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Bodies in Motion: critical issues between disability studies and multicultural studies

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Bodies in Motion: critical issues between disability studies and multicultural studies
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   Journal of Intercultural Studies, Vol. 23, No. 3, 2002 Bodies in Motion: critical issues betweendisability studies and multicultural studies A NDREW J AKUBOWICZ University of Technology, Sydney, Australia H ELEN M EEKOSHA University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia A BSTRACT Disability studies, with their direct challenge to theories of alterity, subalternstatus and ideologies of domination, open up ways of examining cultural diversity that cannot otherwise be approached. This paper examines disability studies as a position fromwhich multicultural studies can be interrogated, and through which critical questions about social hierarchies can be confronted. Given that national population policies and world-views underpin both multicultural and disability practices, an analysis which recognises thiscommonality seems overdue. The paper addresses the Australian environment, in which the politics of recognition, the nature of discourses of the normal, and the tensions generated inthe politics of redistribution, merge in strategies adopted by the state to control the ‘quality’ of its population. Population and the Popular: disability meets multiculturalism Disability studies is a field of study whose time has come. For centuries,people with disabilities have been an oppressed and repressed group … Aswith any new discourse, disability studies must claim space in a contestedarea, trace its continuities and discontinuities, argue for its existence, andjustify its assertions. (Davis, 1997)When a Pakistani refugee resident in Australia, Shahraz Kayani, poured petrol onhimself and ignited it at the doors of Australia’s national parliament early in 2001,the nation was suddenly awakened to the reality of its population policy—one whichaccepted able-bodied refugees but rejected those with disabilities likely to be a costto the community. The Australian Attorney General defended the government’sdecision to refuse to allow Kayani’s daughter with cerebral palsy to enter the countryon the grounds that:certain health criteria must be met by all visa applicants in order to protectAustralia’s public health, contain expenditure in health and communityservice budgets, and protect the access of Australians to scarce medicalresources. (Williams, 2001) ISSN0725-6868print/ISSN1469-9540online/02/030237-16  2002CentreforMigrantandInterculturalStudiesDOI: 10.1080/0725686022000077846  238 Andrew Jakubowicz & Helen Meekosha He went on to claim that:Australia is a country to which people with disabilities can, and do,migrate—and Australia enjoys their contribution. If there is a message to bedrawn from this, it would seem to be a positive one. (Williams, 2001)Williams’ elaboration of the message remains obscure, with no clear sense of howthere was a positive message in what had occurred. Perhaps, in a way not intendedby the government, the outcome of this tragic event may awaken the publicsomewhat to the way in which disability attitudes and racism are connected. Indeedthis paper proposes a close link between control of the internal body politic throughstrategies around disability, and control of the boundaries of that body throughimmigration restrictions; both are about what motion is to be permitted to individ-uals, the social and political status of whose bodies have been declared ‘Other’ bythe state.Australia’s project of nation-building contains many elements, though three are of particular importance here: the definition of citizenship and strategies for disciplin-ing citizens; the conceptualisation of the nation and thereby those populations whichhave a legitimate role in nation-building and agenda setting; and building culturalidentities. In early 2000 the Australian Citizenship Council issued its carefulexploration of the meaning of Australian citizenship, arriving at a set of seven corevalues it believed all Australians could commit to, without alienating anyone(Australian Citizenship Council, 2000). The Citizenship Council reported to theMinister for Immigration and Multiculturalism. It is indicative of the conceptual anddiscursive boundaries between multiculturalism and disability (and indeed betweendisabled people and ‘all Australians’) that there was no mention anywhere in thereport of the citizenship issues affecting people with disabilities. 1 Here we will propose that multiculturalism and its adjectival form ‘multicultural’refer to two related phenomena: (a) societies and smaller organisations whichcontain a variety of self-identifying groups whose internal self-definition depends ona communal narrative of shared experience (whether this is in a distinctive language,etc.); and (b) state policies which recognise this difference and seek to manage it (byrecognition, denial, suppression, separation or whatever). Multiculturalism in theAustralian context has emerged from a tumultuous series of arguments and politicalstruggles over the nature of Australian society. Currently it tends to be used in thevernacular (and in much academic writing) to refer only to group relations which arepredicated on ‘ethnic’ cultural differences. It does not usually refer to Indigenouscultures, which have other material claims against the nation that multiculturalismdoes not seek to address. It also usually excludes gay and lesbian culture, and doesnot involve itself at all with cultures of disability.Multicultural theory and disability theory come together in their common con-cerns for the politics of recognition, the politics of redistribution and the conceptu-alisation of a social relations model of cultural expression (Gilson & Depoy, 2000).In the work of writers such as Honneth (1995), society is formed through constantlyreinforced networks of reciprocal recognition of social presence, and thereby of theright to participate in defining social agendas and cultural directions.  Bodies in Motion 239In this paper we will do two things: firstly, demonstrate the importance of disability studies as a theoretical field and the intellectual buttress for a politicalpractice; and secondly, explore how disability studies can influence the field of multicultural studies and the political practices associated with it.We will explore the implications for wider theory about cultural relations of therise of the disability movement in the public sphere, and the disturbing implicationsit has for the current organisation of civil society. The disability movement has beeninvolved in a struggle for recognition within the political, intellectual and culturalmilieu of contemporary Australian society. The movement has not yet achieved thesame level of recognition accorded to earlier social movements, nor has it been ableto secure within the wider society a sense of the strategies critical to the resolutionof the marginalisation of disabled people. For example, the concept of reconciliation(usually applied to relations between Indigenous and settler communities in Aus-tralia) might be applied to the experience of disabled people, often taken from theirfamilies when young and brought up in institutions, with little if any further contactwith their communities of origin. The lives of many disabled people and theirfamilies have been broken by the restrictions imposed upon them by policies that arefundamentally disabling. Yet awareness of these processes and situations has notappeared amongst most cultural studies of Australia, nor indeed in the agenda of progressive political groups.The public narratives of the society (such as museums), those which seek toinclude the legitimate and exclude the illegitimate, display so much of the politics of recognition at work. The National Museum of Australia opened in March 2001,celebrating its responsibility to reflect the diversity of Australian society. In itsintroductory multimedia environment, ‘Circa’, it seeks to present a series of imagesand voices of Australia—rural and urban, old and young, Indigenous and immi-grant, traditional and avant-garde, male and female, gay and straight, wealthy andpoor, and almost every other duality to be imagined. However, despite the claim toinclusion, disabled people did not appear in the panorama. Indeed in the wholemuseum there appear to be only three references: two are of women with disabilitieswho are known as minor cultural celebrities and one is an anthropological recordingof the Indigenous Wik people dancing a story of a young boy made into a cripple( sic ) by the spirits for some cultural transgression. The museum is both an ex-pression of governmentality and a temple of culture. It portrays the multiplenarratives of the country, and thus legitimises some, while de-legitimising others. Italso, though unintentionally, provides an example of why those concerned withissues of disability and issues of cultural diversity cannot avoid one another, andindeed must engage in both the theory and practice of cultural representation andsocial knowledge.Taking this theme of population and the popular imagination (and popularpolicies) as a guiding frame, we wish to propose a theoretical structure that tiestogether elite political groups and the external and internal strategies of populationcontrol. Political elites are involved in the maintenance of the social order andensure the conditions under which the society can continue to function as it hasdone, or adapt to meet changing circumstances. In responding to population issues,  240 Andrew Jakubowicz & Helen Meekosha elites are engaged in both the politics of recognition and the politics of redistribution(as Nancy Fraser has argued with regard to the situation of women (Fraser, 1997)).They are both evolving and applying evaluations of the social status of groups andindividuals based on their perception of their cultural characteristics, as well asnegotiating issues of inclusion into redistributive justice. They are participantstherefore in both the cultural politics and the political economy of population. In sodoing they are mobilising cultural hierarchies of value, in terms of both the culturaland economic evaluation of specific cultures, and the cultural and economic evalu-ation of specific bodies. Such a view suggests that cultures and bodies cannot bedisentangled, but rather that broader cultural politics may have specific bodies astheir objects (or sometimes targets).In considering the space in which disability and cultural diversity interact, wesuggest that there are three related problems to be resolved: • a problem in conceptualisation of the ‘audience’ for cultural ideas, who areassumed to be able-bodied; • a problem in the conceptualisation of the multicultural/cultural agenda, whichprovides no place for the differently abled; and • a problem in the theorisation of social and cultural relations, which fails toproblematise the body as a social construct in a political realm of normalisingpractices. The Cultural Politics of Exclusion: Australia under neo-liberalism Over the past decade the idea of Australia as a pluralist society composed of manydifferent and equally legitimate interest groups has been overwhelmed by a politicalproject that has portrayed society as comprising a large, legitimate, homogeneousand superior cultural core under attack from illegitimate divergent and minoritycultural special interests. This view, most clearly advocated by the Prime Minister, John Howard, has promoted the sense of a ‘true’ culture, with its roots in a whiteand essentially Anglo-Celtic heritage, standing at the apex of a cultural pyramid.The way forward for society, it is suggested, lies in the internalisation of these corevalues and the abandonment or at least subordination of alternative values andcultural practices. While there are many contradictions in the presentation of theseassumed core values, the impact of the argument is to reduce the recognition of difference, and thereby the legitimacy of claims made by the denigrated ‘specialinterests’.The first onslaught on pluralism focused, as many commentators have noted, onmulticulturalism and ethnic group rights—the closure of the Office of MulticulturalAffairs, the Bureau for Immigration Multicultural and Population Research and thecutbacks to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (Jakubowicz,2002). These government cutbacks were accompanied by systematic restrictions onthe rights of refugees and the wider establishment of a string of concentration campsin which refugees, mainly from the Middle East, were and are kept in socialisolation, physical discomfort and under conditions of bureaucratic intimidation.  Bodies in Motion 241Another critical dimension of social difference and inequality—gender relations— also came under review. The government systematically set about reducing supportfor organisations of women across the board that pursued broadly feminist agendas.Thus national women’s organisations lost government funding: from the Associationof Non-English Speaking Background Women to the Older Women’s Network and the Women’s Electoral Lobby .More dramatically still, the Indigenous project which arose after the legal victoryof the Mir people in 1992 (the Mabo case 2 ) was attacked, with the imposition of theso-called Ten Point Plan in 1997 to reduce Indigenous rights for land and culturalautonomy. Reconciliation, one of the major initiatives of the early 1990s, designedto resolve many points of tension between Indigenous and settler Australians, alsoground to a halt at the government level, its central motif of a treaty controversialand unrealised.In the realm of welfare, or state social provision, the government also sought tore-draft legislative frameworks and re-constitute the communal understanding of thesocial contract. Under the label, Mutual Obligation , welfare reform strategies havefocused on regimenting and disciplining the poor, single parents and other depen-dent groups. The strategy drew on some elements that had already been developedin Indigenous communities, especially the idea of ‘work for the dole’, or thecompulsory participation in the workforce on community projects as a condition of receipt of unemployment benefits.In addition Mutual Obligation (McClure, 2000) was explored as a means of reducing access to disability rights. Previous welfare reforms had significantlyreduced the number of people on unemployment payments (  New Start  ); in themeantime however there had been a massive increase in people (particularly women)seeking and gaining invalidity benefits, such as the Disability Services Payment(DSP). This crisis required careful attention to policies that could include disabledpeople in the disciplinary regimes of state welfare without opening up the govern-ment to major criticism. The developing policy environment was also affectedby other policy changes: the decline in the provision of public housing, the de-institutionalisation of many disabled people, and the expanding role of the prisonsystem, the latter absorbing thousands of people with psychiatric or developmentaldisabilities who were convicted for offences in the community (Disability Council of New South Wales, 2000). Thus in the policy arena disability was drawn into thecentral ground of social control strategies.The national government extended its ‘boundary control’ concerns, intensifyingthe surveillance of borders and heightening its exclusionary policies with regard toasylum seekers. By late 2001, the distinction between genuine and fake refugees hadbeen embedded in government discourse, culminating in the turning away of boatsbringing asylum seekers to Australia. In parallel, the government forced the incarcer-ation of thousands of asylum seekers in holding centres in remote parts of Australiaand on Pacific Ocean islands of Australian client states (Mares, 2001). The bodypolitic, so to speak, was increasingly constrained, both internally and externally, byregimes of exclusion, and the management of bodies and their movement wasincreasingly part of the central business of governmentality.
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