History, Performativity, and Dialectics: Critical Spectatorship in Learning Disabled Performance

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In this chapter, I explore the relationship between learning (or intellectual) disability and performance (as both a social and cultural phenomenon) to argue that recent developments in theatrical performance by learning disabled artists reclaim the historical functions of professional fools, or “artificial idiots”, in ways that fundamentally alter contemporary understandings of learning disability. The central tenet of my argument is that the historical distinction between “natural idiots” and the “artificial fools” of the professional theatre was based on recognition of the former as singular, and the latter as doubled. Consequently, through this doubling, “artificial fools” were read as performative and dialectical, while their socio-natural counterparts were politically misrecognised as non-performative and non-dialectical.

This historical conception of learning disability produces an impasse in current critical spectatorship as audiences struggle to reconcile learning disability with performativity. To navigate this impasse, I propose critical attention to the dialectical operations of learning disabled performance, exploring Hegelian dialectics in a consideration of the integrated punk band Heavy Load, and Adorno’s Negative Dialectics in an extended reflection on the British television drama Marvellous.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Disability Arts, Culture and Media
EditorsBree Hadley, Donna McDonald
Place of PublicationAbingdon
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor & Francis Group
ISBN (Electronic)9781351254687
ISBN (Print)9780815368410
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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