MtA student, professor co-present paper at national conference on philosophy of disability
6/24/2014 1:43:50 PMWhen philosophy student Kelsey Lauersen signed up for Dr. Jane Dryden’s “Philosophy of Disability” class, she never would have guessed she would end up presenting two papers at a national conference, one she co-wrote with Dryden, and one on her own. That is exactly what happened this spring with Lauersen at the Canadian Disability Studies Association’s annual conference, held as part of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Canada’s largest gathering of scholars across disciplines.
Lauersen was only first exposed to this area of study last fall, but it immediately interested her and she wanted to go beyond what was assigned to her in the course. “Things just clicked,” said Lauersen. “About half way through the semester I realized how interested I am in the topic and approached Dr. Dryden about doing work outside of the class.”
Dryden welcomed this interest from Lauersen.
“It’s really rewarding when a student gets excited about the same things as me,” she says.
“In the course (Philosophy of Disability), we examine the way that disability is more ubiquitous than we tend to think, and we also challenge the idea that disability has to be something ‘bad,’” explains Dryden. “This means doing philosophy in which disability isn’t a kind of afterthought or counter-example, but philosophy that takes seriously the experiences of disabled people as a kind of starting point for thinking about the human. Kelsey’s additional research outside of classwork has been significant.”
Lauersen started by writing a paper on her own for the student paper competition held by the Canadian Disability Studies Association in February. The paper focused on selfhood and narrative identity in disabled persons, particularly with respect to people-first language. She won the competition and was awarded the opportunity to present her research at the Association’s conference that spring. In May she then co-wrote a paper with Dr. Dryden.
Their research reconceptualises the idea of autonomy. Autonomy is often associated with independence, but Dryden and Lauersen draw on the idea of autonomy as relational, in which we acknowledge that everyone is dependent on the people around them. The pair says that acknowledging this interdependence then helps us better understand ourselves, which makes us better able to make decisions about our lives. Their co-written paper explores the relationship between this version of autonomy and vulnerability.
They presented this research together at Congress. Dryden says, “When other people learned that I had written this paper with an undergraduate student, the response was “wow, you must have really great students.”
Lauersen is the recipient of a Mount Allison summer student research grant that allows her to continue her research, which builds upon her independent paper and concerns narrative identity and autonomy. While she says she is far from reaching a conclusion, she has already learned and discovered a great deal.
“One of the most important and interesting things that I have learned is how harmful the attitudes towards disability can be. For example, in terms of physician assisted suicide debates, some people argue for it because they assume that disability makes life not worth living. If you talk to disabled people, however, you will find out (in most cases) that this assumption is untrue; they can live with the disability, they can’t live within the current social constructions.”
Her research, then, has two aims: first, to question the attitude that people have about disability and, second, to help disabled people understand the meaning that their own disabilities play in their lives.
Lauersen expects that her research this summer will lay the foundation for her honours thesis in the coming academic year.
Photo caption (l-r) Kelsey Lauersen and Dr. Jane Dryden at the 2014 Congress this spring following their presentation.