June 23, 2013
June 23, 2013
June 26, 2013
Liberal Education/Engineering & Society
23.247.1 - 23.247.16
Body? What Body?: Considering Physical Ability and Disability In STEM Disciplines Issues of minority inclusion in STEM fields, marking the presence or absence of certain groups in these disciplines, are often treated by analysts as “inside/outside” problems: some groups are included, some are not, we learn, and the resulting discrimination needs to be addressed by securing inclusion for the “missing” folk. That dichotomous understanding, however, hides the complicated marginalities within marginalities inhering in American science and technology sectors. The educators and policy makers who have worked to correct STEM under-‐representation are themselves often treated as outside the pedagogical mainstream; historians and sociologists concerned with matters of identity and equity in science and technology are less explicable still to their home disciplines, perhaps helping to explain their great rarity. Meanwhile, all of these scholars have focused primarily on gender and to a smaller extent on ethnicity and race. Physical ability and disability in STEM disciplines remain subjects of almost complete invisibility in both educational and social scientific spheres. This paper considers this absence: why do persons with disabilities constitute an identity that remains nearly invisible in STEM education theory, institutional planning, and social scientific studies of those fields, even where other forms of exclusion have come under study? What ideas about bodies and intellectual abilities and the linkages between them are foundational to STEM, and why have social scientists almost completely failed to consider these powerful cultural normativities? By extension, what might the methods of Science and Engineering Studies bring to such study? Do receptive audiences for such an inquiry exist? Using the case of a visually impaired undergraduate at a large state university who successfully addressed the discriminatory epistemological suppositions of her lab course instructors, this paper will describe presumptions made about the student’s abilities; about the nature of learning in STEM fields; and about precision and accuracy in scientific data as functions of some bodies and not others. This paper asks, as well, if risks—either social or reputational-‐-‐ accrue to those who undertake such analyses.
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