David Adelman is not only an enthusiastic researcher and instructor, he is also a passionate multimedia artist. His creative practice explores disability aesthetics, culture, and politics through experimental video production and remixing. David holds a PhD in Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication from the University of Texas at Dallas where he wrote the dissertation, “Ambivalent Pleasures: Pleasure, Desire, Authenticity, and the Production of Value in Online Disability Cultures.” [Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.]



Q: Tell me a little about your scholarly background and research.

A: I was awarded my PhD in June 2022 in Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication from University of Texas at Dallas. My research, very broadly, is centered around disability, arts, and culture. More specifically, I’m interested in the intersection of critical disability studies and media studies, looking at the ways in which disability is conveyed and represented in technology and society. On top of that, I also have research interests in representations of queercrip sexuality which intersect with critical sexuality studies, disability media studies, and questions of identity, power, and culture. Recently, I had a piece about food delivery robots and crip surveillance published in First Monday, which is an open source cultural and technological journal. I am a discourse/textual person, and often, use screenshot software to capture digital objects for documentary work. I like to spend time close-reading the object, which has its pros and cons. Media studies scholars tend to have a love-hate relationship with their archives. I’m also working on research that focuses on visualizations of disability online and questions of care in neoliberal contexts. So care, disability, technology, culture—these are things I’m interested in.

Q: What attracted you to DSI at U-M?

A: The University of Michigan has a rich history of disability studies scholarship and the DSI has an incredible bench of scholars. So the opportunity to work with people like Lisa Nakamura and Remi Yergeau—who I work closely with on the Digital Accessible Futures Lab—and other scholars who I admire was the primary attraction to the DSI. And just to pull back the curtain a bit, getting a PhD is a privilege, and to get a specialized PhD is even more of a privilege. So when I saw the opening for this position, I knew that if I didn’t apply, I would be kicking myself for the rest of my life because it was so directly related to my research.

Q: How has your scholarship with digital media studies helped inform your research on disability theory and culture?

A: I am deeply interested in the ways in which disabled people represent themselves and are represented in online spaces. Particularly, I am looking at ways to define disability culture, which is a question that animates so much of my research. The internet, for better or for worse, is integral in the platforming and de-platforming of individuals and groups, and has become more and more ingrained and intertwined within our culture. On one hand, the promise of the internet to disabled people is that it will provide access to platforms that will enable one to broadcast their mode of being in the world to a wider audience. But at the same time, there are politics and ethics to be considered with respect to whose voice is elevated and emphasized, and what that means as we move into an increasingly networked society.

Q: Why do you think it’s important to emphasize intersectionality within disability discourse?

A: Historically, disability rights has emphasized the white, male, cisgendered body. However, it is possible to be disabled in a variety of ways across a variety of bodies. By paying attention to those individuals and to those bodies, we can produce more equitable, less punitive, and less disciplinary ways of being in the world. The reality is that I am speaking from a situated positionality as a white man, albeit queer and with a physical disability. But I’m always aware that my knowledge, position, and way of being in the world only speaks to a slight portion of this conversation. It’s always important to be as inclusive as possible because we want to imagine a world that works for everyone, not just for a single demographic.

Q: Tell me a little about the DIGITAL 458/610: “Networked Disability Cultures” course you’re currently teaching. What can students expect from a class with you?

A: I called the class “Networked Disability Cultures” in a deliberate attempt to both implicitly foreground community, but also, to signal the digital when it comes to disability culture. My course takes a wide look at the disability community online and it is interested in charting the ways in which disability topics and activism have influenced our digital cultures. I’m thinking about the ways in which those topics might suggest more equitable ways of being in the world. The course pulls from multidisciplinary sources, such as critical access and feminist studies, to understand care, labor, and community practices in these contexts. My hope is that anyone who is interested in questions about disability, culture, and social justice will find something of interest that they can come into community with.

Q: What’s your favorite text on your 458 syllabus?

A: That’s a hard question. Anything related to sexual politics and activism is high up. “A Sexual Culture for Disabled People'' from Tobin Siebers’ Disability Theory is one of my favorites. Another big favorite of mine is Crip Theory by Robert McRuer, which talks about the intersection of queer theory and disability studies. It’s not a perfect piece but I think it plays a useful role in opening up a vocabulary for students who may or may not be familiar with this particular intersection.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish as a postdoc at DSI?

A: Here at the university, there is really a thirst for disability culture and the recognition of disability as an identity. I hope to assist in platforming disability culture and building the connections between digital studies and disability pedagogy and research. But also, from my own perspective, I would like to take advantage of the network of knowledge here to imagine the complexities of disability culture online. I will always be thinking about how to discuss and position disability studies in a way that is inclusive of all bodies and invites as many people into the discussion as possible. I am devoted to this discipline and I believe that it is a worthy intellectual and political pursuit.

Q: And, our final question—what’s a typical day online for you?

A: This is an interesting question because as a disabled person, I am always surrounded by technology, quite literally. I sleep with my computer over my bed because it allows me to access what I need at any time but also allows me to write and teach from bed if necessary. The fancy term for this is called “bed activism.” On a typical day, I will wake up and my computer will be right there with me. What usually wakes me up is an email notification from the university, probably the University Record. And then I will see if I have to respond to emails from other faculty or students. I probably spend 2-3 hours a day making sure that anything I present or assign for class is accessible to my students, meaning it's in the proper format and is free. I want to commit to an anticapitalist viewpoint in this regard. Then I will typically pop over to Twitter, because despite it being a flaming beast, there is a lot of wonderful discourse happening on there.