Review of Samuels, E. (2014), "Fantasies of Identification: Disability, Gender, Race"

  • Nevena Stojanovic West Virginia University


The nineteenth century American trend of identifying and classifying human bodies arose from the simultaneous development of several complex historical processes: “greater geographic and class mobility; urbanization, colonialism and expansion; the beginnings of the welfare state; and challenges to racial and gendered hierarchies” (1). Since the 1800s, “fantasies of identification” have been marked by a unifying characteristic—a tendency to “claim a scientific, often medical framework and function to consolidate the authority of medicine,” even though they “often exceed or contradict any actual scientific basis” (2-3). In Fantasies of Identification: Disability, Gender, Race, Ellen Samuels examines various ailments that unified “under the modern signifier of disability” in the 1800s (20). She uses the social model of disability, which highlights how differences from and exceptions to standards of normalcy caused social anxieties regarding the standardization and classification of human bodies (21).