The Body of Difference

Since its inception in medical anthropology, a phenome-nological approach has been applied to the study of physical difference and disability with great originality, by challenging conventional ideas about the body and about what being "normal" means. For example, Ablon (1984) has pointed out that the dwarf body is different but not disabled: dwarfs experience their bodies as complete and normal. G. Frank (1986, 2000), in her phenomeno-logical life history study of a woman who was born without arms or legs, questions a view of this woman as missing body parts and describes how she asserts her fundamental normalcy. Other phenomenological work that addresses difference or disability include blindness (Ainlay, 1989), deafness (G. Becker, 1980; Preston, 1994), post-polio syndrome (Kaufert & Locker, 1990; Scheer & Luborsky, 1991), mobility impairments (Luborsky, 1995; Murphy, 1987), and disability more generally (Luborsky, 1994; Zola, 1982).

These works challenge not only societal ideas about physical difference or disability but hegemonic ideals about gender and sexuality, as well (see also Ablon, 1996; G. Frank, 2000). Shuttleworth (2000, 2001, in press) combines phenomenology with a post-structural approach to explore the experience of severely disabled men seeking sexual intimacy, while Willis, Miller, and Wyn (2001) develop the construct of gendered embodiment in their work on the differential meanings of cystic fibrosis for young men and women.

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