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Notes on subjectification and the research of community based group homes for developmentally disabled: constituting nomadology as emancipatory method for ethnographers who won't sit still

Michael Glennon, Universiteit van Amsterdam - International School for Humanities and Social Sciences


What shapes the possibilities for work/research encounters with systems of bodily difference; their translation into research with transformational potentials? What theories are prevalent in disability studies at the present time for ethnographic research; are they adequate to account for the complexity of relations on the field? This paper discusses an (auto)ethnographic engagement with community based services for the developmentally disabled. Of particular focus is how my role as researcher and social scientific narrator came to be constituted in relations of power on bodies of developmental disability: community based service networks with which I came to be engaged as a "human service worker" in the years 2002-2004 and later as "ethnographer" in 2007; bioethical discourses and communities of autistic self-advocates assembled into networks of "autistic liberation" on digital spaces such as blogs, virtual environments, and web videos; figures of developmental disability in genre fiction, the humanities, and the social sciences. The purpose of this triangulation is to address in a systematic manner three kinds of concerns with which my field research and anthropological writing seemed to encounter/generate. First, a practical concern of deploying life-writing in conjunction with ethnographic data, and so using "biographical" or "contextual" information in conjunction with the method and discipline of anthropology where the focus of research is intended to be an "Other" of some kind. Second, a metaphysical concern related to who or whom the "native" Other of my field work "really" is. Inasmuch as group home staff, for example, and group home residents are bound to the expectations of a disciplinary regime neither exactly created, which of these subject-positions are to be analyzed as the Other of community based services, the "experts of disablement" (residents), their "colonizers" (staff), both in relation, or some other Other(s)? Third is an ethical concern related to the conditions of my presence as an ethnographer in the field; the tension of performing a "postcolonial" anthropology on a field where I once embodied a "colonizer" of disablement. My primary aim for doing this is to pragmatically problematize and contribute to current discussions of both anthropology and relations between researcher and the complex myriad of Others on the terrain of developmental disability. I propose the use of "nomadology" in the manner of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari to draw together and engage with the practical, metaphysical, and ethical problematic outlined above in terms of what at first glance appears as rather diverse data sources and collection/analysis scenarios. "Nomadology" in this case implies the act not only of assembling and managing a variety of disciplines and analyses in order to break or link paradigms in need of breaking or linking, but also one which is able to carve an analytical terrain with which to speak critically and positively on the subjectification of figures of developmental disability and regimes of treatment without exactly choosing a side. Current dominant paradigms for ethnographic research on developmental disability are ill-equipped for this; nomadology is one effective means researchers might use for writing disability studies beyond its present frontiers.

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