Pretending Not to Notice: Respect, Attention, and Disability

In Adam Cureton & Jr Hill (eds.), Disability in Practice: Attitudes, Policies, and Relationships. Oxford, UK: pp. 50-71 (2018)

Karen Stohr
Georgetown University
This paper is about a category of social conventions that, I will argue, have significant moral implications. The category consists in our conventions about what we notice and choose not to notice about persons, features of persons, and their circumstances. We normally do not think much about what we notice about others, and what they notice about us, but I will argue that we should. Noticing people is a way of engaging with them in social contexts. We can engage in social noticing more or less respectfully, more or less benevolently. Moreover, our standard conventions about noticing often have disparate effects on different groups of people. To be noticed appropriately is to have one's moral and social standing affirmed; conversely, to be denied notice or to be noticed inappropriately is very often to be denigrated or objectified. My aim in this paper is to unpack these moral dimensions of conventions of noticing and discuss their implications for how people engage with each other in certain kinds of social exchanges involving persons with disabilities. In Part I, I explain what I mean by the conventions of noticing and how they operate in social interactions. I show that although we do not always attend to them, these conventions are thoroughly embedded in our everyday social life. In Part II, I argue that these conventions have important moral dimensions and as such, should be governed by moral principles and values. I employ a Kantian framework of duties of love and respect in order to show how moral concerns should shape the way we use conventions of noticing and respond to their use by others. In Part III, I draw out the implications of this picture for social interactions among strangers when one or more of the parties involved has an immediately visible disability.
Keywords Kant, disability, social conventions, noticing, respect, staring
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