Bodies of Knowledge: Politics of Archive, Disability, and Fandom
The work of critical theory cannot stop when it leaves the classroom, but must encompass the lived experience of the everyday. This essay combines personal narrative, disability theory, and a discussion of archiving strategies to question the boundaries of disability, injury and impairment.
Although fandom has an interesting and constructive relationship with disability, injury, and impairment, this paper does not focus on individual fan-works that feature these topics. This essay is instead an examination of the macro-structure of two different archives: TV Tropes and Archive of Our Own.
TV Tropes is an informal encyclopedia of narrative devices that uses community engagement to read narratives in a critical yet accessible way. Employing the macro-structure organization of the database, users frame the linkage of pity and disability in an atypical manner that subverts mainstream ableist assertions. This shows us that the structure of the archive allows for opportunities to resist oppressive ideologies. Rather than subverting official archival methods, Archive of Our Own instead provides space for users to create intersectional spaces through personally generated tags. While these websites are examples of how diverse archival strategies can positively engage with disability narratives, the decision to separate the labels of disability and injury is indicative of tensions around the categorization of the body. Examining how the division can be broken in both theory and fandom creates new, productive models of activism.