Negotiated Access: Haccessibility, Autonomy, and Infrastructure in the Age of the Abstraction is a dissertation and book project that explores how to contend with, and live within, systems over which we have little control.
I defended my PhD dissertation, Negotiated Access: Haccessibility, Autonomy, and Infrastructure in the Age of the Abstraction, in April 2021. The dissertation received the English program's Alumni and Doctoral Faculty Prize for the Most Distinguished Dissertation of the Year, including a subvention supporting publication. The project had previously received the Milton F. Steinhardt Memorial Fellowship Award for Best Prospectus.
Negotiated Access asks how we can exercise our values from within systems and structures over which we have little control. The project, fundamentally, is about autonomy, a specific form of resistance to control, or the ability to act on values or goals despite influence from outside or above. Negotiation, here, is the ongoing encounter with enclosing or encircling systems, entities, or spaces. It is the gap, the small room for maneuver, between ourselves and the physical or social environment.
The project begins with local and concrete challenges and radiates outward to analyze and critique broader structures, forces, and institutions that universalize and abstract.
Chapter One briefly frames the project in the context of my own experiences as a blind humanist and hacker seeking to research and write in a field dominated by print, proprietary databases, and other inaccessible formats and systems.
Chapter Two considers how people, and especially people with disabilities, negotiate the immediate built environment, and introduces haccessibility, or the use of individual workarounds, prosthetics, or approaches to circumvent inaccessible social and physical structures. This chapter considers an alternate model of disability, the negotiated model, that may be of use in specific contexts.
Chapter Three engages with two autobiographies of disability. These readings provide extended explorations of haccessibility, but more importantly suggest ways autonomy can be exercised in the face of imposed narratives.
Chapter Four considers the humanities as a larger affinity group and explores its negotiation, or failure to negotiate, in the broader context of the academy and an encircling society that does not share its values. In doing so, this chapter examines “lay hermaneutics,” or alternate humanities traditions developed outside the academy that contrast with our own approaches to engagement with the public.
Finally, Chapter Five aims at the largest systems at global scale of which we as individuals and humanity more broadly are components. I term this theorized enclosure “the Abstraction,” and consider its implications on our collective capability for resistance. In so doing, I critically analyze the conceptual space occupied by the term “technology” and attempt to reclaim some small portion for ourselves as “techne,” ways of knowing and doing that enable, rather than erode, autonomy.