Fantasies of Identification : Disability, Gender, Race

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    • Abstract:
      In themid-nineteenth-century United States, as it became increasingly difficult todistinguish between bodies understood as black, white, or Indian; able-bodiedor disabled; and male or female, intense efforts emerged to define theseidentities as biologically distinct and scientifically verifiable in aliterally marked body. Combining literary analysis, legal history, and visualculture, Ellen Samuels traces the evolution of the “fantasy ofidentification”—the powerful belief that embodied social identities are fixed,verifiable, and visible through modern science. From birthmarks andfingerprints to blood quantum and DNA, she examines how this fantasy hascirculated between cultural representations, law, science, and policy to becomeone of the most powerfully institutionalized ideologies of modern society. Yet, as Samuels demonstrates, in every case, the fantasydistorts its claimed scientific basis, substituting subjective language forclaimed objective fact. Fromits early emergence in discourses about disability fakery and fugitive slavesin the nineteenth century to its most recent manifestation in the question ofsex testing at the 2012 Olympic Games, Fantasies of Identification exploresthe roots of modern understandings of bodily identity.
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