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.

Summer 2015: The Role of Transnational Disability Rights in US-Russia Relations


June and July of 2015 will find me in Washington DC, as a Summer Fellow at the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center. I’m excited to be a part of this vibrant community of scholar working on global, policy-relevant research.

This marks a new phase of my research and the development of my manuscript, as I develop the ways in which the ethnographic research I’ve conducted with adults with disabilities in Russia holds relevance for transnational disability advocacy and for policymakers concerned with US-Russia relations and global human rights.

This phase of the project will focus on qualitative interviews with DC area experts including disability rights advocates, policymakers, and international relations practitioners. Interviews will focus on the recent history of transnational disability rights advocacy, on US foreign policy strategy concerning disability rights, and on how disability rights advocacy compares to other minority rights issues, e.g. gender and LGBTQ rights in these arenas.

A little background:

In 2012, the Russian Federation ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

As of 2014, the United States has not ratified the same Convention. In policy briefs and news articles, disability advocates cite the fact that Russia has ratified the CRPD as a manner of shaming US lawmakers, implying that a country often considered to be backwards on human rights is ahead of the United States on this issue.

What’s going on here? Why do Americans assume that Russia is always worse on human rights than the US? What is the recent history of the efforts of US disability advocates to lobby for a ratification of the UNCRPD? What are the political factors that have led to its repeated shelving in US Congress? When do US foreign relations practitioners bring up disability rights in transnational conversations?

In part this project will function as an oral history of the transnational disability advocacy movement. At the same time, it will document recent developments in both US-Russia foreign policy in regard to human rights, and offer a sustained investigation of how disability rights come into play (or don’t) when Americans talk about Russia.

What are we doing when we say Putin has Asperger’s Syndrome?


I am someone who thinks about disability and Russia for many hours of the day, most days. So, naturally, I paid attention when the social media world was suddenly flush with posts and tweets about the strange story that a US government report had speculated that Putin has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. This was a story that hit the trigger buttons for two constituencies that aren’t usually found together: the neurodiversity community, and Russian conspiracy theorists intent on documenting US Imperialism and incompetence.

After tracking down the report for myself (so middling, it’s hard to believe it was newsworthy) and surveying both the US and Russian popular responses, I wrote a thought piece for the medical anthropology blog Somatosphere.

While much of the critical response focused on what The Guardian called “the stupidity of psychological diagnosis from a distance,” or, via media footage, I found a different element worth considering. What happens to a diagnosis when cultural traits are pathologized using that diagnosis? And what happens to ethnic or national identities when cultural traits are pathologized? Is there something specific about scenarios in which both occur simultaneously?

You can read the full blog post on Somatosphere, here.

Society for Disability Studies takes Minneapolis!


I find out what a nerd I really am when I realize how excited I am for the Society for Disability Studies conference. The conference will take place this week, June 11-14th, in Minneapolis. This will only be my third time attending, but I truly love this community. I look forward all year to finding out what people have been working on, congregating in hotel lobbies (bundled up to bear my Reynaud’s in the too-cold air-conditioning), and building new relationships. It’s also an extra-fun year for me to attend SDS, because I went to college at Macalester College, just across the river in Saint Paul. So, the Twin Cities are where I first got to delve into disability studies as a field – taking classes with Cindy Wu, doing campus activism (Disability Awareness Month) with SDS board member Joan Ostrove, and interning, then working at Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts. Now in the culminating years of my graduate studies, it all comes full circle.

The poster for Disability Awareness Month 2005. Artwork adapted for this poster is RUSTY CAT MEOW, tempera on matboard, by Ron Christopherson, 2005. RUSTY CAT MEOW was one of the works featured in an exhibition on the 2nd floor of the Ruth Stricker Dayton Campus Center at Macalester College in October 2005. The exhibition included narratives and photos that Ron and I gathered together, as well as his multimedia artworks.

The poster for Disability Awareness Month 2005. Artwork adapted for this poster is RUSTY CAT MEOW, tempera on matboard, 8.5×11″, by Ron Christopherson, 2005. RUSTY CAT MEOW was one of the works featured in an exhibition on the 2nd floor of the Ruth Stricker Dayton Campus Center at Macalester College in October 2005. The exhibition included narratives and photos that Ron and I gathered together, as well as his multimedia artworks.

This year my presentations will be as follows:

Dual regimes of productivity?: tracing ableisms and resistances in Soviet and postsoviet welfare states” a paper presentation extending the questions raised in my recent DSQ article, on a panel titled Performing resistance outside of capitalism: Interrogating Soviet, postsoviet, and global leftist ableisms with Anastasia Kayiatos (Presenter in absentia), Stevie Peace Larson (Presenter), David T. Mitchell (Discussant/update: Dr. Mitchell is unable to attend at the last minute) and Louise Hickman (Moderator). Panel 9d/Friday 5:00-6:30 pm.

“Do You Like This Installation?” a paper presentation about my Ethnographic Installation investigating the built environment of public space and cyberspace in Russia, on a panel titled Cripping Cyberspace: Exploring Online Disability Aesthetics. With Amanda Cachia (Panel Organizer, Presenter, this year’s Zola award winner!!), Sara Hendren (Presenter in absentia), and Margaret Price (Chair/Moderator). Panel 5c/Friday 8:00-9:30 am.

I’m really lucky to be engaging with all these amazing folks, and I can’t wait to see what unfolds.

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 RussiaFellow graduate students, if you’re not already a member, check out the Facebook group for the SDS Grad Student caucus (you need to request membership, but one of us administrators will add you promptly). Join us for a happy hour at Brit’s Pub on Thursday evening, and for the Caucus Meeting Saturday 6:45-7:45 pm (holla, caucus coordinator Adam Newman) and the special panel on professionalization (how do you get a DS job, y’all?) that Jess Waggoner put together (Thursday 12:15-1:15pm).

See you all there!

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**

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.

Springtime Laudations


It’s been an exciting few months!

Not only does mid-May find me wrapping up my year of fieldwork in Petrozavodsk (bye for now, everyone – I’ll miss you!), my email inbox has been full of good news and encouragement.

In April, it was announced that my paper was selected for the 2013 Irving K. Zola Award for emerging scholars in disability studies! The paper argues that considering the Soviet case complicates how we understand the role of capitalism in pathologizing disability. I’ll accepting the award at the Society for Disability Studies conference in June in Orlando.

I was also recently awarded the 2013 Summer Graduate Research Fellowship by the Program in Sexuality Studies at UNC-CH, to help support my work in Petrozavodsk. Read more about how my work fits into the Sexuality Studies framework here.

I was thrilled and honored to learn that the faculty of the Department of Anthropology at UNC-CH selected me for this year’s Honigmann Graduate Award in Sociocultural Anthropology, a yearly honor to a graduate student in the department. This honor was particularly sweet, in that my dissertation adviser, Michele Rivkin-Fish, took the time to nominate me and highlight my work to the rest of the faculty.

Invisible_Children_CoverFinally, returning to North Carolina, I picked up my mail to find two copies of “Learning to See Invisible Children,” a book of case studies on inclusive education efforts in Central Asia. Chapter Five in this volume is one that I coauthored with Galina Ailchieva, and presented at CIES in 2012. I am so excited to read this volume in full – each of these case studies proposes important lessons for best practices in implementing inclusive education. Major thanks to editors Kate Lapham and Martyn Rouse who put this incredible book together. Also, this is the first time that I get to see my name as an author on a book chapter – wheee!

Summer 2013 is shaping up to be a whole new ballgame, as I move on from fieldwork to transcription and analysis. I’m looking forward to digging in to all the interview data collected over the past year. So – friends in Petrozavodsk – I may not be with you physically, but I am very much with you in spirit!