Futures of Anxious Surveillance: Diagnostic Speech and the Child’s Unseen Impairment
Dr Harriet CooperZoom
This paper presents some of the thinking from my recent monograph, Critical Disability Studies and the Disabled Child: Unsettling Distinctions (2020). I analyse the performativity of the ‘diagnostic speech act’ within the family of a disabled baby whose body does not yet reveal the signs of an impairment that will later be inscribed there.
Drawing on Butler’s (1997) work on the injurious speech act, I theorise diagnosis as a form of citation: the name always evokes previous occurrences of its use, and it is through this repetition that it takes on a certain force. By evoking the name’s traumatic inheritance, diagnosis and prognosis conjure up a future-in-jeopardy which immediately positions the child’s body as a site of anxious surveillance, and as an object that has to be manically reclaimed for the future, via rehabilitation (Mollow, 2012; Edelman, 2004). What, I ask, are the unseen effects of this founding speech act on the baby’s body: how does it imprint itself there, even in the absence of visible impairment? How is the wounding name ‘disability’ incorporated as a part of the lived phenomenology of impairment itself – how does its spectre shape the impairment’s bodily manifestation?