This is written off the top of my head in order to help myself get started on something I’m required to write, about the research I’ve been doing.

Gender history is not women’s history is not the history of sexuality, understood as fields of inquiry. Of course, the distinctions between these fields is itself a historical one, and as Margot Canaday has recently noted, overemphasis on their separation can lead to an impoverished understanding of heterosexuality as historical and power-laden. While the analytic distinction between these fields should not be lost, it can be usefully questioned, or more simply, borrowing or traveling across these boundaries is both productive and common. Along the same line, disability history is not the history of people with disabilities is not body history, but productive inquiry can either span these distinctions or seek to operate primarily in only one area.

[Gah. Ugh.]

My research centers on accidental workplace injuries, particularly injuries that led to permanent partial disability. Several of these term terms – ‘accidental,’ ‘workplace,’ ‘injuries,’ ‘disability’ – have a sort of common sense meaning, but upon reflection they can become quite slippery and hard to define. By ‘accidental’ I mean activities which are not intentional and were not foreseen by the person who they happened to (this too appears straight forward but can be slippery – an accident that happens to one person often has an impact on many other people, such that in one sense the very same accident that happens to one and only person also happens at the same time to many people). I am not a statistician, but my understanding is that in light of existing accident statistics accidents are in a sense not accidental. For example, a large number of people will die in the Unites States this year due to car accidents. This is predictable and a part of our current society. The important meaning of accidental here is primarily that it was not deliberate inflicted in a narrow sense, in that no one chose to inflict this incident on this person (though managers’ decisions not to have safety mechanisms, or employees’ decisions not to use precautions may be in a broader sense understood as decisions to have accidents), and that the particular occurrence – any particular accident – was contingent.

By ‘workplace’ I mean places where people work for wages. I say this because I am convinced that many unwaged activities such as housework and childcare are work, despite the fact that they are not always or often thought of as such. For the purposes of this research, however, I only consider work to be those activities which are performed for wages.

Injuries and disability are equally slippery terms. I am currently losing my hair at what I find to be an alarming rate. While my balding head occasionally causes twinges of negative feeling, occasional mockery from my younger siblings, and occasional sunburns when I forget to wear a hat, it is obviously not a disability. My hair loss results from genetic factors which are under no one’s control, perhaps exacerbated by stress. If, however, my hair loss were the result of a chemical I was exposed to at work, I would consider this an injury, although one whose significance pales dramatically in comparison to the types of injuries I consider in this research.

I consider injuries to have three main components, at least as I’m defining the term for my purposes. They are unpleasant, such that given the opportunity one would choose not to endure them. They are involuntary, such that one does not have a choice clearly presented. And they have some lasting consequence after the occurrence. All of these qualities must be present for something to count as an injury.

I have several tattoos. My tattoos meet two of these three criteria, and thus have some things at least trivially in common with injuries, but they are not injuries. It hurts every time I get a tattoo and I don’t like how it feels (unpleasant). My tattoos are permanent. (Lasting consequence.) I know this, yet I still get tattoos. I endure that minor pain and take on the consequence voluntarily. My tattoos are not injuries.

That said, if I were intoxicated and got a tattoo which became infected, or a face tattoo which prevented me from working, those might be injuries. Certainly if I were kidnapped and forced to get a tattoo then that tattoo and any consequence following from it would be an injury. The face tattoo might be considered a sort of disability.

Disability is also hard to define, despite a common sense meaning of the term. This term, like most of the others I’ve been talking about, has a contextual meaning as much as or instead of a inherent meaning. By disability I mean some configuration of one’s body (though the term can also refer to things which are not bodily, at least not in a narrow sense, such as cognitive patterns) which places one at a disadvantage in society due to prevailing power structures. On the one hand, this definition is far too broad – it encompasses skin pigmentation as well as sexual organs, for instance, which would make certain race and gender traits disabilities in racist and sexist societies (that may be true in a sense, but should be stated carefully). On the other hand, this definition is useful precisely for placing disability in a relationship of continuity with gender and race, and foregrounding the issue of power relations. I will come back to this.

For the purpose of my work I primarily mean injuries that have a permanent physical effect on the body, such as loss of a limb or damage to the eyes that renders one blind. I am interested in pain and suffering, however, as well as emotional difficulties which may result from the memory of injuries (injury as trauma). As I said, I’m especially interested in injuries that led to permanent disability, which could be understood as involuntary reconfiguration of one’s body such that one is placed in a disadvantaged position in society.

[Ugh again. Really struggling.]

*

I am researching legality, money, and injuries to employees both before and after the introduction of workmen’s compensation laws. I focus on a few aspects of injury, law, and money. First, I look at money given for injuries prior to workmen’s compensation laws, to get a sense of compensation rates and compensation amounts. Second, I look at how pain and suffering were and were not considered compensable. In wrongful death suits, surviving family members were not compensated for their suffering over the loss of their loved one nor were they compensated for the suffering of the person killed. In injury suits by injured workers, however, pain and suffering was considered compensable. Such compensation required a calculus of how much these at least ostensibly intangible phenomena were worth. I pay particular attention to gendered differences in compensation in all of these instances, looking at how men’s suffering as well as men’s status as dependents appeared to have been worth less than women’s. [EXPAND ON DEPENDENCY.] Third, I look at how what was considered an injury varied. An injury to the appearance of a woman was an injury in a way that, or at least to a degree that, an injury to a man was not. An injury rendering someone incapable of manual labor was a greater injury to someone who worked as a manual laborer for a living and was capable (at least according to courts) of doing only manual labor, because the injury cut off that person’s livelihood. (That is, a warehouse worker who can not lift any weight due to injury is likely more impaired on the job than a typist in the same condition.) Along the same lines I look at what was and was not considered a disability. Fourth, I look how people with disabilities fared in their law suits and on the job in the pre-workmen’s compensation era. This, along with attention to women’s lawsuits, forms the hinge point for my starting to look at workmen’s compensation. This leads to my fifth area of focus, which is the standards of acceptable bodies and acceptable risks under workmen’s compensation. The need to provide insurance coverage for workers for risk of injury meant that workers who were considered a greater risk were less likely to be employed, if coverages was mandatory. This led to more frequent mandatory physicals as well as firings of disabled people. I look at these exclusions as well as the practices of screening workers as part of assessing workmen’s compensation. Sixth, I look at how women fared in the post-workmen’s compensation era, in cases over their own injuries and in cases where they appeared as dependents of injured men, in order to see to what degree workmen’s compensation worked for women – and what women or what standards of behavior and lifestyle were expected of women (dependency). I also look at how these standards as well as the bodily standards for workers shaped gender and bodily norms. Sevent, I look at how disabled people who were injured on the job fared in the workmen’s compensation era. Finally, I consider workmen’s compensation in relation to the progressive impulses/ideas and the networks of people who created workmen’s compensation, with particular attention to competing policy objectives and alternatives (such as universal social insurance, employers liability reform, increased safety inspection, etc). All of these aimed at securing laboring bodies, with significant differences in standards of security, labor, and bodies, as well as differences over how and to whom these standards should apply. All of this adds up to an assessment of workmen’s compensation and by extension progressivism.

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