability, Poverty, Gender and Race. In B. Watermeyer, L. Swartz, T. Lorenzo, M. Schneider, & M. Priestley (eds) Disability and Social Change: a South African Agenda (pp. 207-233). Cape Town: HSRC Press.
Fine, M. & Asch, A. (eds) 1988. Women with Disabilities: Essays in Psychology, Culture and Politics. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Garland-Thompson, R. 2002.Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory.NWSA Journal (14): 3: 1 -32.
Gerschick, Thomas J. (2000) Toward a theory of gender and disability, Signs 25(4): 1263-1268.
Gerschick, T.J. and Miller, A.S. 2000.Coming to Terms: Masculinity and Physical Disability. In Tracey E. Ore (ed.) TheSocial Construction of Difference and Inequality: Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality. California: Mayfield Publishing Company.
Hall, K. Q. (ed.) 2011. Feminist Disability Studies. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
MacLachlan, M. & Swartz, L. (eds) 2009. Disability and International Development: Towards Inclusive Global Health. London and New York: Springer.
Oullette, A. 2011.Bioethics and Disability: Toward a Disability-Conscious Bioethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Popplestone, R. 2009. Are Blind People Better Lovers? In M. Steyn& M. van Zyl (eds) The Prize and the Price: Shaping Sexualities in South Africa (pp. 129 – 143). Cape Town: HSRC Press.
Sait, W., Lorenzo, T., Steyn, M. and van Zyl, M. 2009.Nurturing the Sexuality of Disabled Girls: the Challenges of Parenting for Mothers. In M. Steyn&M. van Zyl(eds) The Prize and the Price: Shaping Sexualities in South Africa (pp. 192-219). Cape Town: HSRC Press.
Shuttleworth, R., Wedgwood, N. & Wilson, N. J. 2012. The Dilemma of Disabled Masculinity, Men and Masculinities, 15(2): 174-194.
Siebers, T. 2008. Disability Theory. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.
Smith, B. G. & Hutchison, B. 2004. Gendering Disability. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.
Watermeyer, B., Swartz, L. & Lorenzo, T. Schneider, M. and Priestley, M. (eds) 2006.Disability and Social Change: a South African Agenda. Cape Town: HSRC Press.
Wendell, S. 2006.Toward a Feminist Theory of Disability In L. Davis (ed.) The Disability Studies Reader, 2nd ed. (pp. 243-255). New York and London: Routledge.



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