Examined Life: Judith Butler & Sunaura Taylor

This is an amazing excerpt from the film “Examined Life” in which Sunaura Taylor, artist and disability rights activist, and Judith Butler, critical theorist, go for a walk and talk about disability, gender, and the politics of inclusion vs. exclusion.

Their conversation is so interesting that I really don’t need to write anything else, but I can’t watch this and not jot down some of my favorite quotes and ideas…

On Visibility:

In the beginning of the segment, Taylor explains:

“I moved to San Francisco largely because it’s… the most accessible place in the world. …The physical access—the public transportation is accessible; there are curb cuts most places… buildings are accessible… this leads to a social acceptability. That because there’s physical access, there are simply more disabled people out and about in the world and so people have learned how to interact with them and are used to them…. Physical access leads to social access; an acceptance.”

Taylor described how, when she had previously lived in New York City, she would sometimes go into a coffee shop and carry cup to her table in her mouth, but it wasn’t always worth it because of the unwanted attention it attracted.

On the Expectations of Others

This brought Taylor and Butler to the question: Why do people get so upset with someone who doesn’t use a body part in the way that we assume it’s attended?

Butler notes the parallel here to gender studies, which asks: why do people get so upset when someone’s body doesn’t fit our ideas of what a man is, or what a woman is?

What Kind of World Do We Live in?

Taylor explains that she considers it a form of political protest for her to go into a coffee shop and ask for the help she needs. Ultimately, this form of protest poses the question: Do we or do we not live in a world where we help each other?

Butler explains:

“My sense is that what’s at stake here is rethinking the human as a site of interdependency.

I think that when you walk into that coffee shop, you’re basically posing the question ‘Do we or do we not live in a world in which we assist each other? Do we or do we not help each other with basic needs?

And are basic needs there to be decided on as a social issue and not just as my personal individual issue, or your personal individual issue…?”.


I related to this clip on so many levels. Although much of my blog is about my experience with pain, there have been many periods of my life when I also had to deal with a level of disability, albeit in a much more temporary and transient sense. This only gives me a temporary glimpse into what someone with a life-long disability goes through, but I could definitely identify with some of the perceptions and emotions Taylor and Butler shared.

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