Chapter

Subnormal Nation: The Making of a U.S. Disability Minority

in Cultural Locations of Disability

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2006 | ISBN: 9780226767314
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226767307 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226767307.003.0003
Subnormal Nation: The Making of a U.S. Disability Minority

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This chapter explores how a tragic turn at the end of the nineteenth century led to the ascendancy of eugenics. Eugenicists effectively surrendered claims to medical objectivity in order to make judgments about the meaning and treatment of human variation. In The Normal and the Pathological, the medical philosopher George Canguilhem argues more generally that the medical profession in this era abandoned the project of faithfully describing the body as a neutrally adaptive organism. As a result, medical researchers capitalized on the authority to evaluate difference with reference to models of biological norms rather than as nonstigmatizing variations. This chapter argues for the interpretation of differences as an expression of mutable organismic traits. As Darwin insisted in On the Origin of Species, variation serves the good of the species. The more variable a species is, the more flexible it is with respect to shifting environmental forces. Within this formulation, one that is central to disability studies, variations are a feature of biological elasticity rather than a discordant expression of a “natural” process gone awry.

Keywords: disability; eugenics; organismic traits; human variation; natural process; Darwin

Chapter.  10982 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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