Pushing Back Against the Ableism, Ageism, and Prestige Bias of Canadian Philosophy

I deserve a job in philosophy. I should have been hired for a very good job a long time ago. I believe that the tenured faculty members in Canadian philosophy departments especially should be embarrassed that they have not hired me and that disabled philosophers of disability more generally have been excluded from fulltime employment in Canada, as well as from most temporary positions in Canadian philosophy. I have mentored the disabled students of these faculty members, repeatedly given these employed philosophers free research assistance, and taught them about disability, ableism, and accessibility regardless of whether or not they publicly and tangibly acknowledge my expertise.

I refuse to be passive in the face of ableism, ageism, and prestige bias, despite the fact that Canadian philosophers (and philosophers elsewhere) cannot be accountable for the ways in which they reproduce these apparatuses of power and their mechanisms of exclusion. Thus, I have decided to advertise my expertise and research prospects on BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY. Since many readers of the blog will have served on search committees in the departments that have repeatedly rejected my job applications and/or have used my work to teach their students, some of the document copied below may seem familiar.

The document below is a recent statement of research (my CV is available upon request). I am seeking fulltime employment in a tenured position or equivalent, though I would happily consider a tenure-track position. With my credentials, publications, teaching, service, and the esteem of my letters of reference, I am qualified to take up a distinguished research chair immediately. In addition, I am prepared to leave Canada for an academic environment that is less hostile to disabled philosophers.

RESEARCH STATEMENT FOR DR. SHELLEY TREMAIN

I specialize in philosophy of disability, feminist philosophy, Foucault, social metaphysics and epistemology, and biopolitics/bioethics, critically drawing on work in these areas of inquiry to examine political, ethical, epistemological, ontological, and metaphilosophical questions with respect to disability and other social categories, including questions about the epistemological and ontological status of disability; how disability is related to gender, race, sexuality, and class; and how philosophy must be reconfigured to incorporate critical analyses of disability. My publications are designed to demonstrate that ontology, ethics, and politics are mutual constitutive and mutually reinforcing.

Disability is generally assumed to be a self-evident, naturally disadvantageous individual characteristic, attribute, or difference that is adequately and appropriately addressed in the domains of medicine, science, and bioethics. However, my research aims to identify the mechanisms that reproduce this cluster of assumptions about what disability is, to articulate the social, ethical, and political implications of these constitutive assumptions, and to advance claims that are especially configured to undermine and transform these assumptions.

The research has developed in two spheres. In the reconstructive-conceptual sphere, I have drawn on the genealogical method of Michel Foucault and Ladelle McWhorter, Ian Hacking’s claims about styles of reasoning, Barry Allen’s insights about nominalism, Sally Haslanger’s arguments about social categories, and Jesse Prinz’s and David Wong’s arguments about relativism to argue that the allegedly disadvantageous foundation of disability—impairment—is a historically and culturally specific and contingent artifact of power, an apparatus, in Foucault’s sense (e.g., Tremain 2001,  2015, 2017). In the metaphilosophical sphere, I have argued that the conception of disability that prevails in philosophy, according to which disabled people are “naturally” disadvantaged, is inextricably entwined with the underrepresentation of disabled philosophers in the profession (e.g., Tremain 2013, 2017, 2020). My monograph, Foucault and Feminist Philosophy of Disability (2017), weaves together the two spheres.

The central motivations for my research are commitments to produce original critical philosophical work on disability and to expand the subfield of philosophy of disability. Dialogues on Disability, the groundbreaking and critically acclaimed series of interviews that I conduct with disabled philosophers, is part of this research agenda.

For the next several years, my primary goal in this regard is to establish a research lab that revolves around the philosophical, political, material, social, and economic phenomena that constitute the apparatus of disability, especially with respect to infrastructure, universal design concepts and strategies, and the consequences and implications of digital technology and AI for disabled people and other marginalized communities. The lab would be a hub for the recruitment, organization, and collective endeavours of people from across the university and society more broadly, including political philosophers, cognitive scientists, ethicists, disability studies scholars, critical design theorists, human factors engineers, computer scientists, disability policy analysts, critical race theorists, feminist theorists, prison abolitionists, and anti-poverty activists. I envision a lab that is the nexus for a core working group’s projects, guest lectures, colloquia, popular education, and internships.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the potential of digital technology to expand the ways in which pedagogy is delivered and received and in which philosophers associate with one another to share their recent and future research. Classes have been conducted online in creative new ways and conferences have likewise been adapted to novel surroundings online. Disabled people have long argued that these online venues are more amenable to their involvement in academic and other professional events than in-person venues at which (for example) captioning is seldom provided, “social” networking is expected, and wheelchair accessibility is often considered only as an afterthought. Indeed, many disabled, precariously employed, low-income, and other philosophers who are disadvantaged with respect to attendance at in-person events report increased involvement in conferences, workshops, and seminars, with colleagues located in all corners of the globe, since these events moved online beginning in the Summer of 2020.

Questions have arisen amongst disabled scholars (and others) about the extent to which, and even whether, these opportunities will be available to them after the pandemic ends. To critically address these sorts of questions about accessibility to the university, as well as to digital technologies and the opportunities that they afford, it is incumbent upon philosophers to engage in deliberation about why, and in what ways, prevailing assumptions with respect to epistemology, equity, oppression, inclusive design, and the supposed neutrality of machine learning/artificial intelligence must be revised. Thus, questions about (say) access to digital contexts and the relations between digital knowledge-production, conceptions of the knower and the citizen, algorithmic bias, and how exclusion by and from the technology constitutes disability are pivotal to the research that I wish to initiate and nurture.

My professional experience in disability policy research and my philosophical background in disability and theories of social justice, as well as my research on governmentality have given me a range of conceptual and methodological tools with which to pursue this work. The large international network of scholars—in a variety of subfields of philosophy and other disciplines—with whom I engage in dialogue, publishing, public philosophy, and other activities embody tremendous resources upon which I will draw to accomplish the work. To finance the scholarship, events, and other dimensions of the lab, I would actively seek both internal and external funding.

Critical work on disability has, for quite some time, flourished in disciplines throughout academia; yet it remains marginalized within philosophy. A driving force of my philosophical career has been to elevate the profile of such work on disability in philosophy, as both the Philosophy, Disability, and Social Change conference that I co-organized with Jonathan Wolff in 2020 (a second iteration of which will take place in December 2021) and the BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY blog that I co-coordinate exemplify. My naming of a certain approach to the study of disability as “philosophy of disability” has enabled the consolidation of critical philosophical work on disability in this new subfield of philosophy. These efforts will be further advanced with the publication in 2023 of The Bloomsbury Guide to Philosophy of Disability, a pathbreaking collection of 32 original, cutting-edge essays by philosophers of disability, with a range of specializations, that I am editing for Bloomsbury Academic.

SELECTED PUBLICATIONS

  • Field Notes on the Naturalization and Denaturalization of Disability in (Feminist) Philosophy: What They Do and How They Do It. Feminist Philosophy Quarterly 6 (3), 2020.
  • Feminist Philosophy of Disability: A Genealogical Intervention. Southern Journal of Philosophy 57 (1), 2019: 132-158.
  • Philosophy and the Apparatus of Disability. In The Oxford Handbook on Philosophy and Disability, edited by Adam Cureton and David Wasserman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. Online first.
  • Foucault and Feminist Philosophy of Disability. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2017, xiv, 239pp.
  • Knowing Disability, Differently. In The Routledge Handbook on Epistemic Injustice, edited by I.J. Kidd, et als., 175-83. New York: Routledge, 2017.
  • This is What a Historicist and Relativist Feminist Philosophy of Disability Looks Like. Foucault Studies 19, 2015: 7-42.
  • Foucault and the Government of Disability, edited by Shelley Tremain. Second edition. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015.
  • Educating Jouy. Hypatia 28 (4) 2013: 801-817.
  • Introducing Feminist Philosophy of Disability. Disability Studies Quarterly 33 (3) 2013.
  • Biopower, Styles of Reasoning, and What’s Still Missing from the Stem Cell Debates. Hypatia 25 (3) 2010: 577-609.
  • The Biopolitics of Bioethics and Disability. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 5 (2/3) 2008: 101-106.
  • Reproductive Freedom, Self-regulation, and the Government of Impairment in Utero. Hypatia 21 (1) 2006: 35-53.
  • Foucault, Governmentality, and Critical Disability Theory: An Introduction. In Foucault and the Government of Disability, edited by Shelley Tremain, 1-24. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005.
  • On the Government of Disability. Social Theory and Practice 27 (4) 2001: 617-636.

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