Will the APA Committee on Disabled Philosophers in the Profession Save Me?

As you may have noticed, the American Philosophical Association (APA) has spread its wings and now organizes conferences in Canada. So far, three (maybe four) Pacific APA conferences have taken place in Vancouver and an Eastern Division conference, which was subsequently moved to another location due to the pandemic, had been scheduled to take place next year in Montreal.

Reading some Facebook posts, I noticed that a number of Canadian philosophers seemed elated at the prospect that the Eastern APA would be held in Canada for the first time, uncritically endorsing this American takeover of Canadian Philosophical Association (CPA) territory, territory on which the almost exclusively non-Indigenous membership of the CPA are themselves guests.

One must acknowledge that an increasing number of Canadian philosophers who work in the most highly ranked Canadian philosophy departments have been elected and served or serve as members of the APA leadership: as Secretary-Treasurers, as Divisional Presidents, as members of strategic planning and other committees, etc. Indeed, the current chair of the APA Board of Directors is a Canadian philosopher in one of these departments who previously served as President of the CPA.

I may be alone in my skepticism that this incorporation of Canadian philosophers into the APA will ultimately benefit Canadian philosophers. Nevertheless, I am inclined to doubt that the APA will begin to formulate its policies in ways that acknowledge and take account of cultural and geopolitical differences between Canada and the US, as the organization currently at least purports to do with respect to regional differences in the US alone. Will the APA Board and membership begin to issue formal public announcements and other statements in response to policies of the Canadian government that a large portion of its membership opposes? Is the vast majority of the APA membership concerned enough with Canadian foreign and domestic policy that it would even be so motivated? On the contrary, I submit that the APA is tied to a nationalist agenda to a greater extent than you may like to think.

I perceive one manifestation of the APA’s underlying tendencies in this regard to be the APA’s policies (or lack thereof) with respect to disabled philosophers. Notwithstanding the positive spin that contributors to the APA Blog put on the corporation’s past and current efforts with respect to accessibility and disabled philosophers, my experiences (as a disabled Canadian philosopher) with APA administrators, board members, and conferences have been almost entirely negative.

To give one of the most recent, and perhaps one of the most traumatic, examples: the Pacific APA failed in every possible way to make accessible the symposium on my book, Foucault and Feminist Philosophy of Disability, that took place in Vancouver in 2019. This disastrous situation occurred largely because the conference organizers were uncommunicative about what was required, the conference accessibility seemed to be a low priority for members of the Pacific APA board, and, especially pertinent to my discussion in this post, the relevant conference organizers were unfamiliar with local resources and services in Vancouver.

Will the new Committee on Disabled Philosophers in the Profession, a committee whose emergence I (perhaps paradoxically) initiated, prevent this sort of potentially career destroying and tremendously hurtful calamity from happening to Canadian (and other) philosophers when the APA holds future conferences in Canada?

Again, I am skeptical. Although some of the current members of the committee are good friends, and although I respect and admire them and others on the committee, as a disabled Canadian, I am also acutely aware of the fact that most disabled American activists and scholars regard themselves as relatively removed from, and many seem downright indifferent to, how the apparatus of disability operates in Canada. The lack of a passionate resistance from American disabled philosophers (including disabled philosophers of disability) to the recent expansion of MAiD in the Canadian context, in the form of Bill C-7, is testament to this observation.

In short, the committee is, at present, composed entirely of American APA members, some of whom aren’t disabled, some of whom do not seem to be philosophers. None of these committee members seems apprised of the differences between how ableism and disability are constituted in American contexts, on one side, and how these mechanisms of power are constituted in Canadian contexts, on the other side. Thus, the composition of the committee seems to rely upon ethnocentric and nationalistic assumptions that run counter to state-of-the-art understandings that circulate within philosophy of disability and other scholarship on disability and ableism.

Following on my previous claims, another, and perhaps the most telling reason why I’m skeptical that the Committee on Disabled Philosophers and the incursion of the APA into Canada will serve my interests as a Canadian disabled philosopher is that the Committee and indeed the APA, as an entity, operate according to the discursive, sociocultural, juridical, and constitutive public policy constraints of the American with Disabilities Act, an instrument that has absolutely no jurisdiction or legal clout in the Canadian context and is at odds with the discursive, intellectual, and pedagogical environment of Canadian disabled scholars in particular and the structural and social constraints that disabled people in Canada confront more generally.

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