Environmental Justice and Feminist Disability Rhetorics

One strand that I picked up on in both Sackey and Smyser-Fauble is the idea that both an integrated environmental framework and a feminist disability rhetoric strive to make the voices and embodied experiences of all users in a system central to technical, scientific, and social problem-solving. Both pick up on Hart-Davidson’s argument that a technical communicator is first and foremost a user advocate, and they map out ways that a feminist praxis can help us listen to and amplify the voices of those that are ignored or excluded from policy and world-making. Smyser-Fauble borrows from Bartholomae as she writes about the othering effect of the University’s Disability Statement,

The University expects students to ‘perform’ by speaking in a voice and through codes of those considered to be in positions of power and wisdom. Student users of the Disability Concerns interface are forced to assimilate to hegemonic institutional processes and rhetoric in order to be granted any support—a process that perpetuates perceptions of people with disabilities as ‘other,'” different, deficient, and abnormal. (115)

Here she underlines the way that differently abled bodies are asked to adapt to material and discursive places and spaces that weren’t built by or with them, instead of working together to remake those spaces to accommodate a diversity of ways of knowing, doing, and being together. This is very similar to Sackey’s critique of science rhetorics as excluding people who could benefit from science as a vehicle for solving environmental justice issues through highly technical and specialized discourse. Sackey writes,

Evelyn Fox Keller articulates that doing science requires the adoption of disciplinary languages and the deployment of specific syntactical structures in writing…If we want to ensure justice so that people on the ground can truly benefit and become the driving force behind research, science must realize that ‘sharing a language means sharing a conceptual universe,’ (210).

In order to make scientific inquiry a human-centered endeavor, Sackey argues that we have to disrupt the expert/ novice binary and get comfortable with the intuitive capacity of people living in particular places, using science not as dispassionate study of environmental objects, but as a relational practice of people who live in and are a part of the natural world. Sackey notes that citizen science is one way that we are making that turn, but he (too) quickly dismisses the movement, explaining that hierarchies of knowledge-making continue to interrupt the practice of science for social justice.

From the work I’ve done with Mozilla Foundation and NC Museum of Natural Sciences Citizen Science lab, however, I have more hope. Mozilla Open Science Lab (MOSL) has been organizing and providing infrastructures for community-based inquiry, bringing scientists and citizens together to generate and share open data around biomedical, environmental, and a host of other domains, and citizen scientists across NC are helping collect and analyze all kinds of data from wolf populations, butterfly migration patterns, and pollutant levels in our rivers, providing pathways for distributed scientific literacies and on-the-ground action. While Sackey is right, this is a paradigm shift for some of the scientists I’ve worked with, the citizen scientists are, however, much more comfortable code switching and meshing, creating public discourse, and blurring knowledge boundaries, moves that are necessary to make science relevant, accessible, and useful to everyone.

One last note on the two chapters…Smyster-Fauble’s piece seems to cohere fairly well, even though the description of how she teaches with a feminist disability framework is not terribly rich, but there are a lot of loose thread’s in Sackey’s piece. I really loved his critique of science rhetorics as well as his explication of ecofeminism, feminist materialist perspectives, feminist political ecologies and their convergences and divergences as well as his case study of the 48217, but we don’t come back to re-see the case study through those theoretical lenses and the super short classroom practice section provides no explicit connections to the really cool framework he laid out. Reading like a (dissertation) writer, I wonder if he wrote the integrated EJ framework stuff for his methods chapter and then did a case study on the 48217 for another chapter in the dis. It seems like the pedagogical piece may have been hastily written to satisfy this manuscript’s call, and these two pieces are quite different from Frost’s and Cox’s whose classroom practice was much more carefully articulated.


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