chapter  6
11 Pages

Fear, pity and disgust: emotions and the non-disabled imaginary

ByBill Hughes

For Sartre (1971), emotion springs from a transformation of the subject’s perspective on the world. There is a kind of ‘magic’ in this transformation because the subject is spontaneously altering her attitude in the face of objective events. Emotion is an embodied experience. It involves physiological sensations like the pounding heart associated with love or fear, or the nausea – even retching – associated with disgust. This interpretation of emotions embeds them in corporeal being in the world but the element of magical transformation suggests that, at the same time, emotion may be either immersion in positivity or an attempt to escape from and disengage from the alienating objective reality that presents itself to us and is our perspective at that given moment in time. The link between emotion as an embodied perspective and as a mechanism for disengagement with certain aspects of the world has advantages in understanding the emotional relationships between disabled and non-disabled actors. In the phenomenological tradition emotions are the means by which consciousness apprehends objects and attaches value (or disvalue) to them. They are a source of – pre-reflective – judgement, and with respect to the basic aversive emotions (Kolnai 2004) – fear, hatred and disgust – there would seem to be little ambiguity about the value associated with objects that inspire and arouse aversion. It is clear that some forms of social inequality – for example the caste system – institutionalize disgust and contempt. This line of reasoning should help in the development of a ‘critical social ontology for disability studies’ (Hughes 2007) that both problematizes the hegemony of ableist sensibilities (Campbell 2010) and exposes the aversive emotions that populate the non-disabled imaginary.