Some Recent Links

As I settle into a new role as a postdoctoral fellow at the UCSD Studio for Ethnographic Design, I’m reflecting on all that happened during the summer of 2015 – what a packed few months it’s been!

a composite of three photographs shows Cassandra Hartblay, Eric Mathews, and Andrea Mazzarino, dressed formally and seated at a table, each in turn learning forward to speak into microphones. Low light and a projection screen with a blue hue are in the background. Various note papers and water glasses are on the table in front of the speakers.

A few highlights:

I was also an enthusiastic spectator-at-a-distance for the production of the new play FREIGHT at HERE Arts Center in New York. Joseph Megel, who developed and directed that show, has been a great mentor to me as I develop a documentary theater project based on my research. Congrats to all involved in that production!

Finally -in the travel tips/canine adventures department, the dog beach at Ocean Beach in San Diego is fantastic!


New photo essay on Disability in Russia

I’m happy to announce the publication of my photo essay and accompanying text in the interdisciplinary journal Landscapes of Violence. You can download the PDF version from the LoV website, or read the abstract, below.

A photo from the LoV photo essay shows my friend Alina and some neighbor children at her computer desk,  the monitor glowing white. Description: Alina is wearing a pink cardigan and has dark hair. Her hands are visible, but her wheelchair is not. She is talking to a young girl with a long braid who is looking at the screen, while a young boy leans over the keyboard.

A photo from the LoV photo essay shows my friend Alina and some neighbor children at her computer desk, the monitor glowing white. Description: Alina is wearing a pink cardigan and has dark hair. Her hands are visible, but her wheelchair is not. She is talking to a young girl with a long braid who is looking at the screen, while a young boy leans over the keyboard.


A recent Human Rights Watch report documented the ways in which people with mobility impairments in Russia are both physically and socially marginalized by the built environment in Russian cities, which is strikingly inaccessible. These photos attempt to center the perspective of people with disabilities traversing (or being limited by) the Russian cityscape, and explore the ways in which (failure to adhere to) building codes effectively limit the public participation of people with (certain) disabilities in the daily life of the democracy. Subtle barriers, immediately obvious to a wheelchair-‐‐user, begin to emerge for the viewer considering these photographs. They document the ways in which people with disabilities recognize the material structures of the city as socially produced, and as a key factor excluding them from public life. Seemingly passive objects and the history of particular infrastructures turn out to be arbiters of marginalization, domination, and discrimination. Some of these photos have appeared on a collaborative blog documenting accessible and inaccessible entryways in the city of Petrozavodsk, Russia. Some images are examples of what I call check-‐‐mark ramps -‐‐ objects that look like ramps, but don’t “work,” i.e. that don’t actually facilitate access for people with mobility impairments. Images of such “failed” ramps have circulated as an internet meme, but their ubiquity elides the fact that there are far more places that simply lack the elements of accessible architecture altogether. This photo essay is related to the ongoing digital installation project DYTLI, based on the same ethnographic research.

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.

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.


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!