Engineering (the Apparatus of) Disability, University of Zurich and Arché, St. Andrews Online, Oct. 19, 2021

On Tuesday, October 19 (4-6 pm CEST/3-5 pm BST/10am-12pm EST), I will give a presentation entitled “Engineering (the Apparatus of) Disability” to the Conceptual Engineering Online Seminar, which is jointly hosted by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Zurich and the Arché Research Centre at the University of St Andrews.

The seminar’s Zoom meeting ID is 675 8251 8255 and the password is CEOS21 (invite link:; the seminar is freely accessible on Zoom to anyone in possession of these data, so please feel free to share them.

I hope to see some of you there! An abstract for my presentation appears below.


Philosophers generally regard impairment and disability as naturally disadvantageous human characteristics or properties that certain people embody or possess, that is, generally regard impairment and disability as self-evident, nonaccidental, and politically neutral phenomena. In recent years, however, some philosophers have challenged this individualized, naturalized, and medicalized understanding of disability, helping to consolidate an area of philosophy that I initiated and for which I coined the name “philosophy of disability.” For example, some of these philosophers assume the tenets of a dominant model of disability, namely, the British social model of disability, which makes an ontological distinction between impairment and disability, arguing that although impairments are prediscursive and thus politically neutral human characteristics, disability is a pervasive form of social disadvantage imposed upon “people with impairments.”

As I have pointed out in various contexts, the British social model of disability is structurally analogous to both the feminist sex-gender distinction and its predecessor, Claude Lévi-Strauss’s nature-culture distinction. Like feminists who challenge the prediscursive and universal status conferred upon the category of sex in the sex-gender distinction and the category of nature in the nature-culture distinction, I have worked to denaturalize impairment, the putatively prediscursive and universal foundation of the British social model’s impairment-disability distinction. In this presentation, I will provide a snapshot of my work on the problematization and naturalization of disability in philosophy, paying particular attention to how an individualized and medicalized conception of disability is naturalized in feminist philosophy and feminist bioethics.  

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