Kropotkin, Ableism, and University Life

Cover of Planet of the and dog....

No one who teaches disability studies who isn’t disabled—who doesn’t need accommodations in the workplace can understand the operational cruelty of administrative systems that function according to routinized appropriations of normality. No white faculty member can understand the daily emotional drain of being black in the faculty ranks. Hetero-normatives can’t grasp what queer faculty go through. And the reason this is so has little to do with nascent bigotry but rather a failure of the university to create meaningful pedagogical and social dialogue systems for people who teach. The first university to do this will be a national and even international leader.

One of the first books I truly fell in love with, outside of novels and poetry was Mutual Aid by Kropotkin. I still consider it highly. He opens the book this way:

“Struggle for existence.—Mutual Aid—a law of Nature and chief factor of progressive evolution.—Invertebrates.—Ants and Bees.—Birds: hunting and fishing associations.—Sociability.—Mutual protection among small birds.—Cranes; parrots.”

As opposed to the emergent social Darwinists, Piotr Kropotkin saw that cooperation rather than vanquishment was the key to successful evolution and the establishment of a just social order.

Not so much in the faculty ranks. The reason is simple: the attainment of education must be a race, largely individualistic, sanctioned by the strictures of a conservative past (the trivium) and maintained by a fierce but often unstated ideological belief in narrow normative learning styles.

Academic ableism is, if not the foundation of the other isms, its social Darwinist flag.

Kropotkin again:

“The absorption of all social functions by the State necessarily favoured the development of an unbridled, narrow-minded individualism.”

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Barnes and Noble

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

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