Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts


Theory and Criticism


Janelle, Blankenship


This thesis uses critical phenomenology to investigate disabled embodiment and identity. I argue that (in)accessible subjective accounts of disability experience reveal disability to be a unique form of ever-changing embodiment: disability is the lived experience of a critical phenomenology. I turn to eclectic art, film, and poetry case studies involving a medical, surgical gaze to explore how ableist, sexist, and racist systems structure daily experience, forcing disabled people who “misfit” to analyze and confront systems of oppression, exclusion, and stigmatization. Disability experience challenges and resists ableist binaries of ability/disability, well/unwell, subject/object, mind/body, and inside/outside. The interdependence of these fluid, intertwining threads of existence defy even the categorization of a continuum, unless, as I argue, the continuum is non-linear and allows simultaneity. Understanding the interconnection between ability and disability is a never-ending journey that will always remain incomplete.

Summary for Lay Audience

This thesis explores how disabled bodies live and form identities in a world that is designed for people who are able-bodied. Ableism is the assumption that able-bodiedness, which is found in every crevice of society, is better than being disabled. To address the intersection of ableism and disability, I turn to phenomenology which uses the term embodiment to focus on everyday experience of living in concert with other people and the world. In this study, I employ critical phenomenology, a philosophical field that attempts to foreground the numerous background assumptions that structure society, to look at the ways that art, film, and poetry engage with and inform disability experience. Ableism assumes there is a strict line, or binary, between ability and disability. However, this thesis, following other critical disability scholars, shows that disability experience challenges and resists these ableist binaries.