Vitality Politics

Health, Debility, and the Limits of Black Emancipation
Stephen Knadler


Vitality Politics focuses on a slow racial violence against African Americans through everyday, accumulative, contagious, and toxic attritions on health. The book engages with recent critical disability studies scholarship to recognize that debility, or the targeted maiming and distressing of Black populations, is a largely unacknowledged strategy of the U.S. liberal multicultural capitalist state. This politicization of biological health serves as an instrument for insisting on a racial state of exception in which African Americans’ own unhealthy habits and disease susceptibility justifies their legitimate suspension from full rights to social justice, economic opportunity, and political freedom and equality. The book brings together disability studies, Black Studies, and African American literary history as it highlights the urgent need and gives weight to a biopolitics of debilitation and medicalization to better understand how Black lives are made not to matter in our supposedly race-neutral multicultural democracy.
Winner of the Tobin Siebers Prize for Disability Studies in the Humanities
“Stephen Knadler demonstrates how an apparently race-neutral construct like health is loaded with racial meaning that goes unrecognized, unaccounted for, and unmitigated. The book offers new interpretations of fundamental texts and authors in the African American literary canon while providing an invaluable lens for understanding how the concept of health itself has served as a political construct that has served to reify and naturalize white supremacy.”
—Julie Avril Minich, University of Texas, Austin
“A compelling and convincing analysis of the post-Reconstruction shift from respectability politics to rehabilitative politics in America’s governance of black people and the slow violence that modern liberal citizenship and racial capitalism has enacted upon them. The research is thorough and comprehensive, spanning the fields of medicine, social and actuarial sciences, politics, history and literature. . . . A significant contribution to the growing body of scholarship on the role of health in the regulation and resistance of black people in the U.S.”
—Andrea Stone, Smith College
Stephen Knadler is Professor of English, Spelman College.

Praise / Awards

  • "Knadler’s in-depth research and critical literary analysis provide a new and important perspective on the relationship between race, health, disability, and citizenship. ... Recommended."
  • Winner of the 2018 Tobin Siebers Prize for Disability Studies in the Humanities

Product Details

  • 312 pages.
  • 7 illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2019
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12560-9

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  • African american; Black; Public; health; rights; Civil; Political; Economic; Racial; Racisim; Vitality; Debility; disability;  biopolitic; culture; literature; Exclusion; Hierarchy; Uplift; violence; capitalism; citizenship; twentieth century; post-reconstruction; Progressive Era; Criminalization; Jim Crow; Crisis; Recovery; W.E.B. Du Bois; Booker T. Washington