Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This paper explores the complexities around disability justice work in Appalachia as potentiality – a capacity that exists but is not yet, or may never be, fully realized. Appalachia itself is often presented as a space devoid of potential, especially in a post-coal economy that makes extractive industries less viable and leaves towns struggling to find future options. Drawn to the forefront of national imagination following the 2016 presidential election, Appalachia has been simplified into an area of persistent disparity, left behind by the country as a whole. Yet, Appalachia has also traditionally been an incubator for activism and political organizing, and there is a strong regional history of social justice. Through fieldwork with elderly and disabled Appalachians, I explore the contours of latent disability justice potentiality, asking what does it mean to do fieldwork with an ideal in mind that may not be completely recognized? Disability justice is an intersectional movement that seeks to go beyond disability rights as granted by the nation-state. This involves recognizing the inherent value of all bodyminds, especially those that have been labeled by biomedical powers as disabled, sick, mad, or otherwise marginalized. In my research, I center disability justice as a prefigurative politics, imagining the world we might want to live in. What potentialities does this disability justice work open up, even in its unrealized form, especially when working with a place and bodies that are often seen as lacking potentiality?