Activist Affordances: Disability, Shrinkage and Improvisation

October 2, -
Speaker(s): Arseli Dokumaci
Activist Affordances: Disability, Shrinkage and Improvisation

For people living with disability, everyday tasks like lifting a glass or taking off clothes can be daunting. As such, their undertakings may require ingenuity, effort, carefulness, and artfulness. In this talk, I draw on visual ethnographies with disabled people living in Turkey and Quebec, and trace the immense labour and creativity that it takes for them just to navigate the everyday. Bringing together theories of affordance, performance, and disability, I propose "activist affordances" as a way to name and recognize these extremely tiny and artful choreographies that disabled people have to do each day for a more liveable world. Activist affordances, in the way I define them, are micro, often ephemeral acts of world-building, with which disabled people literally make up, and at the same time make up for, whatever affordances fail to materialize in their environments. Activist affordances are not like any other affordance in that their creation emerges from constraints, losses and precarity that I broadly conceptualize as "shrinkage". It is within a shrinking world of possibilities, that it becomes necessary to create affordances in their physical absence, which is why I call them "activist". Even as an environment shrinks to a set of constraints rather than opportunities, the improvisatory space of performance allows disabled people to imagine that same environment otherwise through activist affordances, presenting the potential for a more livable and accessible world.

Arseli Dokumaci (she/hers) is a Canada Research Chair in Critical Disability Studies and Media Technologies, and an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Concordia University. Her scholarly and creative work lies at the crossovers of disability studies, performance studies and medical anthropology. Arseli is the director of Access in the making (AIM) Lab, and the author of Activist Affordances: How Disabled People Improvise More Livable Worlds (Duke UP, 2023).

Cultural Anthropology


Maschauer, Maria