Announcing Winner of the 2018 Tobin Siebers Prize for Disability Studies in the Humanities

by Kathryn Beaton on January 17, 2019

The University of Michigan Press is pleased to announce that the 2018 Tobin Siebers Prize for Disability Studies in the Humanities has been awarded to Stephen Knadler for his book manuscript Vitality Politics: Health, Debility, and the Limits of Black Emancipation. The prize was announced at the meeting of the Modern Language Association in Chicago on January 5. Professor Knadler is Professor of English, Spelman College and author of the books Fugitive Race: Narrating and Resisting Whiteness, 1850-1980 and Remapping Citizenship and the Nation in African-American Literature.

Vitality Politics explores the persistence of racial hierarchies since Reconstruction around Black health and “vitality” that function to regulate and normalize African Americans’ exclusion from the modern liberal meritocratic state. Stephen Knadler argues that studying the early 20th-century origins of this vitality politics, and the interventions within Black literary and cultural production, can tell us a lot about the way white supremacist power operates, despite liberal and neoliberal claims of equal opportunity, personal accountability, and individual progress for all. Vitality Politics thus enters into conversation with recent critical disability studies scholarship that has complicated identity-based models of disability to recognize that “debility” or the targeted maiming and distressing of Black populations has often been a key, yet not fully acknowledged, strategy securing the inequalities and injustices of the U.S. liberal multicultural capitalist state. The book is is the first extended study to highlight and investigate a slow racial violence of Black debility that unfolds across time in the everyday, accumulative, contagious, and toxic attritions on health that, in contrast to more spectacular forms of antiblack violence–from lynching to mass incarceration—are often not even recognized as protest events and therefore the claims of the victims are doubted and dismissed. Knadler calls for an urgent need to pay as much attention to a biopolitics of debilitation and medicalization as a New Jim Crow criminalization, police violence, or surveillance if we are going to better understand how Black lives are made not to matter in our supposedly race-neutral multicultural democracy.

Professor Knadler’s manuscript will be published in Fall 2019 in the Corporealities: Discourses of Disability series, and he will receive a cash prize of $1,500. Previous winners of the Tobin Siebers Prize are Elizabeth B. Bearden for Monstrous Kinds: Body, Space, and Narrative in Renaissance Representations of DisabilityShelley L. Tremain for Foucault and Feminist Philosophy of Disability; and Anne McGuire for War on Autism: On the Cultural Logic of Normative Violence.


About the Tobin Siebers Prize

The late Tobin Siebers was a University of Michigan professor of English, co-chair of the university’s Initiative on Disability Studies, and author of many influential books and articles. His colleague Petra Kuppers, remarking on his influence, commented, “His legacy lives on in his nourishing critical perspective, his passion and presence, and it will continue to thrive and grow in the thoughts his writings allow us to spin out.”

To honor this legacy, the University of Michigan Press and the University of Michigan Department of English Language and Literature established The Tobin Siebers Prize for Disability Studies in the Humanities for best book-length manuscript on a topic of pressing urgency in this field. Reflecting the work of the scholar the prize commemorates, the competition invites submissions on a wide range of topics, from literary and cultural studies, to trans-historical research, to contributions to disability theory such as work in crip/queer studies.

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