by Michael Bérubé
The word “representation” has a double valence for disability studies, which consists of an intensification of its double valence in the English language more generally. “Representation” speaks to both political and aesthetic concerns; it suggests an image that stands in for and points toward a thing (in the Oxford English Dictionary, “an image, likeness, or reproduction in some manner of a thing; a material image or figure; a reproduction in some material or tangible form; in later use, a drawing or painting”), or a mechanism by which one person or group of people is empowered to stand in for and express the wishes of another person or group (in the OED, “the fact of standing for, or in place of, some other thing or person, esp. with a right or authority to act on their account”). There are other, more narrowly legal senses of representation, as when one makes a material representation of a fact or a state of affairs; but these are not as relevant to the project of disability studies as are the political and aesthetic senses, except with regard to the question of guardianship, which I will address briefly later.