The Construction of the Disabled Speaker: Locating Stuttering in Disability Studies
Keywords:stuttering, communicative disability, liminal disability, communicative normalcy, embodiment
Within the literature of disability studies, surprisingly little work has been done on communicative disabilities as such. In this paper I intend to locate stuttering, as an exemplar of communicative disabilities, within the current literature. Highlighting the distinctively dialogical nature of communicative disabilities, I first argue that “broken speech” is constructed by both the speaker and the hearer. In this sense, the speaker alone does not bear the responsibility for her construction as abnormal and therefore disabled.
Secondly, since stuttering is an embodied act, attention must be given to the construction of the speaker’s body. In exploring how stuttering is constructed as a disability by cultural norms of efficiency, pace, and self-mastery, I argue that the vulnerability of the stutterer’s body troubles the cultural fantasy of the body as an invisible medium of communication.
Lastly, this paper calls attention to the liminal nature of the stutterer, who is neither clearly abled nor disabled. This liminality can help explain the unclear and conflicting expectations forced upon stutterers, who, unlike many other disabled people, are often expected to perform on the same terms as the able-bodied. Disfluency can thus be interpreted as a distinctly moral failure: the failure of a stutterer’s individual will and self-discipline which undercuts and threatens capitalistic virtues. In disrupting the binary of abled/disabled and questioning the boundaries of disability, stuttering thus offers itself as an important case study within disability studies for seemingly “less severe” disabilities in liminal spaces of oppression.
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