New affiliation, new website, and other news

I have accepted an appointment as the 2015-2016 Postdoctoral Fellow in Ethnographic Design at the Studio for Ethnographic Design at the University of California San Diego.

This is an exciting position that includes a departmental home in the UCSD Department of Communication, and a key role in planning and executing upcoming events for both the UCSD interdisciplinary Studio for Ethnographic Design and the inter-institutional Collaboratory for Ethnographic Design (CoLED). Working with Dr. Elana Zilberg and CoLED, I’ll be planning a conference for the fall of 2016 on the future of ethnography as a form of qualitative inquiry. I want to hear about your innovative, collaborative, engaged, digital, design-focuses, multimedia ethnographic projects and thoughts about the ethnographic form.

So — get in touch!!

With this change in institutional affiliation, my UNC-CH web address and email with expire. The new address for my personal website – a minor redesign that retains many features of this site – is My email address at UCSD is

My current project on disability in Russia will continue, as I work on preparing my manuscript for publication, including the addition of new research on transnational disability rights conducted this summer at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington DC, and, of course, my dissertation data. I am also working on the script of a documentary play based on this work, which had its first read-through in May in Chapel Hill, and will be workshopped in the UNC-CH Communication Studies performance series in early 2016.

Using Oral History to teach engaged Disability Studies at UNC-CH


I wrote recently about the launch of a collaborative website – a digital archive of oral histories of disability advocacy at UNC-CH, gathered by undergraduate students in two disability studies courses during the spring of 2014. I wanted to highlight the philosophy behind that project, so I’ve excerpted below the “Why Oral History” page from the UNC ADA Legacy Project (written by me with input from collaborators Dr. Lauren Fordyce and Dr. Neel Ahuja). It’s been a fantastic project that we hope to continue with a new crop of undergraduates next spring. We’ve learned so much from curating these oral histories, and we hope the digital archive will serve as a resource to the community going forward.

To be clear, in the exerpt below, any reference to “the website” or “this website” actually refers to the website for the ADA Legacy at UNC-CH Project (not my personal website to which I’m posting this excerpt).

IPicture of Polk Place at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with Wilson Library included in the picture.

Dear friends:

It is our great pleasure to announce the launch of the culmination of a semester of work by the students in the Spring 2014 UNC-CH Anthropology of Disability and Introduction to Disability Studies courses.

As you make your way through the posts on the site, we wanted to give you a sense of how it is that we came to this format for the project, and why we think Oral History is an important form of scholarship for disability studies. We’ve also included some information about the format of the site and the editorial decisions more broadly.

What is Oral History?

Oral History is a method of gathering knowledge about the past from real people in their own voices. Often located as a tradition linked to ethnography, folklore, and folk history, oral histories are also used by scholars in the humanities (English, History) and social sciences (Anthropology, Sociology). Oral history, because it is focused on individual people’s memories and accounts of the past, offers a different perspective from traditional history, which is focused on elites and major events. Oral history can be considered microhistory or personal history. It can also be used to tell the story of struggle or of an outsider group.[1]

Oral History has some unusual conventions. You might notice as you read the Oral Histories collected on this website that the format of people’s quotations look a lot different from the quotes that you are used to seeing in newspapers and in novels. In ethnographic and oral history research, we consider people’s words to be the “data.”

We do our best to transcribe the words of interviewees in a way that is true to how they were actually spoken. We do less to “clean up” quotes and make them look like standard written English than a journalist or novelist would do. This often means striking a balance in terms of making it easy for a reader to understand, representing the interviewee’s intention, and still sticking as close as possible to what was actually said. It turns out that we are all pretty messy when we speak – we don’t always use full sentences, and we say “um” a lot! In keeping some of these imperfections in the text, the intention is to allow the reader to recreate in his or her mind how the conversation actually sounded.

We also try as much as possible to give the reader long blocks of unbroken text from the interviewee, so that they get to read the history in the interviewee’s own words. On this website, we do so using a convention that many ethnographers and oral historians use, which is to place quotations longer than four lines in length in “block quotes” – in those cases, instead of quotation marks, you will know that the words are a direct quote from the interviewee because the block of text is set off from the rest of the narrative with a line break and a paragraph-long indentation.

Why Oral History and Disability?

In the preface to his book, What We Have Done: An Oral History of the Disability Rights Movement, Frank Pelka writes:

“Nothing about us, without us” is one of the the most compelling slogans to come out of the disability rights movement.  … Advocates have had to raise their voices, often in frustration and anger, sometimes in desperation, to a society that assumes they have no voice at all.[2]

While people with disabilities have often been pushed to the margins of society and the margins of history, this project, like Pelka’s, seeks to put the voices of people with disabilities at the very center. Unlike Pelka’s work, this website does include many interviews and stories with people who do not self-identify as disabled, but who have been (and are) making the history of disability inclusion at UNC-CH and the surrounding community.

Catherine Kudlick proposed in her article “Disability History: Why we need another Other” that not only should history and historians pays attention to disability, but that thinking with and about disability will yield new theories and ideas. Just as paying attention to race and gender not only resulted in different versions of history, but also produced whole bodies of theory and interdisciplinary fields of scholarship, paying attention to disability results not only in stories about disability, but in different ways of looking at and understanding the world.

Disability Studies as a by now relatively established interdisciplinary field of study has also recognized that ethnography is particularly important tool for recentering the experiences of people with disabilities. For instance, a quick search of the web archive of the journal Disability Studies Quarterly for the word “ethnography” turns up 45 results (2004-2014); the journal Qualitative Inquiry about ethnographic process often runs articles highlighting methodological innovations for working with people with a range of disabilities.

As a mode of ethnography, Oral History is particularly suited to this project because it allows for student interviewers to engage in depth with a single interview subject. It also is more conducive to establishing a public archive than other modes of ethnographic research, which rely more heavily on the ethnographer to interpret the raw data. Here, the data – the recordings and interviews – are as much an outcome of the project as the summaries that our student interviewers have created.

Why Student Interviewers?

One unusual aspect of this project is that undergraduate student interviewers at UNC-CH have done most of the work of gathering the interviews. We’ve organized the project this way for several reasons.

In the first place, collecting, transcribing, and preparing Oral History interviews takes a lot of time. We realized that by having student ethnographers do some of this work would make it possible for us to gather many more interviews at once than if we did this project without students.

Additionally, for the reasons mentioned above, we believe that a core part of teaching disability studies is to allow people with disabilities to tell their stories in their own words.  For students in both of these courses, learning directly from people with disabilities, advocates, and allies is in line with the ethics of both disability studies and anthropology. Students, with input from us, have struggled with the work of representing their interviewees; this was a trying process, and one that we think is absolutely critical to the work of learning to understand the problematic, dehumanizing, and unjust ways that people with disabilities have been represented historically (and, sadly, in many cases, today).

For more on the recruitment process for this project, please see the FAQs on the Get Involved! page of this website.

What about the Other Blogposts?

In addition to the original oral histories posted on this website, our students have also contributed topical blog posts on issues related to access, disability advocacy, and disability experience at UNC-CH and in the surrounding community. The topics of these posts were chosen by the students themselves, approved by us, and researched and written by the students. All posts went through a rigorous editorial process before being posted to the site and made public. Students were asked to verify all quotations and representations with anyone named in their post. The website editor checked citations and facts, and many students posts went through several rounds of revision. Any photographic representations have either come with emailed consent from the photographer and those pictured, or are reposted from another web source. The website editor also edited all posts for grammar, style, and formatting.

How Should I Read this Site?

The Oral Histories on this site appear as blog posts, interspersed with topical stories by students that are meant to capture related aspects of life on the UNC-CH campus. You can start on the home page and simply work your way down, reading those posts that interest you as you go.

Or, if you are interested in a particular topic, you can use the tag cloud in the margin of the home page to find posts that have been tagged with that category. This works like an index for our digital archive. For example, clicking on the phrase “Students at UNC” will bring you to a discrete page; as you scroll down you will see that the site has pulled up all of the posts and Oral Histories that are about “Students at UNC”. The bigger the phrase appears in the tag cloud, the more entries it will pull up. This tag cloud will change over time as we add more posts to the site. If you like a post and you want to read others in the same category, you will find the list of relevant categories at the bottom of a given post.

An image of the tag cloud for this site

Finally, if you are looking for a specific entry, the quickest option is to use the search function. For example, if you want to read the post written by a certain student or about a certain community member, you can type that person’s last name into the search box in the side column and click “search”.

A Note on Terminology

In editing the student work that appears on this website, we have had to make several editorial decisions about what language and descriptive terminology about disability is appropriate. As disability scholars have documented (Linton 1996), there are striking ways in which language has been used to dehumanize and medicalize disability, and disempower people with disabilities. In accordance with many American disability advocates and disability studies scholars, we have erred on the side of the “people first” vocabulary that prefers “people with disabilities” or “a person with a mobility impairment.” Of course just as some people prefer this language, others, for instance many advocates for neurodiversity prefer the term “autistic person,” and British conventions often prefer “disabled person” in recognition that the environment is disabling the person. [3]

At the same time, in the Oral Histories, we have preserved the terminology that interviewees themselves used. Our first priority as researchers is to represent people as they really are and as they wish to be represented.

In all other cases, we have done our best to remove or trouble ableist language or sentiment in both student writing and in any and all representations that appear on the site. But, as editors, we are imperfect. If you notice language or sentiments that do not meet this standard, please let us know.

Making this Website Accessible

In creating this site, we’ve done our best to follow conventions of website accessibility to make sure that as many people as possible can visit and use the site smoothly.

For screen-reader users, we have done our best to make sure that photos and links open in a separate tab or window. We have also done our best to provide substantive and useful Alt descriptions of photos.  If you find any elements of the site which are not up to this standard, or would like to suggest another way in which we could make the experience better for screen-reader users, please let the site editor know by email.

For English-language learners or visitors to the site who prefer to read simple text, we have included “Simple English” versions of several posts (link to Simple English tag). We realize that not everyone reads at a college level; we struggled with how to approach this issue. Many thanks to Ellen Perry for bringing this issue up. In the end, we decided to keep most posts at a college reading level (partially because much of the text was prepared by college students as part of their coursework). Eventually we would love to have a Simple English version of every post! We had to decide which posts to rewrite in Simple English first, and we have prioritized those posts that are about people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. If you find a post that you would like to read in Simple English, but do not see a Simple English option (a link at the top of the post just under the title), please let us know! We will be happy to write a Simple English version and post it.

We haven’t used many videos in this site, but when we have reposted videos from other sites, we have tried to use videos with captioning.

Are there any other ways that we could make visiting this website a more accessible experience? Let us know!

Thanks for Stopping In!

Without further ado, please enjoy the website! We hope that this project serves as a resource to the community in the years going forward. We are truly honored to present what we understand to be the first consolidated record of the immense advocacy work that has gone into making the UNC-CH campus and communities accessible to people with a diverse range of embodiments and minds, we think this is a pretty good start. Just as our advocacy work is not done, and accessibility can never be fully “achieved” but only worked toward, we hope that this website will keep growing in the years to come.


Cassandra Hartblay
PhD student, Department of Anthropology
Project Research Coordinator, Website Editor

Lauren Fordyce
Medical Anthropology Lecturer, Department of Anthropology
Instructor, Anthropology of Disability

Neel Ahuja
Assistant Professor, Department of English and Comparative Literature
Instructor, Introduction to Disability Studies

April 2014


[1] For more on Oral History as a method, see:

DeBlasio, Donna Marie, ed. Catching Stories: A Practical Guide to Oral History. Athens,Ohio: Swallow Press. 2009.

Charles Price “Becoming Rasta: Origins of Rastafari Identity in Jamaica.” NYU Press: 2009.

[2] Disability History Citations:

Kudlik, Catherine J. 2003. “Disability History: Why We Need Another ‘Other.’” The American Historical Review 108 (3).

Pelka, Frank. “What Have We Done: An Oral History of the Disability Rights Movement.” University of Massachusetts Press, 2012. ix.

[3] Discussion of disability terminology:

Linton, Simi. Claiming Disability : Knowledge and Identity. New York University Press. 1998.

Davis, Lennard. The Disability Studies Reader. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge. 2006.

Brown, Lydia.  “Ableism/Language” on her blog Autistic Hoya. Accessed April 28, 2014.

Phillips, Sarah D. Disability and Mobile Citizenship in Postsocialist Ukraine. Indiana University Press, 2011. pp. 249-252.

Website Launch: The ADA Legacy Project at UNC-CH


An invitation to attend the Website Launch party - white text on a background of colorful watercolor circles

I have been lucky to work over the past semester with Dr. Lauren Fordyce and Dr. Neel Ahuja on an engaged research project. Undergraduate students in both Dr. Fordyce’s and Dr. Ahuja’s courses have worked to gather oral history interviews and relevant news and events on issues related to disability advocacy and awareness on the UNC-CH campus and surround community. As the research coordinator and website editor for the project, I have recruited participants, coached student interviewers, and fact-checked and revised the student work.

Now I’m very excited to be finally launching the website with all of these collected stories in one place. As far as we know, this website is the first archive of disability history at UNC-CH. Down the road, we’ll be working to figure out how to save the digital archive and the original interview recordings and transcripts.

But for now, we just want to invite you to the party!

Join us for a Launch Party to celebrate the project participants and the hard work of our student interviewers.

Where: The Student Union at UNC-CH (at the corner of South Rd and Raleigh St, next to Davis Library and the Student Stores), Room 3103

When: Tuesday, April 29th at 1pm

What: Cake, snacks, mingling, and short presentations from student-interviewers about the Oral Histories

Everyone is welcome to attend this event. We are very excited to present this engaged, interdisciplinary project, and we hope that you can join us.

If you have participated in the project in any way, and would like to sign up to speak at the launch party, please let us know!

Please contact Cassandra Hartblay ( with concerns or accommodations requests.

**The party is sponsored by the Department of Anthropology**

Citizen Diplomacy in times of Discomfort


As I prepared for my recent trip to Russia, many Americans were concerned with the timing of my trip, given recent events in Ukraine and the Crimea, with resulting diplomatic upheaval between the US/NATO/the EU and the Russian Federation. Others, less familiar with my work, commented (jokingly, I think) that it’s a good time to be an American spy! On the one hand, I bristle at the implication that all Americans interested in Russia must be spies. On the other hand, this type of comment offers the perfect opening to talk about the importance of citizen diplomacy.

The truth is that while I bill myself as an ethnographer of Russia, and my work focuses theoretically primarily on the social inclusion/exclusion of people with disabilities, actually, as an American citizen who spends long stretches of time living with and amongst average Russian citizens, I am also a citizen diplomat.

It’s easy, after years and years of Cold War rhetoric, for Americans to simply view Russia and Russians through the lens of national security and international competition. With so much of our news media discussion of Russia focused on international relations, economic sanctions, border conflicts, and critical reports on Putin’s leadership, or even spy scandals, the dominant lens through which most Americans view Russia is skewed toward the military, the high level negotiations, and clandestine intelligence. Compare this, for example, with our exposure to the goings on in Great Britain – we hear relatively little about scandals in Parliament, the corruption of the royal family, social unrest, or imperial ventures; instead, American news media focuses on British pop stars and athletes, hokey stereotypes about double-decker buses and tea-drinking, and reality TV breakout stars. The overall message that Americans get from mass media is that the Brits are just like us; meanwhile, the Russians are an oppressed, disempowered and undifferentiated mass subject to a corrupt kleptocracy led by power-hungry, territory-grabbing Putin.

Of course, this is false.

Russians have just as many pop stars and reality shows, and drink just as much tea, as the Brits. Like Americans, very few Russians are actually spies for their government – most are teachers or doctors or bus drivers or factory workers. It’s just that American media coverage of Russia does a very bad job of communicating this. Moreover, while Russians listen to American pop music, and can go and see Hollywood-made movies any day of the week, Americans have almost no exposure Russian pop culture (do you know who Kseniya Sobchak is?).

Point being, that while high level negotiations are of grave importance, we often forget that one of the most important “weapons” that the United States deployed during the opening of the Soviet Union in the 1980s was citizen diplomacy. As a form of soft power, citizen diplomacy relies on the idea that knowing actual people on a personal level allows citizens of two nations that might otherwise appear to be opposed to soften towards one another. Like Sting’s (now absurdist) nuclear disarmament lyrics, “I hope the Russians love their children too,” the thrust of citizen diplomacy is that non-military ties between average citizens promote peace and friendship on both the personal and international levels.

It is in this spirit that I forged ahead with my planned trip to Russia at the end of March, 2014, a moment when world media was reporting unresolved diplomatic crisis between out two countries. In an email to my mentor and visa-invitor, Larissa Dmitrievna Boichenko (a professor of international human rights and leader of the Gender Research Center in Petrozavodsk), prior to the trip I asked for her opinion about the planned travel, and wrote that, it seems that times of escalating discomfort on the international level only underline the need for the kinds of academic ties and citizen diplomacy that we share all the more.

With Russian Colleague Larissa Dmitrievna Boichenko

Cassandra Hartblay and Larissa Dmitrievna Boichenko in the lobby of the Northern Branch of The Russian Law Academy of the Russian Federation Ministry of Justice in Petrozavodsk.

In fact, it was citizen diplomacy that brought me to Petrozavodsk in the first place. I was a high school student at Amherst Regional High School in Massachusetts in 2002 when I participated in an on-going exchange program to Petrozavodsk. The program, begun in the early 1980s as part of the glasnost’ effort, and administered by the state department, began an ongoing series of exchanges between my high school, and it’s exchange sister, School Number 17, in Petrozavodsk. The exchange was successful and continued over many years in large part because of the determination and diplomatic efforts of our Russian teacher, Jude Wobst, and her counterparts in Petrozavodsk. I don’t know how many of those original exchange pairings remain intact, but it is certainly remarkable that the ARHS-School Number 17 relationship is now over twenty years old (contrast this with the sad state of the sister city relationship between my current city, Chapel Hill, NC and its Russian counterpart, for example).

The truth is, that while recent op-eds have bemoaned the lack of support for developing expertise in developing relationships with Russia and an awareness of Russian cultural ebbs and flows in the past twenty years, actually, a determined group of citizen diplomats (with support from under-acknowledged government agencies, like the Open World Leadership Center) has held steadfastly to this mission. In addition, Russian Studies and Russian Language programs at our nation’s universities have struggled to stay open and recruit majors, largely thanks to the efforts of determined and dedicated faculty (as someone who studied Russian in high school in the late 1990s, and in college in the 2000s, I literally never studied in a program that wasn’t under threat of being shutdown in the face of budget concerns or sudden fervor to start an Arabic program).

On my high school exchange program, I wasn’t the one who spoke Russian the best (not very well at all, in fact), or sang the best song at our intercultural talent show. But I have maintained ties with my host family to this day, and Masha, my host sister remains one of my closest friends.

I may not get to be a spy, but I do get to share twelve years of family memories with a dear friend who happens to hold a Russian passport.

In my work as an anthropologist, I get to repeat this process over and over again, as research participants and scholarly colleagues become first facebook buddies, then pals I see every other year or so, and even, eventually, close friends. Each time I leave Petrozavodsk, a different assortment of friends and acquaintances shows up on the platform at the train station, chocolate or snacks in hand, to bid me goodbye, and ask when I’ll next be back. It is my great privilege to be “nasha amerikanka” (our American) to this collection of Russian citizens, and the information that we share between us, about births, marriages, deaths, new jobs or favorite recipes and organic shampoo brands, may not be state secrets, but in the grand scheme of citizen diplomacy, they are certainly weighty indeed.


An photo from a scrapbook of the 1989-1990 ARHS-Petrozavodsk exchange (from Jude Wobst's archives).

An photo from a scrapbook of the 1989-1990 ARHS-Petrozavodsk exchange (from Jude Wobst’s archives).



Masha and her stepdaughter go for a walk near their home in Petrozavodsk, 2014. (Photo by C. Hartblay).

Masha and her stepdaughter go for a walk near their home in Petrozavodsk, 2014. (Photo by C. Hartblay).

My exchange sister Masha (center) and me (left) with a high school friend in Amherst during the 2002 exchange (personal archive).

My exchange sister Masha (center) and me (left) with a high school friend in Amherst during the 2002 exchange (personal archive).

Teaching Engaged Anthropology: Disability History at UNC-CH


Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 12.41.52 PMThis spring, I am very excited to be working with medical anthropologist Dr. Lauren Fordyce, instructor of the Anthropology of Disability course at UNC-CH, and Dr. Neel Ahuja, instructor for the Disability Studies course housed in the English department, to launch an applied undergraduate course project that seeks to contribute to a sense of disability history at UNC-CH. While the UNC-CH library system houses many excellent archives documenting the histories of various oppressed groups coming into visibility on the campus, there as of yet is not a disability history collection. By working with undergraduate students and networks of disability allies and advocates on campus and in the broader community, we have dreamed up a project that will gather oral histories relating to activism and access on the UNC-CH campus.

This local project will eventually link up with the national ADA Legacy Project, which I learned about at the 2013 Society for Disability Studies meeting. The 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act is on July 26, 2015; The ADA Legacy Project is a national effort that is working to preserve the history of the disability rights movement; celebrate its milestones; and educate the public and future generations of disability advocates.

This project furthers the tradition that Dr. William Lachicotte (creator of the UNC-CH Anthropology of Disability course) and CCDJ launched a few years back, that the undergraduate students in the Anthropology of Disability at UNC-CH conduct an applied project.

As the Graduate Research Consultant for the ADA Legacy Project at UNC-CH, I worked with Dr. Fordyce to plan and develop the research design for the project. I have been busily working the networks, reaching out to folks across campus to recruit people to be interviewed. With the participant list in place, I am working with Dr. Fordyce and Dr. Ahuja to train and support undergraduate students to conduct oral history interviews (often for the first time), to analyze their interviews and draft blogpost oral history narratives that meet the approval of their interviewees, and to create and publicize a digital archive for these interviews. With Stevie Larson, I’ve also been posting sample topical and archival blogposts on UNC-CH disability history issues, and helping students to craft and revise their own informational posts.

I couldn’t be more excited about the work the students have done so far, and the amazing narratives that the interviewees are contributing. As always, this is a learning process for all of us, and we can only just begin to now peek over the horizon to imagine what knowledge this work will produce.

Stay tuned for an announcement of the official launch party for the ADA Legacy Project blog when student oral histories will be posted, and in the meantime, follow the project on Twitter!

Some new publications, and a visit to Petrozavdosk


It’s been almost a year since the conclusion of my major dissertation fieldwork in Petrozavodsk, Russia, and the end of March 2014 finds me back in the city doing follow-up work. Coming out of the train station, it felt like I had never left. I can’t wait to see everyone face to face.

The day-to-day work of processing and writing up ethnographic data can feel like a grind, but coming back to my fieldsite puts it all in perspective. It’s exhilarating to look back on the past year and realize how much has actually gotten done. Best of all, I get to do something I’ve never done before – a super-duper ethnographer rite of passage. I’m going over to visit one of my research participants, and I bringing her a copy of an edited volume, in Russian, in which my chapter is concerned with a concept that springs entirely from my interviews with her. That is – I actually get to hand someone a book in which their words are quoted, and in a language they can read.

Of course, this is also a nerve-wracking moment. Along with the excitement of seeing her name in print, my collaborator will also have to put up with me asking her to tell me if she thinks I got it right – or wrong. Not only for the article, but also for the various chapters of my dissertation that are in progress. I have no idea whether she will find this boring, exhilarating, or what. But, I feel that I’m making good on the thing I’m always telling my students – that it’s your research participants that you’re first and foremost accountable to; these are their stories, and you are just a human megaphone, boosting the signal, getting the stories out there.

Anyway, all of that was a roundabout way of getting to the point that I haven’t posted a brag-blog about some publications that have come out recently or will shortly. Russian Public Sphere book cover

First, there’s the aforementioned chapter in Elena Iarskaia-Smirnova and Pavel Romanov’s 2013 volume in Russian on the Russian Public Sphere. It’s a great volume all around, with various articles from both established (Elena Trubina) and up-and-coming (Olga Verbilovich, Valeria Markina) Russian sociologists/theorists, and I’m honored to be included. My chapter “Welcome to Sergeichburg: imagining spaces of difference and disability in Russian digital publics” attempts to theorize how representations of disability in the Russian public sphere both open up crip possibilities and reproduce stigma by focusing on the work of Sergei Kutergin, a comedian I like to call “the Russian Josh Blue”.

Second, a related piece, on the same comedian, will appear in Russian and in English in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Social Policy Studies. JSPS is a publication that publishes amazing work by Russian sociologists in Russian, and I’m very lucky to get to be one of the first people whose work will appear in the journal’s new iteration, which is to include two dual-language (Russian and English) articles in each issue. Here is the link to the live issue. This is also  the first appearance of any of the material from my dissertation research in English.

Third, at long last, an article that has been in the works for many, many years is out in the recent issue of Disability Studies Quarterly. “A Genealogy of (post-)Soviet Dependency: Disabling Productivity” started out as a paper presentation at SOYUZ, the postsocialist interest group of the American Anthropological Association, and eventually became a Zola Award winning essay from the Society for Disability Studies.

Installation Launch: Cripping Cyberspace


I am absolutely thrilled to announce the launch of my new ethnographic installation in its digital incarnation this Friday, September 27th!!A screenshot from the home page of the installation website, showing the heading, the menu, two paragraphs of text, and three photos of unusable ramps in Russia

The project, Do You Like This Installation?, is one of four commissioned works featured in a contemporary online art exhibition titled Cripping Cyberspace. The broader exhibition is curated by uber-talented Amanda Cachia, presented by the Canadian Journal for Disability Studies, and is debuting as part of the Common Pulse Arts & Disability Festival, taking place in Durham, Ontario, Canada.

This week I’m also launch a beta version of the physical installation as an open studio work. It will premiere to the general public for viewing and interactive engagement later in the fall of 2013.

Starting now, everyone is invited to visit the digital interface for the project, to view the installation photos and videos, and to VOTE for their preference!

Additionally, Amanda has recorded an interview with me about the project, which you can watch below.


Please take a few minutes to engage with the ground breaking work presented by the other artists & collectives in the exhibition. Katherine Araniello takes up a beat to break it down – I particularly like the moment when she hits us with “infectious, infectious, infectious”. Sarah Hendren, as usual, is out of the this world, pushing limits with an extension of her slope : intercept project that explores the possibilities for audio description as descriptive soundscape. The Montreal In/accessible Collective has created a phenomenal series of digital public service “posters” that sets out to crip the landscape, “to impair ableism and damage the structures of power that reinforce the ‘normalcy’ of ableist architecture.” I can’t quite get over being included in this badass-sophisticate collection of rad ruffian crip activists!

It’s been a long road to this moment of seeing activism, art, and critical disability theory come together in such an exciting way. Preliminary feedback confirms the convictions that performance ethnography methodology & engaged scholarship have suggested – a public anthropology, a non-textocentric anthropology, a digital/visual/embodied ethnographic output provokes a dialogic engagement with audiences and collaborators in ways that text alone simply can’t.


Cripping Development


I was so lucky to be in Prague last week to take part in a single-stream conference, Decolonizing Disability Theory I: Cripping Development. As an ethnographer recording disabled experience in Russia, the opportunity to engage disability theory in the actual space of Eastern Europe was not only much needed, but exceeded all expectations.

From an opening night in which Anastasia Kayiatos and Robert McRuer engaged a performance art piece Haute Coutures 01 Fires to challenge disability theory to encompass the ways in which neoliberalism and global chains of production create illogical convergences of bodies at work, to myriad social encounters, to a queer/crip dance, the event was simply unsurpassed.

In presenting new work considering the ways in which crip theory does and does not translate into the Russian context, I received comments and responses that opened up new space to think through how activists and academics speak to one another, and how Western scholarship remains in many ways a colonizing discourse.

I feel so lucky to have shared the floor with copanelists Sue Schweik (UC Berkeley) and Robert McRuer (George Washington); I am grateful for their phenomenal papers interrogating crip idioms in international contexts, and for their thoughtful and supportive feedback. Also, I am grateful to my dear friend Anastasia Kayiatos for camaraderie and her peerless mind, to Mel Chen for engaging with my project, and to Chris Chapman for insisting on the necessity of illogical responses to interpellating one’s own role in systemic oppression. From the deepest wells of gratitude, I am blown away by the emotive, challenging, and thoughtful critiques that Eastern European activists (including members of the 3a3or group) brought to bear on my work.

And most of all, I am grateful to Kateřina Kolářová and Katharina Wiedlack for bringing this conference into being, and creating a space to create productive ruptures that might shift our paradigms.

Fall teaching – the UNITAS curriculum for social justice


I’m very excited to be working this coming school year with Maggie Morgan-Smith and Anna Agbie-Davies to teach an amazing course that focuses on diversity, social justice, and why ethnography is an important methodology for engaged scholars. The UNITAS curriculum has been around as a “Living Learning Community” at UNC-CH for quite a few years now, and has gone through its share of changes and growing pains. For now, it’s at home as a two-semester course in the anthropology department, with an optional residency component for students in a campus dorm. The course is open to undergraduate students at all levels, with the understanding that we are all always working to better understand how to take our theory into practice and our activism into the classroom.

Check out the flyers we’re circulating to publicize the course [click on the image for a higher resolution]:

UNITAS, n.: (specific to UNC-­‐CH) a year-­‐long learning experience for diversity and social justice, that combines classroom academics with real world activism. [photo of Moral Monday protest]*******BREAKING NEWS!!!********* for the first time since its inception, the 2013-­‐2014 UNITAS course will be open to students who have not signed up to live in the UNITAS dorm through Res Life. You can also sign up to live with your fellow students on the UNITAS hall! ************************************ ANTH 92 (fall) + ANTH 93 (spring) TTH 5:00-­‐ 6:15pm, Alumni 205 Instructors: Cassandra Hartblay and Maggie Morgan-­‐Smith What is social justice? How can your academic studies at Carolina contribute to understanding and addressing injustice in our society? The UNITAS living learning community was founded by a coalition of students and faculty to create a unique program that allows students to develop a common vocabulary to talk about diversity through academic work in the classroom, and to take those skills into engaged activism in the community through a service learning project. Where is sexism, classism, racism, ableism, and heterosexism in our community? How are community members working to challenge these forms of domination? Based in the anthropology department, the year-­‐ long UNITAS course encourages students to understand how ethnography -­‐ writing about human difference -­‐ can be both a way of learning and a way of challenging the status quo. To sign up for UNITAS, please contact the anthropology department registrar, Questions about the course can be sent to the instructors, and hartblay@email.unc.eduflyer_unitas_1 copy

New posts up on “Kto Kuda Kak?” Accessibility Blog


You might remember a meme that got passed around the internet last fall, showing pictures of utterly inaccessible ramps from around Russia. Russian accessibility activists like to call these the “galochki” or check-mark ramps: Is there a ramp? Yes! Does it work? Who cares?! It’s there, put a check mark in the accessibility box!

Last November, we launched a collaborative blog to collect photos of galochki ramps

A screen shot of the website "Who? Where? How?: ability in the built environment of Karelia"

around Petrozavodsk and surrounding regions. We hoped to get lots of submissions from the general public, and even tried announcing a contest as a way to spur people to action. But, responses have only trickled in. This is partly because so few people with mobility impairments travel or go for leisurely walks in Karelia in the winter anyway – the feet upon feet of snow the region receives is quickly compacted on walkways into the dark brown, slick and slippery substance known in Russian as “slyakat'” – which makes movement through the city difficult for everyone, regardless of mobility capacity.

I am happy to say that by the third week of April, we are finally “slyakat'” free, and some new photos have started to trickle in. I’m taking the opportunity to post many photos that I’ve taken myself over the past few months. Russians may say that spring officially starts on March 1st, but I’m going to take it upon myself to say that today – the first day that it rained instead of snowed – it is finally, finally spring in Karelia.

Check out the new photos, comment away, submit your own examples, and don’t forget to pass our website on! Now that the weather’s nice, we’re planning a “day of action” coming up to collect a whole lot of photos at once.