March 1, 2004

Workshop to explore 'The Subject of Disability'

By Eric Rangus

The Feminism and Legal Theory Workshop will host its spring 2004 session "The Subject of Disability," March 4-5 in the School of Law and the Emory Conference Center.

This is the first campuswide event presented by the workshop, which moved permanently to Emory at the start of 2004. For the last five years, it had been based at Cornell Law School.

The workshop's transfer south accompanied the move of its founder and director Martha Albertson Fineman, Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law, who joined the law school faculty this year.

"People with disabilities are estimated to constitute 30 percent of the population of the United States with increases predicted as baby boomers age," said Fineman, considered to be one of the nation's leading feminist legal scholars. "Disability is a diversity issue, crossing lines of gender, race, class and social groupings, yet it is seldom included as a significant component in those areas."

Delivering the keynote speech for "The Subject of Disability" will be Harriet McBryde Johnson, a lawyer, activist and writer from Charleston, S.C. Johnson has been active in the disability rights movement for more than 25 years. Her work has appeared in many publications, including the Feb. 16, 2003, issue of The New York Times Magazine. Her piece, "Unspeakable Conversations," a first-person essay on meeting with Peter Singer, Ira W. Decamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University (who has said parents should have a right to euthanize disabled infants), was one of that publication's most discussed stories.

Johnson's law practice emphasizes cases involving the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other disability issues. Her keynote at 4 p.m., March 5, in the conference center will serve as a bridge to the "Disability Studies and the University" conference to begin later that evening, also in the conference center (see story), and continue through Sunday, March 7.

"The Subject of Disability" will begin in the law school's Agnor Room at 3 p.m. on March 4 with a discussion on "Theorizing Disability." The next discussion, "The Subject of Disability," will follow at 5 p.m. The two discussions set for March 5 at the Conference Center's Silverbell Pavilion are "Feminist Theory and Disability" at 9:30 a.m. and "Politics and Policy" at 1:45 p.m. A total of 14 professors from the United States and Canada will deliver presentations.

"Disabled people have been viewed as both the subjects of medicine and the subjects of law," Fineman said. "In addition to perspectives from those disciplines, we are interested in discussing the political and cultural representations of disability."

Conference fees are waived for Emory faculty, staff and students, but only registered participants may attend the Thursday night dinner.

Fineman founded the Feminism and Legal Theory Workshop at the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1984 with the intention of offering a place where feminist scholarship could be presented and supported. Several publications have grown out of the project. One of the first, At the Boundaries of Law: Feminism and Legal Theory , was the first anthology of feminist legal theory.

Fineman moved the project to Columbia Law School in 1990 then on to Cornell Law School in 1999. When she was named the law school's third Woodruff professor in summer 2003, Fineman brought the project with her.

While "The Subject of Disability" is the project's first effort since moving to campus, it is not Fineman's. In March 2003, she was one of the Emory scholars debating the role of marriage at Emory's conference on "Sex, Marriage and the Family and Religions of the Book," the culmination of two years of research by the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion (CISR), where she now is senior fellow. Fineman also has taken part in CISR's "Saving Our Children: The Role of State, Church and the Arts" with that project's co-director, Martin Marty.