Misfit Bodies, Misfit Environments

This research project seeks to clarify the articulation of “disabled environments,” in its examination of the conceptual overlaps and intersectionality between the socio-spatial constructs of ‘disability’ and ‘informality.’ Informality is a “continuity and a contradiction” (Huchzermeyer 2019, 469), of legal formalization, just as disability is a co-construction of ability. Both are material-discursive phenomena, and both have histories of being framed as “unplannable,” disorderly, transgressive and as aesthetic aberrations. Both are conversely tied to ideal and normative ideas about “functionality,” and both are differentiated processes embodying varying degrees of power and exclusion. Both are thought to be adaptive, and have their own situated dynamics and examples of resourcefulness. Both are sometimes also (incorrectly) thought to be isolated from global capitalism. Both require us to think temporally about economic growth. And finally, both raise intriguing questions about bodily and territorial sovereignty, respectively. While much has been said about debilitation and disablement from a carceral lens and the politics of impairment and imposition of bodily disability by critical disability theorists (Puar 2017, Ware et al., 2014), this project specifically seeks to define a typology for “misfit” (Garland-Thomson 2011) environments, keeping the informal settlement of Slovo Park, Johannesburg in the post-apartheid context of South Africa, in mind. In doing so it aims to further conceptual understandings of ‘disability’ and ‘informality’ in mutually co-constructive ways, forefronting those for whom these terms have the most stakes. 

Led by Natasha Ansari (PhD)

Geography: Slovo Park, Johannesburg