Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Member

Tina Chanter

Committee Member

Mary Beth Mader

Committee Member

Verena Erlenbusch


This dissertation argues that the discourse of epistemic injustice and Julia Kristeva's oeuvre offer important insights into disability oppression, and that interaction is a promising form of resistance. "Interaction" as used here, is a term adopted from both Kristeva and José Medina to signify a social relation in which persons or groups come into contact while the specificity of each party is maintained. Thus, interaction is defined in contrast to integration. In the first chapter I argue that institutionalization, medicalization, and cultural anxieties about mental disability constitute and cause epistemic injustices against disabled subjects. I then show why epistemic interaction, an openness and responsiveness to diverse others, is promising for resisting these injustices. I conclude with three recommendations for avoiding epistemic injustices against severely mentally disabled persons, but they threaten to make these lives thought meaningful only as they might be. I then turn to Julia Kristeva's essays on disability, reading them through her previous works. First, I explain Kristeva's theory of language to reveal how meaning can be shared, even with severely mentally disabled subjects. In this way, the meaning of severely disabled lives can be understood in the present, not as deferred. I then develop Kristeva's account of disability exclusion as founded in the narcissistic threat posed to nondisabled subjects by disabled subjects. Finally, I propose that interaction be understood as a double movement of interpersonal relations, which allow nondisabled persons to work-through their narcissistic defenses and share meaning with disabled persons, and social relations, in which the nondisabled "move toward" the disabled to alter the figures of abjection. In the final chapter, I argue that disabled persons, including the severely mentally disabled, are capable of achieving what Kristeva calls the highest form of subjectivity: genius. Arguing against an interpretation that relies on her account of psychosexual development, I propose that feminine genius be understood as a form of intimate revolt from the social margins that produces a work. Interpreted thusly, other forms of marginalized genius become conceivable. I offer two examples, Susan Wendell, a feminist philosopher, and Sesha Kittay, the daughter of Eva Kittay, as disabled geniuses.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.