University of Illinois at Chicago

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Dynamic Relationality: Embodiment, Identity, and Politics in Life Writing by Authors with Cerebral Palsy

posted on 2023-08-01, 00:00 authored by Brian Heyburn
This dissertation explores how people with cerebral palsy (CP) represent their own experiences in life writing to create social change not only for themselves and others with CP, but for the larger disability community as well. I conduct critically engaged close readings of three first-person, book-length narratives by authors with CP who demonstrate an awareness of prevailing political power relations and dynamics of oppression as they relate to disability. I analyze Harilyn Rousso’s Don’t Call Me Inspirational (2013), Eli Clare’s Exile and Pride (1999), and Keah Brown’s The Pretty One (2019). My close readings lead to my assertion that the ways in which dominant social conditions act upon those who share a specific impairment type, in this case CP, may produce experiences and identities that are, paradoxically, both unique and shared. Through an understanding of this tension, I look at how these authors’ representations of their lived, embodied experiences of CP intersect with the other identities they inhabit and how their positionalities are connected by the presence of myriad, dynamic relationships (e.g., interpersonal, political, environmental). I contend that these relational qualities of their experiences inform their understanding of disability oppression and their thoughts on activism and social change, as reflected in their narratives’ content and formal elements. Ultimately, I argue that one’s impairment-specific location matters deeply to the ways in which disabled people experience and know the world, offering nuanced insights that can be incorporated into larger group efforts toward disability theorizing and organizing for social change.



Sandahl, Carrie


Sandahl, Carrie


Disability Studies

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

Parker Harris, Sarah Patsavas, Aly Charlton, James Ferris, Jim

Submitted date

August 2023

Thesis type



  • en

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