ScholarWorks Spotlight: Celebrating the Human Side of Research - Dr. Claire McKinney

Posted on March 30, 2021

By Mary Oberlies - Instruction & Research Librarian

In this series, we are spotlighting researchers who have contributed to W&M ScholarWorks, our institutional repository. We asked each researcher to identify a scholarly work and share the “human story” behind it. Who are the people behind the data and theory, and how were they affected by the scholarship?   

We hope you will enjoy learning more about what happens “behind the scenes” of research, and that it encourages you to explore the collections in W&M ScholarWorks. 

If you are interested in being part of the series or contributing to ScholarWorks, please contact your librarian liaison.


An interview with Dr. Claire McKinney:

Biopluralism, Disability, and Democractic Politics,” Politics, Groups, and Identities, 2021.  

Explain your article in a tweet OR explain your article to a five-year-old: 

Instead of #WeAreAllDisabled we should say #DisabledLivesMatter - Democracy needs the stories of disabled people’s live to help imagine new possibilities. Our bodies are political!  

What inspired you to study this research question?   

If you read broadly in disability studies, you will notice quite a few authors who frame the importance of disability studies in terms of its universality; namely, if you live long enough, everyone will have a disability. This appeal to a kind of self-interest always struck me as problematic. A friend of mine, Annie Heffernan, wrote her master’s thesis on the limits of compassion as an approach to disability politics, which is closely aligned with the arguments I make here. I have also written work critical of Martha Nussbaum’s capabilities approach, which has not yet made it to print, in part because reviewers often push me to articulate an alternative. I wrote this piece as an attempt to flesh out biopluralism as that alternative and as a way to extend Heffernan’s thinking about political theorist Hannah Arendt and disability.  

How does your research connect with/to the courses you teach?   

I have taught two courses focused on disability, GSWS 100: Disability, and GSWS 490: Feminist Theory and disability. Both courses are invested in thinking about how disabled lives are already political and how to think of exclusion and other forms of oppression in relation to disability. I also integrate thinking about disability in my Politics of Reproduction and Medicalized Citizenship courses. Disability is a crucial lens for understanding politics and history and so the importance of integrating disability theorists and disabled lives into the curriculum is a high priority for me.  

What didn't make it into the article that's interesting?  

Maybe not that interesting to most people, but the original version of the article had a lengthy reflection on the difference between objective and subjective politics in the work of Hannah Arendt. I find Arendt’s work to be tantalizingly succinct in places where longer explanation would clarify what seems to be important distinctions for her understanding of politics. One of the things I loved about this distinction is thinking about the intermixing of politics that are primarily about self-disclosure (what we reveal about ourselves to others unknowingly) and politics that are about shared objects in the world (what we think about particular world events, issues, or problems). I just experienced the Texas winter storm, so we can think about the difference between Ted Cruz going to Cancun, which he probably did not think was political but revealed a deep narcissism he probably doesn’t see in himself, and the missives written by people criticizing Texas’ energy infrastructure. I think we often think of the first example as one of the distractions from real issues, but insofar as politics is about appearing in public with others, it probably matters deeply if not in the same way as debates over energy infrastructure. 

Articles and book chapters archived in ScholarWorks are findable through Google and can reach a larger audience. Find out how to add your works to the institutional repository by talking to your liaison librarian.