CHAPTER 3 CONSTRUCTIONS OF DISABILITY IN CHRISTIAN HISTORICAL NARRATIVES
In this chapter I set out on a journey to converse with the Christian historical voices of disability, in particular the social construction of disabilities within Christian narratives. The basic assumption that underpins not only this chapter, but also this research, is that the notion of disability has assumed different meanings throughout the years (Stiker 1999:ix). Meanings, because of their discursive nature, cannot be finalised but continue changing and acquiring new significance, depending on the context. As a discursive product, disability is a creation of specific and historical conditions (Ballard 1992:28) with its meaning is dependent on the context. While I admit that disability discourse has been and continues to be a contextual and, therefore, shifting category, it is also sustained in existence by an ideal, a fixed point of reference and a centre around which everything evolves. That centre is a regulatory body that normalises the meanings and value of bodies. In its quest to normalise it works through binaries (Powell 1997:23), which we (myself, the participants and co-researchers), shall identify and expose.
JOURNEYING WITH CHRISTIAN DISABILITY NARRATIVES
The Christian story, as was, on disability has a bearing on how different Christian communities today behave towards people with disabilities. In this section I therefore pay particular attention to how the Christian perceptions on disability evolved from an ancient Mediterranean environment to present day status. As Barnes (1997:4) suggests, we cannot fully understand the present effects of the Western culture unless the central value systems around which such a culture is clustered are fully appreciated. However, the “contemporary attitudes toward people with perceived impairment have their roots in the ancient world of the Greeks and Romans” (Barnes 1997:4), as well as Jewish religion which is “seen as the principal source of contemporary Western moral values” (Barnes 1997:14; Berquist 2002:10, 182-183). I cite some writers, particularly Berquist, Covey, Stiker, Hartsock and Barnes, to show how values on the body throughout Christian history shaped perceptions and attitudes on disability and people with disabilities. Points of intersection on these perceptions and attitudes between different historical epochs will be underlined and pursued, insofar as they contribute toward understanding the fluidity of constructions and meanings of disability.
Politics of disabilities in the ancient Mediterranean world
The Christian tradition grew out of a cluster of traditions that formed part of what I refer to as the ancient Mediterranean worldview (Barnes 1997:4). These are the Greco-Roman world, the Jewish culture embodied in the Hebrew Bible writings and other extra-testamental writings, as well as the New Testament and its environment. Christianity grew up within these traditions and in conversation with these worldviews (Stiker 1999:39; Berquist 2002:181-196). It is for this reason that we trace the presence and meaning of disability within these traditions. Through this exercise, I hope to glean different meanings assumed by the disabled body throughout the years.
The basic assumption is that, underlying these meanings are different philosophical and cultural ideals that are central to the understanding of these meanings. As Webb-Mitchell (1996:38) observes, societies change in terms of what they value. Not only do they adopt different labels and categories but they also attach meanings to these changed and newly adopted labels and categories. I have adopted the notion of a regulatory body for use as a germane interpretive tool in the analysis of the meanings of the body in the ancient Mediterranean world.
The regulatory body
Societies attach meanings to the body (Berquist 2002:3), developing ideas around it and each part of the it, its appearance, weight and height, such that the body eventually, becomes a social product (Berquist 2002:18; Viviers 2005:880). Though none of the meanings attached may be inherently part of the body‟s weight, height or appearance, societies are not deterred from placing certain meanings on the said bodily qualities. This may be referred to as social or cultural construction of the body (Berquist 2002:5), and it has been scripted, institutionalised and legitimated (Berger & Luckmann 1966:58-60) by adherents of that society to convey meaning. The adherents are in turn shaped by meanings attached to that body and its parts, and in this sense it is understood as a social script onto and into which are written society‟s values. Viviers (2005:880) writes: „Body‟ as social script refers to the symbolic body of a society or the ideas that a particular society holds about body. These body ideologies do not necessarily coincide with real flesh and blood ones but are ideal constructs…..The symbolizations of the body become part of a society‟s ideological world, expose its deepest convictions and values and provide a tangible avenue (therefore „body‟) to the heart of culture.
When such a body becomes a yardstick against which all other bodies within a culture, are measured, it becomes a regulatory body. A regulatory body is defined as a corporeal, natural body turned, through social scripting, into a symbol that represents the ideas that a particular society has about that corporeal body (Viviers 2005:880). As a symbolic body it is not only a product of a culture that gave life to it, it in turn gives shape to that very same culture. In the words of Vorster (2005:575), it functions as the social yardstick in the construction of meaning as well as a site of power relations. As such, it embodies the ultimate values of society. Though brought into existence by social negotiation, it acquires qualities of durability and objectivity within a particular historical context (Vorster 2005:577).
The notion of a regulatory body, in terms of its functions, comes closer to, if not representing what Bourdieu (1972; 1990) called habitus. In Bourdieu‟s view a habitus embodies systems predisposed to function as principles that not only generate but also organize practices (Bourdieu 1972:18). The habitus functions to structure structures. As an embodiment of principles generated and sedimented over a long period of time, the regulatory body attains the status of the “common sense” that regulates and directs thoughts, practices and behaviours of society (Bourdieu 1990:53; Vorster 2005:578). Consequently, every culture has its constructed ideal body against which all other bodies within the same culture or period are defined and regulated.
The regulatory body embodies the features of normativity or naturalness, generating “what is seen as normalcy and natural” (Vorster 2005:577). It becomes a norm and a criterion against which all normality, naturalness, perfection and wholeness of a body are measured. Through it all other bodies are constituted, and it further serves as the context within which these other bodies re-constitute and reproduce themselves. Its non-negotiable and objective status adorns a regulatory body with a durable and generative capacity.
In the process of generating, constructing and reproducing bodies it also defines the non-normative. The very process of creating the normative, constructs at the same time its opposite, non-normative, which in the logic of the binaries becomes the marginalized term. The regulatory body works through and evokes this binary logic which classifies, orders, polarizes and establishes fixed boundaries between natural and unnatural; normal and abnormal; perfect and imperfect; male and female; insiders and outsiders; whole and unwhole; pure and impure. It, therefore, represents imbalances in the relations of power between the two poles of the relationship continuum (Powell 1997:23-35; Galvin 2003:156; Vorster 2005:589).
Far from reading the notion of the regulatory body into the different traditions that are analyzed in this chapter, the notion emerges from the same traditions and worldviews. Each of these traditions, as I shall argue, had an ideal body that all other bodies had to match up to. Such a body served to embody all the values and beliefs the society had about how bodies should be (Berquist 2002:6). Using this notion of the regulatory body, the Christian perspective on disability, as well as its principal sources, the Greco-Roman worldview and the Judeo-Christian traditions, are analyzed. The idea is to identify the ideal and the binaries spawned thereof.
Disability in the Greco-Roman world
To date, Robert Garland‟s seminal publication, The Eye of the Beholder: Deformity and Disability in the Graeco-Roman Word (1995), remains the most comprehensive historical treatise on that specific topic. Garland (1995:viii) observes that though there is a growing interest on the body as a cultural construct, publications on disability in the Greco-Roman world are proportionately quite scant. This is particularly surprising given that no culture has so consistently idealised bodily perfection and its opposite as the Greeks and the Romans. As Garland (1995:viii) argues:
By their own imperious reckoning, the Greeks and the Romans stood head and shoulders, culturally speaking, above all other races on earth in part because they alone exemplified the ideal human type. Any departure from that ideal type, however trivial, was therefore interpreted as a mark of the despised barbarian, whose attributed physiological defects were regarded as an expression of the latter‟s cultural limitations.
Given this unique idealisation of a perfect body among the Greeks and the Romans, it makes sense, therefore, to look for an ideal or regulatory body within these cultures, to which all other bodies had to conform. However, although both Greeks and Romans shared similar features in their conceptualization of a perfect and regulatory body, there were some notable differences.
Regulatory body in the Greco-Roman world
The constitution of a perfect body in a Greco-Roman world can be reduced to the following criteria: 1) order/arrangement part in a whole; 2) gendered features; and 3) conformity to the divine features (Viviers 2005:881; Vorster 2002:40).
In terms of the first criteria, strength, endurance and beauty were constitutive of a perfect body according to the Greco-Roman worldview. An ideal body had to be perfectly balanced;
neither too thin nor too fat; neither too tall nor too short. The Greeks and the Romans placed great value on competition, war and sport, and their bodies had to be such that they could participate successfully in all these activities (Garland 1995:14). Physical and intellectual fitness were esteemed features in both worldviews, as they ensured triumph and conquest in any form of competition (Barnes 1997:13). Because of the violent and competitive nature of Greek society there was, therefore, little room for people with any type of physical bodily defect, or what Goldhill (2004) calls “a flabby citizen”.
Not only was bodily perfection measured in terms of strength and endurance, it was also expected to be …perfect in all its parts, limbs and senses, and have passages that are not obstructed, including the ears, nose, throat, urethra and anus. Its natural movements should be neither slow nor feeble, its limbs should bend and stretch, its size and shape should be appropriate, and it should respond to external stimuli. (Garland 1995:14)
Gender was also constitutive of a perfect body, which was not only expected to be muscular, symmetrical and strong, but also had to be male. Women, like the non-Greeks, were considered inferior (Barnes 1997:12), and the greatest threat or insult to a man was to have, or be told that he had, a body like that of a woman (Goldhill, 2004). In several of his writings, Aristotle as (quoted in Garland 1995:1) is reputed to have candidly stated:
Only in man are the natural parts in their natural position and that, in the zoological hierarchy, men were at the pinnacle with women one giant evolutionary step below – a step which, in his telling phrase, represented „the first step along the road to deformity.
The human male, therefore, represented the standard for measuring physical perfection. Competition, both individual and collective, constituted for the Greek males the necessary means for achieving physical and intellectual excellence (Barnes 1997:13).
The perfect body also drew inspiration from conformity to the image of the Greek gods, in which its artistic beauty and perfection could only find ultimate representation, especially Apollo, “the most Greek of all Greek gods” (Garland 1995:105), and when depicted as a young man at the acme of physical fitness was the most inspiring. In Malul‟s (2002:175) view, such a god would represent an ultimate structural-principle, or as Dutton (1996:25) described it “a representation of perfected humanity ».
Because of its tendency towards what became known as „physiognomics‟, the Greco-Roman worldviews espoused the position that there was a correlation between appearance and character, and that physical deformity was an index for characterization (Garland 1995:87-104; Hartsock 2007:67-68). According to the Greek mentality, a bad body meant a bad citizen, and the state of the body that was uncared for was a reflection of a debauched moral disposition. This is attested to by Socrates remarking on the poor physical condition of Epigenes‟ body as shameful, thus further imbuing it with moral overtones (Goldhill 2004).
Because a body was a public property it had to be taken good care of. A perfect male body with divine features and perfectly balanced embodied the ideals and values of Greco-Roman society, and all other bodies had to conform to it. Failure to maintain the standards brought about the shame of not being apt to participate in public life (Goldhill 2004). There was a normative or regulatory Greek body to which all other bodies had to conform. Not only competing bodies but also public and religious bodies, such as those of a priest and religious magistrate, were required to conform (Garland 1995:64). Already we can observe the implied binaries on which the discourse of the body, particularly in the Greek worldview, was founded. It had to be ordered and arranged as opposed to disordered; male as opposed to female; and possessed of divine features as opposed to human features. In all the above pairs the first is more privileged and the second is marginalised. Often those bodies that did not conform to the norm were either eliminated or treated with disdain.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1: STEPPING OUT INTO A JOURNEY WITH DISABILITIES
1.2 INSPIRATION TO THE RESEARCH: A CALL TO GO
1.3 THE MOMENT OF INSERTION
1.4 PILLAR OF CLOUD: RESEARCH QUESTION
1.5 PILLAR OF FIRE: RESEARCH AIMS
1.6 MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY
1.7 THE „I‟ IN THIS RESEARCH
1.8 MY STORY; UNDER THE SPELL OF A FINALISED INTELLECTUAL PERSON
1.9 STEPPING OUT OF MY PLACE OF COMFORT: A CALL AS METANOIA
1.10 THE TITLE OF THIS RESEARCH
1.11 THE CONTEXT OF THIS RESEARCH
1.12 VOICES IN THE RESEARCH JOURNEY
1.13 DISABILITY UNDER THE OPTIC OF POLITICS OF POWER AND KNOWLEDGE
1.14 RESEARCH PROCESS
1.15 RESEARCH PARADIGMS
1.16 METAPHOR OF A JOURNEY
1.17 CHAPTER OUTLINE
CHAPTER 2: INTRODUCING THE FRAMEWORKS OF THIS STUDY
2.2 EPISTEMOLOGICAL FRAMEWORKS
2.3 IDEAS FROM THE NARRATIVE METAPHOR
2.4 THEOLOGICAL POSITIONING
2.5 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
CHAPTER 3: CONSTRUCTIONS OF DISABILITY IN CHRISTIAN HISTORICAL NARRATIVES
3.2 JOURNEYING WITH CHRISTIAN DISABILITY NARRATIVES
3.3 JOURNEYING WITH DISABILITY CATEGORIES IN CHRISTIAN NARRATIVES
CHAPTER 4: JOURNEYING WITH SHIFTING VOICES IN DISABILITY STUDIES AND RESEARCH
4.2 VOICES IN DISABILITY STUDIES AND RESEARCH
4.3 CONSTRUCTIONS OF DISABILITY IN LESOTHO
CHAPTER 5: INSTITUTIONAL DISABILITY DISCOURSE IN LESOTHO
5.2 DISABILITY DISCOURSE IN THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE
5.3 DISABILITY DISCOURSE IN THE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND TRAINING
5.4 DISABILITY DISCOURSE IN THE MINISTRY OF HEALTH AND SOCIAL WELFARE
5.5 PARTICIPATORY PASTORAL REFLECTION ON POLICIES AND PRACTICES
CHAPTER 6: DECONSTRUCTING DOMINANT DISABILITY DISCOURSE
6.2 IDENTIFICATION OF THE BINARIES
6.3 UNIQUE OUTCOMES
CHAPTER 7: CO-CONSTRUCTION OF ALTERNATIVE DISABILITY STORY
7.2 THICKENING THE PLOT
7.3 CO-CONSTRUCTION OF A PREFERRED STORY
CHAPTER 8: A REFLECTION ON THE RESEARCH JOURNEY
8.2 MY REFLECTION ON THE RESEARCH PROCESS
8.3 REFLECTIONS OF RESEARCH PARTICIPANTS
8.4 CONTRIBUTIONS AND CHALLENGES TO THE PRACTICAL THEOLOGICAL AND PASTORAL CARE FIELD
8.5 SUMMARY RESEARCH FINDINGS
8.6 SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER ACTION AND RESEARCH
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
A DECONSTRUCTION OF DISABILITY DISCOURSE AMONGST CHRISTIANS IN LESOTHO