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Diminished Faculties: A Political Phenomenology of Impairment
Jonathan Sterne
Duke University Press / Softcover / 2021-12-01 / 1478017708
Disability Studies / Forthcoming
price: $38.95 (may be subject to change)
320 pages
Not Yet Published

Jonathan Sterne offers a sweeping cultural study and theorization of impairment, in which experience is understood from the standpoint of a subject that is not fully able to account for itself.

In Diminished Faculties Jonathan Sterne offers a sweeping cultural study and theorization of impairment. Drawing on his personal history with thyroid cancer and a paralyzed vocal cord, Sterne undertakes a political phenomenology of impairment in which experience is understood from the standpoint of a subject that is not fully able to account for itself. He conceives of impairment as a fundamental dimension of human experience, examining it as both political and physical. While some impairments are enshrined as normal in international standards, others are treated as causes or effects of illness or disability. Alongside his fractured account of experience, Sterne provides a tour of alternative vocal technologies and practices; a study of “normal” hearing loss as a cultural practice rather than a medical problem; and an intertwined history and phenomenology of fatigue that follows the concept as it careens from people, to materials science, to industrial management, to spoons. Sterne demonstrates how impairment is a problem, opportunity, and occasion for approaching larger questions about disability, subjectivity, power, technology, and experience in new ways. Diminished Faculties ends with a practical user’s guide to impairment theory.


“In this intimate critical phenomenology, Jonathan Sterne shows us that the agential subject of disability studies is interpretive, nonstandard, somewhat unreliable, and nevertheless political. Diminished Faculties is at once an account of the lived experience of impairment and an inventory of what it can engender. Crip humor, technological hacks, imaginary archives, and material metaphors form the myriad registers of Sterne's authorial voice.”
Aimi Hamraie, author of Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability

“Offering a compelling account of the phenomenology of impairment, this fascinating, brilliant, and witty book will take disability studies in at least three new directions.”
Michael Bérubé, author of The Secret Life of Stories: From Don Quixote to Harry Potter, How Understanding Intellectual Disability Transforms the Way We Read

“With its capacious, unpressured mode of being, theorizing, and storytelling, this profound book teaches us how to think and how to be.”
Kathleen Stewart, coauthor of The Hundreds

About the Author:

Jonathan Sterne is James McGill Professor, Department of Art History and Communications at McGill University, and author of MP3: The Meaning of a Format and The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction, both also published by Duke University Press, and editor of The Sound Studies Reader. He also makes music and other audio works. Visit his website at

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