Deleuzian Connections and Queer Corporealities:
Shrinking Global Disability

Margrit Shildrick and Janet Price

[1] Our purpose in this article is to bring into critical conjunction three elements that are rarely read together, namely the context of globalisation, queer corporeality in the mode of disability, and finally the work of Deleuze and Guattari. Although a number of illuminating pairings have already emerged from that trio, we want to go further to suggest that if the more usual approach to the problematic of disability - through the personal and social - is opened up to take account of global interconnectivity then a very different form of analysis is needed. In the face of a limited but consistent literature that takes a traditionally materialist approach to the intersection of disability and global politics, [1] we make instead the somewhat surprising and cautiously optimistic turn to Deleuze and Guattari in order to expose it to a theorisation that more fully accounts for heterogeneity and differential embodiment.

[2] Disability is ubiquitous in late capitalism. Recent WHO (2004) estimates, for example, indicate that over 600 million people worldwide experience disability, with a disproportionate impact on those living in the political South, and on women, regardless of whether the proximate cause is poverty, disease and ill-health (including HIV-AIDS), labour-related accidents, warfare and militarism, or congenital factors (Hershey 2000, Worldbank website 2004). Nonetheless, despite such features, there is still a relatively low level of theorisation of the problematic beyond those scholars who themselves have disabilities. The interest of socio-cultural or political studies, of development studies, and of feminism in general is at best passing, and tends to be firmly empirically or policy-based to the detriment of any more abstract analysis. Alongside the limitations, however, there are now some clear signs of a growing awareness that disability is not just another add-on concern. Queer theory in particular is proving a highly promising tool of analysis, and will in turn be transformed by the mutual embrace. In some recent work – queer or otherwise - disability is being positioned as a central rather than marginal component in better understanding the way in which socio-cultural, psychological, and political vectors operate in the contemporary world. [2] More specifically, our strong contention is that disability affects every one of us whatever our personal corporeal form, because our mode of embodiment is one – if not the major - organising principle by which we make sense of the world. Rather than being a domain of optional interest, the significance of disability is intrinsic to a whole range of transdisciplinary and intersectional questions. And if we are compelled to take it seriously, then it is necessary to bring to bear the same level of critical resources that are directed to the study of ethnicity or gender, for example. Our approach here is one such beginning.

[3] For many of us, queer theory has emerged as the transformative resource most able to open up terrain far beyond its own putative origins in sexual critique. Like feminism, the application of queer theory has no obvious disciplinary limits, and lends itself not only to a rethinking of discrete elements, but to an interrogation of the links between them. In particular, and in deep contradistinction to LGBT studies with which it is still sometimes confused, it has deeply problematised the meaning of identity and identity politics. Indeed, it is the commitment to flexibility and hybridisation on which both queer and crip subjectivities are premised that stages a disruption of profound significance to the convention of (identity-based) disability rights. Any deployment of fixed – albeit positively valued - identity as a challenge to prejudice, or as the basis for claims on an uncontested place in the world, runs the risk of affirming the very difference that generates oppression in the first place. [3] Moreover, it rejects the potential of the new connections that are opened up by queering mo(ve)ments. In the face of that closure, several theorists have recognised that the coming together of queer theory and disability studies can shift the problematic to a more productive phase that embraces, rather than denies, the inherent instabilities and vulnerabilities of the embodied self that disability can so readily exemplify. [4] In place of identity, the emphasis rests more appropriately on performativity, on self-becoming not as an intentionality within the control of a singular agent, but as a process that is neither free nor fully determined. Where Butler's (1990, 1993) seminal account has sometimes been read as downplaying interpersonal context in favour of the reiterative operations of custom and law, both components are intrinsic to the queering of identity that the notion of performativity signals. The antecedents of its interconnective processes are already evident in the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty, but it is the move to a Deleuzian analysis that more fully enlists the energies and intensities of multiple transformatory conjunctions. [5] Thought together, queer theory, disability, and Deleuze mobilise a productive positivity that overcomes normative binaries, breaks with stable identity, and celebrates the 'erotics of connection' (Shildrick 2004).

[4] How then is the movement of globalisation – which in the early 21st century has become an apparently unstoppable force – both relevant to the question of disability, and more importantly susceptible to an analysis that queers its epistemological and substantive bases? One major starting point – and there are of course others that might look at the material effects of capitalism for example - is that the context of globalisation radically alters any understanding of bodies, and of the place of those hitherto situated on the margins of what is valued. Globalisation may mean many different things, but its significance for us is as a constellation of material and imaginary, spatial and symbolic processes that are never fully separable. Over and above familiar politico-economic meanings, this somewhat more expansive connotation is important because it signals that where material globalisation is characteristically taken to be partial, exploitative, and elitist, those other dimensions may have more positive aspects. Our purpose, then, is less to underline the social and economic inequities involved, than to trace out the inherently phenomenological dimensions of the global coming together of bodies. At the very simplest level, this has powerful implications: if we are all irreducibly situated in an ever-shifting network of corporeal relationships, then the whole notion of a fixed centre and margins must be problematised. It suggests that to judge globalisation as though its value or disvalue could be simply read off its effects on discrete categories of the rich and poor, ablebodied and disabled, consumers and producers, is an overly facile approach.

[5] The point is that although the contestation of any solidifications of power in the operation of globalisation remains necessary, there is a parallel need to engage with the expanding frontiers of what Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri term a 'decentred and deterritorialising apparatus of rule', through whose networks the global flows of 'hybrid identities, flexible hierarchies and plural exchanges' can be mapped and engaged for their positive potential (2000: xii). Indeed, as they suggest in their quasi-Deleuzoguattarian analysis, power is not simply dispersed but, by the same mechanism, constantly challenged by a reverse movement: 'Resistances are no longer marginal but active in the center of a society that opens up in networks; the individual points are singularized in a thousand plateaus' (2000: 25). Like Hardt and Negri, many other commentators have noted that one major marker of what is understood as symbolic globalisation is that in the era of postmodernity we experience a quasi-condensation of space and time to the extent that the world appears to shrink. [6] This might be taken to suggest a certain universalisation that covers over difference, but it might alternatively signal, as Hardt and Negri imply, a destabilisation of existing hierarchies and the collapse of any one normative standard. Rather than assuming, then, that the historical marginalisation of many already-resistant forms – including those of corporeal anomaly - would be simply superseded by a yet greater occlusion of difference, it is just as likely that the projected condensation would afford new opportunities to rethink the relations between different forms of embodiment, as well as encouraging new ways of performing identity in a world of others.

[6] When we first thought about shrinkage as an affect of globalisation, it was precisely in terms of how the speed of movement and change in a contemporary world dominated by global capital is instrumental in undermining the familiar boundaries of separation and distinction by which those who are valued are held apart from those who are not. There is indeed a sense in which the shrinking horizons are not about newly imposed limits and constraints, but just the opposite: that we are witnessing an opening up of apparently limitless possibilities of both connection to, and familiarity with difference. The effects remain complex, signalling both homogenisation and differentiation – even fragmentation. At its most optimistic, however, and contrary to the view that the speed of globalisation brings about alienation and a loss of specificity and authenticity (Doel 1999), it is possible to think – as even some writers for whom the language of queer theory or postmodernism means nothing - in terms of a positive exposure to new cultures, new bodies, and new people. [7] But there is of course another connotation to the affect of shrinking which we have explored in previous work: namely the impetus of those who are normatively embodied to shrink away from encounter with those who are not; a disinclination to literally touch people who are anomalously embodied, or to be touched – physically and metaphorically – by them (Price and Shildrick 2001). That distancing move, that insistence on distinction and separation, is apparent not only in the personal encounter, but takes the form of a wider refusal to acknowledge the significance, and both local and universal implications, of differential embodiment. What shrinking away indicates is a denial of the phenomenological constitution of all embodiment whereby none of us is given to the world as whole, autonomous and self-present.

[7] Given such tensions, what are the possibilities of taking up the theme of connectivity that is both implied by the metaphor of shrinking time and distance, and, as we go on to outline, by the Deleuzoguattarian notions of becoming, of assemblage and of the rhizome? In A Thousand Plateaus, the specific image of shrinking holds a privileged place in the project of becoming-imperceptible (1987: 279), a move which signals not so much the disappearance of individual agency as its liberatory dissolution into multifarious microintensities. But can we avoid pushing supposedly marginal figures – whose agency is already compromised - beyond having any place in a reworked network of spacio-temporal global exchanges at both the material and symbolic level? If the potential benefits of globalisation are to be realised, then they must not come at the price of an unawareness of the many dangers. One immediately evident shortcoming is that it is only the relatively well-off – those who are busy and short of time, but in control - who can live in a perpetual present, whilst the poor, who also often busy and short of time, must always struggle with a lack of control of both their past and their future, and with the immanence of place. In other words, nomadic shifting, the sense of being a space/time traveller, is only fully open to those with resources. Having money facilitates such a move, or access to the world wide web, or owning a mobile phone to text messages, commands, and demands from 'here' to geographically, and conceptually, distant locations. Clearly such possibilities are not free of power relations, but they do expose the intricate and multiple pathways that thread between any two points or persons, disrupting the structural hierarchy of centre and margins. In the Deleuzian world, the usual points of reference are put aside, and the linearity of time and the regular expansion of space are superseded by a virtual mobility characterised by speed, intensity, and energy operating in a 'scrumpled universe of general relativity' (Doel 1999: 14).

[8] A second major difficulty is that for those able to experience that possibility of being everywhere and nowhere, corporeality - the very condition of a grounded connectivity - seems to slip away. Many disabled people, for example, take advantage of multiple chatrooms and dating websites, precisely because cyberspace - in appearing detached both from physical constraints, and from pre-existing visual description - encourages the restaging of personal details. A typical site for disabled people, for example, 4dptogether website, suggests: 'By clicking on "My profile" you can change your details'. As Juniper Wiley writes, 'Newly generated personas – faceless, voiceless, bodiless – displace history with a timeless present and multiple selves easily co-exist with the flick of a finger. Fantasy is freed' (1999: 135). That such on-line performativity has become so acceptable and commonplace indicates not so much that technologies may be radically transformative, but rather that specific corporeality is always unstable and open to queering. But does this mean that in the dephysicalised time-space compression of globalisation, where spatial dimensions and temporal gaps collapse into singular moments - 'the shrinking of space abolishes the flow of time' (Bauman 1998: 88), bodies no longer matter, that they can be, effectively, everywhere and nowhere all at the same time? On the contrary, time-space continues to exert a differential friction on bodies. For all that web-masters and on-line currency dealers are quasi-decorporealised, they also rely on the all too fleshy bodies of cooks, truck drivers and farmers to ensure that their own bodily needs are met. It is never simply a matter of acceleration, speed and compression, but of an inevitable collision of worlds over half warm coffee, the shortage of a particular sandwich bread, or the late delivery of the pickles. 'Everywhere it is a matter of speed and slowness, of territorialization and deterritorialization, of foreshortening and elongation' (Doel 1999: 188). Whilst it is clear we can play with and disrupt corporeal expectations, it is less evident that we can do away with bodies altogether. It is not just that a transparent and weightless present/ce is not available to all, it may in any case be only an illusion. However advanced, technological augmentation may obscure the ground of materiality, but it relies finally on corporeal input, however that is staged. Embodiment finds new forms, but it does not disappear.

[9] When it comes to the less abstract level, it is plain to see how bodies are fashioned through immediate contact with those around us, those with whom we are in touch - literally and metaphorically. Partners start to mimic each other's gestures or patterns of speech; friends learn the response to hugs and the touches of hands, carried out in a smooth choreography, which stutters and perhaps fails when meeting strangers. We daily remake the ways we move through public spaces: the young woman delighting in her body but wary of the gaze of workmen on the building site, unconsciously shifting her gait; the wheelchair user changing her speed and style as she scoots past curious children in their pushchairs; the older woman with osteoporosis who walks tentatively through the bustle of commuters, wielding her stick like an offensive weapon. All speak to a phenomenological understanding of embodiment in which it is through the visual, tactile, and aural contact between flesh-and-blood bodies that we both perceive and are perceived by others. As Ros Diprose puts it: 'it is because my body is given to others and vice versa that I exist as a social being' (2002: 54). Such moments of local encounter and relationality speak directly to a corporeal connectivity, and at best to what Diprose (2002) calls 'intercorporeal generosity', by which she means not some quasi-contractual exchange between sovereign individuals, but an openness of the embodied self to embodied others. In the immediate field of cross-cutting affectivity and perception, my interconnection is clear, but are there limits to the range of bodies with which my gestures of intercorporeal generosity can engage? What is at stake here, in part, is the question of how my own embodiment meshes and interacts with bodies that are not part of a familiar environment. What are the dimensions and implications of my intertwining with those far away, those whom I will never know? What impact do I have, sitting in my garden in Liverpool, on the bodies of others in India, Nigeria, or New Zealand, or they on me? [8]

[10] The recognition that there are irreducible connections already, however much they are daily pushed aside, is one consequence of the critique of globalisation. And even as they circulate through a network of social, political, and cultural factors, those connections impact on specific corporeality in such a way that queers the nature of individuality. Consider, for example, a simple tracing of the demands of the Western consumer through a chain that links bodies to bodies. I might, for example, reflect on the complexity of corporeal interdependence that underlies my use of a car to carry both myself and my wheelchair around. As a consumer, I have very particular requirements that reflect the needs of my changing body: far from being a simple utilitarian mode of transport, the car becomes not just a phenomenological extension of my body, but what Deleuze and Guattari would call a new assemblage with it. At the same time, it comes to me, I could guess, designed by a highly paid European team ergonomically seated at drawing boards; powered by an engine built by factory workers in Thailand; the seats upholstered with material manufactured perhaps by Filipino piece workers and assembled elsewhere at a conveyor belt; the paintwork automatically applied by well-organised French union members. It is packed and transported by a variety of organised and casual manual labour; and sold to me by a financially successful English dealer, recommended by my local Motability office, [9] where overstretched office staff have already assessed my needs, in response to my initial phonecall of enquiry which has been routed through a call-centre in India. The list of course is endless.

[11] The usual reason to draw on such examples is to mark out the one-way flow and reach of western power and its negative impact on the bodies of others. Our own point, however, is quite different. As already indicated, our concern is less with the globalisation of inequality than with the no less productive task of thinking through the phenomenological significance and implications of global intercorporeality. If the capacities of any one body alter in relation to any other body – my mobility in response to a Filipino woman's manual dexterity; her diet in response to my reliance on a specialist car - then it can no longer be assumed that bodies exist in discrete spaces. From my own relatively disadvantaged position as a disabled woman within an affluent society, I may not exercise the full power of the ideal consumer, but, like everyone else, I am necessarily situated in a web of embodied relationships in which the configuration of centre and margins is deeply problematised. There are two significant and interconnected aspects to this. First, the whole operation represents the very Foucauldian notion of the dispersal of power [10] where - although I am acutely aware of the relative privilege of having access to personal transport at all - I am never wholly marginal nor central to the processes of consumption. At the same time, the multidirectional linkages also represent the irreducible bodily connections through which my own corporeal productivity is intertwined with that of others. The separate and distinct categories of self and other, exploiter and exploited, nondisabled and disabled, bosses and workers all become blurred, in turn making any fixed evaluation of the effects of globalisation open to question. While any persistent imbalance remains potentially dangerous and should be challenged, the point - even in relation to the dynamic and often unpredictable circulation of power - is not primarily to make value judgments. The task, more importantly, is to trace the modes by which new configurations of time and space are operationalised, to uncover the flows of energies that globalisation enhances.

[12] In the light of such concerns, much of our own past work on disability (Shildrick and Price 1996, Price and Shildrick 1998) has taken off from the Foucauldian concept of normativities that both offers a genealogical analysis of the stark binaries that organise postEnlightenment thought, and undoes those opposing categories by revealing their discursive construction. In addressing the global, however, the work of Deleuze and Guattari is more productive – because as Deleuze explains: '[Foucault]... was establishing novel historical sequences, while we put more emphasis on geographical elements, territoriality and movements of deterritorialization' (1990: 150). More particularly, the global interweaving of corporeality that is axiomatic of a potentially more positive approach to the issue of globalisation finds strong resonances in the way in which Deleuze and Guattari work through the notion of fluid connectivity and linkage. It is precisely those rethinkings of the individual and the social that allows us to make the moves that encompass both the near and the far, those in direct contact and those whom we never encounter. The question that has been posed and left hanging – 'Can there be any notion of corporeal generosity over distance?' – may find an answer here. But before moving on to consider some of the ethical dimensions of rethinking disability, it is useful to briefly outline the wider significance of using a Deleuzian approach. Aside from some isolated references, disability theorists generally have little place for Deleuze and Guattari, although it is notable that both Rosi Braidotti's early work on Deleuze and later on monsters (1991, 1994), and Grosz (1994a, 1995) on 'volatile' bodies indirectly indicate how the approach might be incorporated. For our own part, we have no compunction in raiding the theoretical toolbox and assessing whether the Deleuzian analytic offers any insights that might be adapted to the end of further queering the problematic of disability and globalisation.

[13] Deleuze and Guattari (1984, 1987) decisively reject any understanding of socio-cultural organisation that depends on notions of lack or wholeness; or of sameness and difference; that relies on separation and distinction; on hierarchy; or on putatively necessary repressions and prohibitions, justified as the price of a well-ordered society. In contrast, their emphasis is on the positivity of desiring production, which arises in the flows, energies and intensities of nomadic wandering, in hybrid associations, in the acceptance of ambiguity, and above all in an ever-expansive connectivity in which not human beings as such, but human becomings, are but one element. What has been off-putting for many more radical disability theorists – those few, that is, who are prepared to engage with postmodernist insights - is that on a superficial reading Deleuze and Guattari appear to reject not only the materiality of the body, but also the specificity of particular forms of embodiment. Certainly, their widely misunderstood figure of the body without organs appears to support such a contention, but their purpose is otherwise. For Deleuze and Guattari the notion intends not a turning away from corporeality as such, but rather a deprivileging of organisation. The deadly point of organisation is a corporeal unity and integration that stands in the way of acknowledging a profound and complex linkage not only between diverse human beings, but between humans and animals, and humans and machines. Instead, the body without organs figures a dis-organ-isation that will open up myriad unpredictable and temporary lines of connection and encounter. As Liz Grosz puts it:

The point is that both a world and a body are opened up for redistribution, dis-organization, transformation; each is metamorphosed in the encounter, both become something other, something incapable of being determined in advance, and perhaps even in retrospect, but which nonetheless have perceptibly shifted and realigned. (1995: 200)

The highly irregular network of connections that the Deleuzian model proposes - explicitly figured as a 'horizontal' rhizomatic proliferation of linkages rather than the 'vertical' and therefore hierarchical image of arborescence (1987: 16-17) – offers too an intimation of inclusivity that is very different from Bauman's (1998) understanding of how globalisation might work. Like Deleuze and Guattari, Bauman is strongly critical of the structures of modernity, but he warns that in a newly mobile world of potentially instantaneous communication and access, the dephysicalisation of time and space is highly dangerous for those unable to take advantage of its promises. As he sees it, acts of separation and the establishment of hierarchies will become even more merciless, precisely because not everyone can be part of a mobile elite that crosses boundaries at will. In particular, those already located at the margins – people who are poor or dispossessed, asylum seekers, those who are disabled or somehow hybrid – are all at risk of being permanently kept in place. As Bauman remarks: 'Rather than homogenizing the human condition, the technological annulment of temporal/spatial distances tends to polarize it' (1998: 18), and again: 'The mark of the excluded in the era of time/space compression is immobility' (1998: 113). Such pessimism is by no means easy to dismiss, but for those attuned to the ethical significances [11] – indeed the necessity - of difference, the charge that technology fails to homogenise human life will scarcely deliver a telling blow. It is not so much that Bauman himself is indifferent to difference, but that his anxiety is misplaced. For most postconventional critique, and above all for queer theory, the point is that to count any homogenisation of the human condition as positive would be as unlikely as wishing for further polarisation. The issue, on the contrary, is to preserve difference without solidifying hierarchy. And what that entails is not some reification of balanced diversity, but a queering of difference in the form of provisional and asymmetric hybridities.

[14] It is precisely with regard to these concerns that the turn to Deleuze and Guattari may signal another more positive meaning to high-tech global operations in the era of postmodernity, and one that, despite current suspicions or disinterest, might be particularly appealing to people with disabilities. In offering at least a partial counter to Bauman, we want to look at how the model proposed by Deleuze and Guattari could be applied to some of those groups of people whom Bauman believes are most at risk of experiencing the negative effects resulting from globalisation. Given that what is at the heart of the Deleuzoguattarian project is a celebration precisely of corporeal dis-organisation, it is not difficult to flesh out that abstract notion in terms of the lives of disabled people. Rewritten as the body-without-organs in the Deleuzian sense, the disabled body can bypass separation and distinction, and demonstrate a persistence that both respects and exceeds its own specificity by making fluid and open connections in multiple directions. In a model in which corporeality is no longer to be thought in terms of given and integral entities, but only as engaged in ever dynamic and innovatory linkages, bodies are neither whole nor broken, disabled nor able-bodied, but simply in a process of becoming. And the point is that the process follows no set pattern, nor has any specified end. There are, then, no fixed hierarchies, nor predetermined limits on the nature or trajectory of the connections to be made. It is not that there is no distinction to be made between one corporeal element and the next, between one human body and another, or equally – for Deleuze and Guattari - between the human and animal, or human and machine, but rather that becoming is a process of ever-new and always provisional points of coming together. It creates what they call 'a zone of proximity…a non-localizable relation sweeping up two distant or contiguous points, carrying one into the proximity of the other' (1987: 293). Above all, it entails an inherent transgression of boundaries that turns the capacities of the embodied person away from normative categories of inclusion and exclusion.

[15] If we follow Haraway's dictum that '(q)ueering specific normalised categories is not for the easy frisson of transgression, but for the hope of livable worlds (1994: 60), then the ethical implications of such a process are always there to be excavated. But how can we lay out more explicitly what the Deleuzoguattarian notion of becoming might mean in terms of global relations. Once again Ros Diprose's approach suggests a way of bringing together our diverse concerns with an ethical framework that goes way beyond the liberal humanist desire for a level of equality across all the differences that might mark my body 'here' from your body 'over there'. Though we are all caught up in reciprocal relations, whether we acknowledge them or not, the mere fact that we mutually impact each other's corporeality cannot eliminate asymmetry. But that is no obstacle to ethics for as Diprose suggests:

intercorporeal generosity maintains alterity and ambiguity in the possibilities it opens, it is not based on an ideal of mutual exchange between equals…. generosity is only possible if neither sameness nor unity is assumed as either the basis or the goal of an encounter with another. (2002: 90-1)

What this implies is a form of ethical responsibility - a corporeal generosity – that in the face of globalising tendencies both preserves and challenges the import of the interval – a space of not-knowingness – between the putative self and other. As a matter of ethics, it is incumbent on us to maintain that tension, to rethink the whole significance of nearness or distance. That thought goes against any attempt to simply construct an overarching - yet finally problematic - sense of empathy that would seem to supersede for the better the conventional understanding of distance as that which lends itself to a lack of care, engagement, or trust. Such empathy always implies a degree of knowingness, a grasp of the other that suggests a certain violence. Diprose's model owes little to Deleuze and Guattari or to queer theory as such, and yet her phenomenological and ethical concerns imbricate with both. The thinking of ethical responsibility toward global differences in the era of postmodernity requires not the modification or extension of existing paradigms, but their deconstruction.

[16] It would be a mistake to suppose, then, that the shrinking of distance implied by globalisation directly instantiates an ethical relation. Nonetheless, what the changes in our phenomenological relation to space/time compression, and the fluidity of the configuration of centre and margins, should do is to make us rethink the question of ethics. As Liz Grosz puts it in one of her Deleuzian commentaries, '(e)thics is the sphere of judgments regarding the possibilities and actualities of connections, arrangements, lineages, machines' (1994b: 197). In the shift and flow of relationship, we need to recognise both the mutual constitution of self and other – whether that other is near or far, and that difference is never fully reducible, that some element of it will always remain apart and incommensurable. Ethical generosity, then, is less a matter of the knowingness of empathy than of acknowledging the unknown and unknowable dimensions of relationship. The point is that whilst the dynamics of globalisation encourage an appreciation that hitherto marginal figures are not so distant, that is not to reduce them to a commonality. What is called for is an ethical recognition and consideration of those very differences that still maintain an interval and resist the too-easy move of empathy. Disability is just one of the discomforting differences that has to be thought, both in its ubiquity in every aspect of socio-political existence, and in its strangeness and capacity to elude the predictability of the known. Where on the one hand non-disabled and disabled people are always co-implicated in a dis-organised flow between both themselves and other others, the non-normativity active in that intercorporeality can elicit also a break, unforeseen lines of flight, a moment of difference, within the interrelation between bodies.

[17] Several of these issues become clearer in the context of a personal account. A few years ago during a serious relapse of Multiple Sclerosis, I was paralysed temporarily, and required support workers - many of whom were economically disadvantaged immigrants or overseas students - to come in each day. In the course of the episode, my embodied self-identity was severely disrupted as I struggled to re-form myself in the new experience of both the changed structures of my body, and the unfamiliarity of the relationships with those around me. What become critical are the linkages with those carers whom the shifting territories of globalisation had brought into my living room, bedroom and bathroom. All sorts of differences were at stake, which our unanticipated modes of connectivity could not cover over. One of the care workers, for example, a Sri Lankan woman, once asked whilst she was showering me, 'Why don't you cut your pubic hair?'. Although we were undoubtedly intimately connected intercorporeally - her hands on my naked body - her words had a profound affect, making me feel anxious and disturbed. What for me brought up questions of whether I would ever be able to be sexually active again, probably seemed to her - coming from a different cultural context - a straightforward query about the maintenance of bodily hygiene and propriety. For both of us, the moment caught the strangeness of coming together, the instant at which self-familiarity is unsettled and opened up to new modes of becoming otherwise. Perhaps the fleeting moment passes, the resistance too great, but potentiality – in Deleuzian terms, the power of assemblage - relies not on the comfortable fit, but on just such asymmetries:

Everything that happens and everything that appears is correlated with orders of difference…. the condition of that which appears is not space and time but the Unequal itself, disparateness as it is determined or comprised in difference of intensity, in intensity as difference. (Deleuze 1994: 222-23)

On a wider level, the whole issue of intimate bodily care - which falls within what Hardt and Negri (2000) term 'affective labour' [12] - and its relation to becoming, always needs to be addressed alongside the new techno-benefits for disabled people that are opened up by and figure the speed and dephysicalisation of postmodernity. Just as Deleuze and Guattari claim, the linkages that matter are not just those between human beings, but between all manner of organic and non-organic forms brought together in temporary assemblages. But that is not to dismiss the enduring place of human-to-human touch, albeit in networks of connection that stretch from near to far. While machines can type letters, turn the lights on and off, open doors, and cook food on a timer, what such techno-servers cannot do is help to bathe, to dress, to move disabled people in the most intimate of ways. The people – and they are usually women - who provide such services are often part of a nomadic chain of support: the woman studying in western Europe, to enable her to earn enough to support her family, works part time for an agency providing personal care, but leaves behind her young children in the city back home. They in turn must be cared for by an itinerant rural woman who can no longer support herself on the land and so travels in daily from the village, leaving behind her own children to be cared for by elderly grandparents (Ehrenreich and Hochschild 2003). Flows of personal support and of finance pass along this chain, which marks a familiar pattern of global labour. But the exchange of money is not the only thing at stake: the hundreds of thousands of women worldwide, who are drawn into the care economy, both at a legal and illegal level, exchange countries, families, modes of living, and bonds of affection. The interpersonal care and assistance that I experience and that shapes my becoming is situated in a rhizomatic proliferation of connections, in nodular social networks coalescing in temporary points of assemblage, that profoundly reshape all our identities and ultimately the dimensions of the worlds we inhabit.

[18] The materialities of those interconnections function in other ways too. Many of us from more secure backgrounds, who travel to less economically privileged parts of the world – and indeed to less privileged parts of our own cities – wonder in good liberal ways how we should respond to those who beg, many of whom are disabled in one way or another. The limits to such lives, their relative immobility, stand in stark contrast to the tourist style wanderings that may bring us face to face. Nonetheless, it is certain that the disabled woman with her baby selling perfumed flowers to passing drivers at the traffic lights has a life and family behind her, of which most of us know little. Yet is she really so apart from those she appeals to? Her injuries may be those of an overstretched field-worker, or a child stepping unaware on an abandoned land-mine from some past or present war, waged in the interests of the west; her untreated congenital condition or AIDS may reflect the profits of multinational drug companies – those same companies that provide me with travel sickness medication; her arthritic hands the result of years of labour in a garment sweatshop that produces logo-laden sportswear. It is all too easy to think no further than the figure of oppressor and victim, but although Deleuze is never unaware that globalisation may be just another aspect of control society, he also notes:

It's not a question of asking whether the old or new system is harsher or more bearable, because there's a conflict in each between the ways they free and enslave us. (1990: 178)

The issue, then, is not just one of uncovering the existing networks of power that have constructed us both, but of recognising further more positive dimensions of our intertwined possibilities of becoming. The gesture of giving individual money – even where expected and welcome – may serve to solidify the fixed relation between giver and receiver, closing down corporeal generosity in Diprose's sense, or it may mark a new assemblage. In both my present bodily engagement with the other - whether it be open and expansive, or defensive and anxious as I rapidly wind up the window – and in my acts of recognition, I can open out, or severely limit, the possibilities of an intercorporeality that continuously restructures identity - both hers and my own.

[19] The implication is that although it is all but impossible to escape complicity in the asymmetries of power, once the stress focuses on the multifarious possibilities of connection rather than on its dangers, then anomalous bodies – disabled bodies - are no longer to be avoided. The corporeality of disability has figured widely, in the western imaginary at least, as disordered and uncontrollable, both an object of fascination and repulsion, linked to the breakdown of disease, and always potentially challenging to categorical boundaries (Shildrick 2002). For the modernist mind with its stress on order and organisation, these are all highly negative modes, and, as such, the encounter between the normative and anomalous body is figured as troubling and dangerous. But whether or not the underlying stereotypes ever reflect the reality of the lives of people with disabilities is not the issue. What matters is the power of the cultural imaginary to effectively exclude a whole category of people from the processes of socio-cultural engagement. In contrast, Deleuze and Guattari promote dis-organ-isation and offer a virtual model of 'desiring production' (1984), the take up of which is limited neither to those who already fulfil certain corporeal criteria, nor who conform to the modernist scenario of autonomous action. It is not the agency of a self embodied in a complete and integrated organic unity that is the driving force, but the flows of energy that bring together part objects – both living material and machinic – to create surprising new assemblages. In place of the limits that the ideal of independence imposes, the emphasis is on connectivity, and linkage. Even were the move only one from the limitations of actuality to the potential of virtuality, it demands that disability be rethought.

[20] The Deleuzian canon makes no specific reference to disability, [13] but it scarcely needs to. The point is not that disabled people are unique in relying on a profound interconnectivity, but that for the normative majority such a need, inevitable as it is, may be covered over – particularly in the domain of western hegemony. Once the focus switches from separation to connection, however, a corporeal mode that has figured only as a devalued deficiency must be reassessed. The disabled woman who relies on an assistant or carer to help her prepare for a sexual encounter – be it in terms of dressing appropriately, negotiating toilet facilities, or requiring direct physical support in a comfortable sexual position – is not different in kind from other women, but simply engaged more overtly in just those networks that Deleuze and Guattari characterise as desiring production. Similarly a reliance on prosthetic devices - the linkages between human, animal and machine – would figure not as limitations but as transformative possibilities of becoming other along multiple lines of flight. It is not a case of simply adding one element to another for the sake only of an additional functionality that leaves the component parts unchanged, but of effecting a new assemblage that is as unrecognisable and unexpected as it is energetic and productive. [14] This is no challenging new dimension peculiar to people with disabilities, but an aspect of life familiar to all. It is difficult to draw a meaningful distinction between, for example, a disabled person's use of a voice synthesiser and the growing use of text messaging, between reliance on a hearing dog and riding a horse, between the amputee who uses a wheelchair cart and the executive in a speedboat, or between the wearer of corrective orthopaedic boots, and an athlete's high-tech sprint shoes. All extend the bounds of possibility by making connections – by both organic and technological means. As the disability theorists Mitchell and Snyder note: 'the prostheticized body is the rule, not the exception' (2000: 7). Moreover, it is not limited to the era of postmodernity; the body has always engaged in connective transformations, as Haraway puts it, 'queering what counts as nature' (1992: 300).

[21] Despite the affirmative nature of the alternative approach we are suggesting, there is still a need to be cautious about taking an overly romanticised view of disability as though the body were always able to operate as an unchallenged positivity. There are clearly some morphological differences and discontinuities - pain and exhaustion are examples - that slow down the flow of energies, even as they also contribute to deterritorialisation. And where that flow has been mapped out in advance, by the demands and expectations of rehabilitative medicine, for instance, pain and exhaustion signify primarily as personal limit(ation)s to be overcome. Moreover, the political and socio-cultural constraints, with which disabled people are all too familiar, will not simply disappear. Although the capacities of the disabled body can be rewritten as intensely connective energies, they may also speak, then, to a blockage or lack of self-determination that may exacerbate the frustration of intentionality. In such a light the notion of desiring production must always be contextualised, and indeed Deleuze and Guattari acknowledge that even creatively dis-organised flows of energy can coalesce - precisely in those kinds of socio-political organisations that may serve to devalue and thwart people with disabilities. Yet the point here is that the model we are proposing is not about unrestricted choice, nor about a freedom that opens up all and every possibility. Those are simply the illusions of a rationalist modernity that the Deleuzian model seeks to supersede.

[22] There is, besides, a further consideration that may turn an initially negative assessment of bodily 'impairment' to positive account. In the view of Hardt and Negri, the transformations of corporeal relations rely on the body 'that is radically unprepared for normalization'. Although they concede that the evolution of such transformations remains as ambiguous as it is necessary, they insist – with credit to Guattari – that if globalisation is to be met with counter-globalisation, then the anomalous body is a crucial site of positive resistance:

The will to be against really needs a body that is completely incapable of submitting to command. It needs a body that is incapable of adapting to family life, to factory discipline, to the regulations of a traditional sex life, and so forth. (If you find your body refusing these 'normal' modes of life, don't despair – realize your gift!) (Hardt and Negri 2000: 216)

It is just such gestures that have met with the criticism that Hardt and Negri have failed to appreciate the depth of material oppression associated with global capital, [15] but we would contend that on a symbolic level, their claim is well-founded, and the more striking for being counter-intuitive. What is put in question, both here and yet more clearly in Deleuze and Guattari's approach, is the privileging of independence, which in any case is not a cross-cultural given, but a specific outcome of a very western way of understanding the relations between subjects. Instead, then, of offering a route to self-control and independence, the queering of corporeality promises something rather different: a break with the putative emergence of a coherent and autonomous subject, and a turn to the energies and intensities which play not across unified and integrated bodies, but at points of fluid interchange between disparate surfaces or entities. It speaks to a reconfiguration of the body's forms and sensations that constantly produces the new and unexpected.

[23] What this all indicates is that the meaning of disability itself could be radically transformed. And we can push this further. If dependency in the guise of connectivity were seen as simply a condition of becoming for all of us, then dominant discourses of rights, choice, and self-determination could give way to a more open and productive model that did not need to focus exclusively on civil status. It is not that such struggles are either unproductive or outmoded, for there is still much to gain by challenging the normative political, juridical and social structures of any society insofar as they exclude whole categories of people. Rather the task is one of shifting the focus to encompass a very different approach that starts with a radical questioning of organisation and structure per se and of the requisite closures that they perform. Indeed, it is in the very dis-organisation of those already living at the margins, and in their necessarily overt intercorporeality with an array of others, that it is possible to find new directions in a globalised world that is rejecting many of the values of western modernity. To be positioned at the margins of normative limits may be figured less as a failing than as an opportunity to breach outmoded boundaries and explore what lies beyond. Queer theory – particularly if it embraces a Deleuzian perspective - is already well-placed to take up the challenge. Given its unreserved commitment to ambiguity and contradiction, and to a project of disturbing existing paradigms without promoting stable or enduring alternatives, it is especially open to the task of developing a new, and one hopes ethically alert, responsiveness to the transgressive corporeality of disability – both in and out of its global context.

[24] Using the theoretical concerns of Deleuze and Guattari to reposition minoritarian interests begins to mobilise an effective account of globalisation that incorporates symbolic and imaginary aspects without losing touch with bodies. More particularly, it suggests that globalisation not only offers opportunities for new locations, energies, capacities, and technologies, but opens up different forms of fluid identity that encompass – indeed see as paradigmatic – the lives of people with disabilities (and others) who are currently marginalised. This is emphatically not a program that will guide change, but an exercise in thinking otherwise. Of course there are all too many empirical obstacles, but we do not have to see them as a limit on our endeavours. Although care is always needed to recognise the complexity of global differences, we believe that the problematic of disability demands of us all a responsibility to follow through on the adventure of rhizomatic thinking. And as the world shrinks, it calls on us to exercise a corporeal generosity that acknowledges both our claims on, and our debt to, all the others whose lives interconnect with our own.


[1] Although disability rights movements are developing in many of the countries of the South like India and Brazil, there continues to be a severely restricted range of writing around disability and globalisation. The literature that has emerged addresses issues both from the disabled movement perspective, such as Beresford and Holden (2000), and from the economic point of view, as in Stienstra (2002).

[2] Rosemarie Garland Thomson (2002) makes the point very forcefully. The claim is that disability is not just one difference among many, but a difference that changes everything.

[3] See Wendy Brown (2002) for a detailed explication of the 'paradox of rights'. Hesitant disability theorists should note, however, that the critique of rights does not entail declaring that the pursuit of them is entirely redundant.

[4] Explicit work on the links between queer theory and crip/disability theory is as yet limited, and tends to address sexuality primarily. See Shelley Tremain (2000), but also Mark Sherry (2004) who makes much wider connections, and Robert McRuer and Abby Wilkerson (2003), both for their own introductory essay which touches on the issue of globalisation, and for the other essays in the 'Desiring Disability' issue of GLQ that are beginning to contest the mainstream commitment to oppositional identity politics.

[5] The phenomenological approach, widely used within recent body theory, claims that the nature of the subject is always dependent on the form of its embodiment and is the dynamic product of the relation between the lived body of the self and the lived bodies of diverse others. See Price and Shildrick (2001) for an earlier phenomenological excursion with regard to disability. Although it is somewhat unusual to associate Deleuze and Guattari with phenomenology as such, we see that same thread running through their emphasis on the body as the locus of both unfolding affects and exterior influences.

[6] See, for example, Harvey (1989), Giddens (1990), Hoogvelt (1997), and Bauman (1998).

[7] Thanks to one anonymous reader for reminding us of the more positive hopes of global coming together expressed by Naomi Klein (2002) and the Notes from Nowhere collective (2003) for example. They recommend not simply the resistance of refusal, but rather the embrace of what Hardt and Negri term, 'an alternative political organisation of global flows and exchanges' (2000: xv).

[8] Throughout this piece we have adopted a Deleuzoguattarian undecidable voice, as indicated in this small adaptation of opening lines to A Thousand Plateaus (1987): The two of us wrote together. Since each of us is several, there was already quite a crowd.

[9] Motability is a UK-based charity that works in concert with State-administered disability benefit systems to provide access to cars, motoring adaptations and insurance for disabled people.

[10] Power may refer of course to either pouvoir (power over) or puissance (potentiality/power to), though confusingly the noun 'pouvoir' seems to belong to the latter category. Although the relation between them is irreducible and fluctuating – and perhaps particularly so in the case of disability, as the life and death of Christopher Reeves illustrates – both are destabilised by a Foucauldian and/or phenomenological reading, at least insofar as intentionality is concerned. For Deleuze and Guattari, the rhizomatic nature of power entirely precludes individual agency as such, and yet paradoxically enhances the capacities of the embodied self in the mode of assemblage.

[11] In referring to ethics, we mean not a set of moral principles or rules of conduct at the disposal of the sovereign individual, but the way in which the relation between self and other is negotiated. Ethics on this reading is always a matter of responsibility to and for the other, both in her presence and absence.

[12] Affective labour - the work of the production and manipulation of affect - is the term Hardt and Negri (2000: 292-3) give to the third of the 3 forms of immaterial labour. It relates to work that influences the creation of feelings of ease and comfort, such as nursing and social care, as well as areas such as entertainment and other personal service work. Whilst its primary output is affective, it encompasses labour that is deeply entwined with the body and the productivity of the corporeal.

[13] Neither the major trope of schizophrenia, nor other minor moments that circulate around various signifiers of disability, could be said to engage with the disabled body as such. It is perhaps tempting to cite Deleuze's own suicide in the face of a disabling illness as further evidence of that theoretical omission, but it is at best inconclusive, an unjustified argumentum ad hominem.

[14] We would disagree with Dianne Currier's insistence on a distinction between prosthetic hybridity and assemblages (Currier 2003). While her claim that prostheses only facilitate completion within a logic of unity may be justified with reference to intent, our understanding is that, regardless of the objectives, all such conjunctions effect – at very least - phenomenological change to the point of producing radically new assemblages.

[15] See Boron (2005).

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Jaipur Foot & Afghani Man w prosthetic leg
Courtesy of Help Handicapped International, New Delhi, India

Couture Crutches
Couture Crutches - by Tim Register with Janie Spencer,
Taken from the Exhibition Adorn , Equip,
Courtesy of and Copyright The City Gallery, Leicester, UK.

Prosthetic clasped hands and prosthetic fingers
Courtesy of Alatheia Prosthetic Rehabilitation Center, Brandon, MS, USA

All other photographs by Janet Price or Grindl Dockery

Final slide Nason Banda & physiotherapist, Grace, Lusaka, Zambia.
Photographer: Jenny Matthews
Courtesy of Action on Disability and Development, London, UK.

Images of Karen Flood & Bill Heron, and of Olivia Walker
Copyright & Courtesy of North West Disability Arts Forum and Liverpool Culture Company, Liverpool, UK.

Dancers from Candoco Dance Company
Photographer: Anthony Crickmay
Courtesy of Candoco Dance Company, UK.

Group of Kabul men at Afghani limb fitting clinic.
Courtesy of Help Handicapped International, New Delhi, India

Images of Indian people at Saibaba Temple, Delhi and of Gill Price, by Janet Price

Our thanks also to the producers of the following images whom, despite our efforts, we have been unable to contact:
Ampuchat website logo; Botswanan woman wearing solar hearing aid at «»; Optimist II, the touch-screen tablet computer at «»; Aimee Mullins cartoon image at Employment Opportunities, UK.