In order to explore what an anthropological material culture approach to disability would comprise, we take Tim Ingold’s morphogenetic approach to life as continuously unfolding, a result of things engaged in a dance of animacy, and in processes of ‘making’ as our central point of departure. This approach allows for a continued understanding of disability’s constructed nature; however, this approach is one that has a material, and not a discursive, point of view. We will focus on footwear and explore its material and evolutionary history, and how it has been shaped throughout different historical periods and in different parts of the world. Our central understanding of a material approach to disability is one that concerns how body-objects, such as shoes, are to be remembered. Therefore, we start with research in an archive of human material culture, namely a collection of clothing and footwear, situated in North America. We will then focus on recent contemporary African and Asian engagement with prosthetic shoes for physically disabled people. These examples are then confronted with a well-known case from the Chinese cultural repertoire; namely, that of bound feet and lotus shoes. By examining many examples from across the globe, we intend to illustrate the many ways in which the body, shoes, and the ground, all correspond to each other in a dance of animacy. Disability is sometimes an instigator, and, in many cases, either a mediator or an accelerator, within this correspondence. Materially, the making and use of footwear is a central component to one being classified as a synaesthetic sentient being in the world. Shoes for disabled people are designed with the feet in mind, and their construction is a more labor-intense process than it would be for those who have lesser degrees of disability. It appears that disability is not a matter of either/or, but is instead a matter of degrees of vulnerability. The bodily function of walking, as well as shoes themselves, are articulated in space and time. Theoretically, we ask whether disability might also advance our understanding of humans beyond thinking in terms of normative standards and of the modern, given that the areas examined here involve processes of making, correspondence, and ultimately life itself. We claim that the human is to be found in the dance of animacy, shoes–feet–ground, and that disability is felt and articulated in materiality. We also claim that the posthuman, as observed in the human–machine connection, may have always existed after all. Finally, we will explain how the human and the modern can be found in the materially-made nature of disability, and we suggest that it might be better to orient future research from a transmodern perspective that contextualizes disability in multiple ways in which one might be considered to be modern.
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