Today is a really exciting day – my first book has just been delivered and it’s a Real Thing that I can hold in my hands. My excitement is probably a bit silly, really, but I never thought it would/could be something I could complete, but now it’s just casually sat on my desk: a lovely and glossy version of some serious blood, sweat and (many) tears, and even more years. In this post I want to share the book’s preface, as a means to introduce it and story the process…
Preface (pgs. viii-x)
“Right, imagine you’re in Toronto in a bar. You’re pissed (drunk), but not too pissed. How would you explain your research to someone?” This was the first question put to me by my then-external examiner, Professor Dan Goodley, in my viva voce (the thesis defense for North American readers). Thoughts of the viva had made my blood run cold for nigh on three years, but as soon as I heard that question, I knew all would be well. As someone who has since examined others’ PhDs, I now see that was the point! But up until the viva, my PhD had been an empirical research project, which I had painfully “written up” as a doctoral thesis. It is thanks to both of my examiners, then, Dan Goodley and Cath Lambert, and their suggestion that my thesis already was a book, which caused it to be written at all.
I wrote most of my thesis from the tiny back room at my Mum and Dad’s house – my partner and I had moved in with them, after years of having our own place, to save enough money to emigrate to Canada so that I could undertake the inaugural Ethel Louise Armstrong Postdoctoral Fellowship at the School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University. I had seen the advert randomly in the oddly warm spring of 2011 on the Disability Research Discussion email list run out of the Centre for Disability Research at Leeds. Upon seeing it, I immediately rang The Boy (my partner) and said, “You could live in Canada, right?” Instantly he replied, “Go on then”. At that point, both of us would have struggled to point to Toronto on a map. Within a month I had applied for the position, survived a telephone interview, and had got the job. Within two months we had packed up our little home, and moved into the “granny annex” at Mum and Dad’s, where they very kindly brought me cups of tea as I wrote. My father proofread every single page. A reserved English fellow – a man who oft-takes the British stiff upper lip to the extreme – confessed me so much love and support with every slash of his red pen through my terrible grammar. We were to leave for Canada in January 2012, with me submitting my thesis in December 2011. I had just 8 months to complete writing, and I did.
Turning my PhD thesis into this book has not been nearly as quick and easy: it has been an enormous challenge. I have struggled. Like so many ‘early career’ scholars, I have found the Academy a precarious place to work, which has meant shelving writing on more than a few occasions, despite lots of support from colleagues, friends and allies. I have also found the (neoliberal) Academy relatively precarious to ones sense of self and wellness, particularly in terms of self-confidence and esteem. Disablism, ableism and the Academy can be a toxic combination at times, and can erode self-confidence. As a disabled woman, gender and disability can intersect in ways that encourage an attrition of self-belief and pride, which gets magnified by the hypercompetitive and disabling environment that is higher education in the UK. Regardless, it is this shortage of confidence that proffers the (also helpful) “disclaimer” below.
What this book isn’t…
This book isn’t a grandiose theoretical text, but a reporting of empirical research. This is not because I undervalue the transformative potential of theory, or that this book is atheoretical. As Braidotti (2013) says, if we can’t do theory then we are really just drowning in hard data; or as Goodley (2014) affirms, we should be able to draw upon social theory without apology. As both a disability studies scholar and a disabled woman it is crucial for me to continually locate the lived and material realities of disability life into my theoretical re-workings. As such, the politics of location are very vital to my work (see chapter 3). While I relish postconventional theory, at times I am unapologetically materialist: acknowledging that the richness of the stories in this book emanate from an understanding that they are lived, felt, experienced, and ground in the mundane and everyday. Sometimes this brings inconsistencies and tensions. Instead of making attempts to write these out, I purposefully write them in and – as Mike Gill (2015: 8) artfully puts it – ‘eagerly await challenges, complications, and expansions of my work here by others’.
This book isn’t an all-encompassing text that covers all facets of sexual and intimate life: what is contained within the covers of this book emerges only from the stories disabled informants told. Informants were predominantly (though not exclusively) White British, cisgender and heterosexual, and identified as having physical and/or sensory impairment. All lived within the community, although many had experienced institutionalisation in one way or another in the past and/or frequented respite care in hospices in the present. Therefore, the stories I interpret in this book are inherently shaped by these intersections, experiences and histories. They are further shaped by the context of doctoral research. Doctoral research is bound by time (UK PhD students have a maximum of 3 years and 3 months before funding stops), a (lack of) money and the emerging research skills of a PhD candidate, all of which I’m sure are imprinted on these sexual stories in some way. Further, the intimate politics of sexual storytelling in marginalised communities means that I am rightfully imbricated within and through these stories. In short, this book is also piece of me: as a researcher, scholar, and disabled woman; it speaks to my life as well as the lives of informants.
This book isn’t a complete lesson in co-production. While I am very proud that the doctoral research that underpins this book made use of participatory methods, being guided by a Research Advisory Group made up of local disabled people (or ‘The Rag’ as they preferred to be known…), this participation was not a co-production in the purest or fullest sense. As a then-doctoral student, I was yet to discover and immerse myself fully in the democratisation of research as a collaborative and collective process, which has later become my passion as a scholar and researcher (see livinglifetothefullest.org; see also Runswick-Cole, Curran, and Liddiard, in press).
What this book is…
This book is a collection of stories: stories of intimacy, affection, care, eroticism, desire and love, as well as stories of pain, oppression, exclusion, denial, and abjection and rejection. It contains a faithful disabled feminist analysis (ground in social and intimate justice) of sexual and intimate life in times of extensive disablism and ableism. It offers a narrative thematic analysis of sexual stories that shed light on areas of disability, love and life typically overlooked and ignored.
Importantly, this book is an accessible piece of writing. In disability studies I have come to see accessible writing as strength, a skill, and a quality that is necessary in order to speak to a range of communities and publics. I hope this book is accessible and readable. There are accessible versions of much of its contents on my website that are free to access (https://kirstyliddiard.wordpress.com) and I offer an accessible summary at the beginning of each chapter.
Finally, this book is a snapshot in time. The sociological research upon which this book is based took place across England, UK, between 2008 and 2011. If I were to carry out this research now, as I write in 2017, my approach, my relationships with disabled informants, and my analysis would likely be different. It’s been almost five years since the research ended and 8 years since it began. I’m different. The world is different: a global financial crisis has happened; a cruel UK Liberal Democrat and Conservative Coalition Government has been and gone; an even crueler Tory-majority government has emerged in its place. As if these weren’t enough, more recently Brexit and Trump have emerged as the inevitable-but-toxic results of a lying, scaremongering mistrustful establishment; a corrupt corporate Right Wing Press; and interminable global austerity. Each of these global events has happened since the research was carried out and each has understandably left its mark on disabled people’s individual and collective lives and selves, largely in devastating ways (Goodley, Lawthom, and Runswick-Cole 2014). As such, disabled people’s rights and access to civil, emotional, intimate and cultural life is different. Thus, this book can only ever be a snapshot in time, but this is not to say that its contents are no longer relevant. Far from it, the stories contained within these covers have much to tell us about access to love, life, and self in the shadows of disablism and ableism – all of which connect deeply to the current state of disability life in the global step to the Right (Goodley et al. 2017: 3): conditions for living which define the current era as a time of great precarity for many people, but particularly marginalised others.