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Social and Cultural Models and the End of Modernism?

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Wondering what you guys thought about the parallel between sex/gender and impairment/disability that I brought up in class.  Perhaps I can articulate it a bit better here on the blog.
A social model of sex/gender would tend to promote the idea that the two sexes are biological facts.  Genders, however, are “social constructs” that have no essential truth to them but rather came about as a result of tradition, stereotype, discrimination, and power dynamics.  A social model of disability, similarly, might propose that impairments are biological facts, but disabilities come about as the result of social norms also brought about by power dynamics, tradition, stereotype…etc.

A cultural model of sex/gender might question the validity of our strong belief in two biological genders.  For example, 1-2% of children are born intersex, and are usually given surgery in infancy so they fit the traditional dichotomy.  This implies that the essentialism of even our two-sex binary may be fictitious.  A cultural model of disability would challenge the notion of a normalized idea of body or brain that sees any deviations from it as impairments.

What do you guys think about the social and cultural models?  Are ideas like essential normal bodies and sexes ideas worth preserving?  Cultural models seem quite radical, but they might be ways of thinking that will get people to start deeply questioning their conceptions of the world.  Sometimes though, when too many essentialisms are questioned a system runs the risk of running too close to postmodern obscurity where it seems as though anything and nothing could be true.  As we move out of modernism we have to make sure that we’re moving into something that is still coherent.

On the other hand, I’m not sure we’ve really moved out of modernism…here is a link to a recent article from NPR that a friend sent me on facebook.  Though the content is certainly interesting, the way it is framed, I find, incredibly offensive.  (Also, every disability-related article I read lately seems to be obsessed with the idea of evolutionary explanation.  Have we really come that far from the age of Social Darwinism?) The article sets up a serious us vs. them dynamic from the outset, and it puts a weird distance between the person whom the article is about and the reader.  For example…
“But Daxer says these things are still very difficult for her. So she has become something of an amateur anthropologist, studying the social behavior of the people around her, the people she calls neurotypicals.”
It makes her seem really “alien” by saying “the people she calls neurotypicals” as though she has made up this word on her own.

The worst part of the article though is by far the introduction:
“It takes a smart brain to invent a spaceship. But putting one in orbit takes a brain with extraordinary social skills.That’s because getting from concept to launchpad takes more than technology — it takes thousands of people agreeing on a common goal and working together to accomplish it.Humans have succeeded in part because we evolved a brain with a remarkable capacity for this type of complex social interaction. We automatically respond to social cues and facial expressions.  We can look at the world from another person’s point of view. We are predisposed to cooperate. But all these things are so much a part of us, they’re easy to take for granted. Unless you have autism, like Lisa Daxer.”

I was flabbergasted reading that part, but perhaps I’m over-reacting?  I’d love to hear what you guys think.

Written by gormanda

September 5th, 2010 at 7:58 pm