Madness: Respons-ability Against Crude Power (Iran)

Dr. Sona Kazemi (she/her)

(Sponsored by University of Maryland Libraries)

2021 Disability Summit
April 14, 2021 – 1:30 PM-2:00 PM



“If freedom could sing a song small as the throat of a bird, nowhere would a wall remain crumbled. It would not take many years to comprehend that ruins are a sign of human absence, that human presence creates life” Ahmad Shamlu, contemporary Persian poet In this paper, I engage with different forms of atrocities committed against imprisoned dissidents in post-revolutionary Iran. Through a case study, I demonstrate how madness/disability/injury can be both a product of, and a response to, state violence, namely imprisonment and torture. I interviewed more than 30 former political prisoners who survived torture and imprisonment in the 1980s in Iran, and now, live in exile as part of the Iranian diaspora. I investigate the disabling processes and social relations involved in how some prisoners went “mad” and some remained “sane.” Using the transnational disability model (kazemi, 2017, 2018), I defetishize their disability by demonstrating how madness and sanity can be deliberately created (i.e., socially organized and imposed) in extremely brutal institutions and inhumane treatment of dissidents. As well, I ponder the ways in which madness could be the bodymind’s ‘response’ to violence or ‘survival strategy’ in the context of asymmetrical power relations. As an heir to the 1979 revolution, and as a raclialized activists-scholars from the global south, I struggle in this chapter to re-articulate the disabled subject against the ongoing re-constitution of him/her as a white subject in the Empire of rights, namely the global north.


Dr. Sona Kazemi is currently the Provost’s Research Justice at the Intersections Fellow at the Mills College in Oakland, California. From 2018 to 2020, Sona was the postdoctoral researcher of Migration Studies and Medical Humanities at the Ohio State University. Her research program is located in contradictions among transnational disability rights frameworks in the context of global and regional imperialism(s), as well as the proxy wars in the Middle East. Her postdoctoral projects concerns traumatized Yazidi refugees in diaspora and their disability consciousness as survivors of genocide and ethnic cleansing, the mental health of Iranian refugees in the United States who are the survivors of state terror and its implications for international security, Iranian women survivors of acid attack and their disability and feminist consciousness, and punitive limb amputation in Saudi Arabia and Iran. Sona’s first monograph, “Disabling Relations: Injured Bodyminds and Active Witnessing,” is under contract and scheduled to come out next year. Sona is the Society for Disability Studies’ 2018 recipient of the honorable mention for the prestigious award of Irving K. Zola Award for emerging scholars in Disability Studies. Sona is currently the associate editor for the Global Ideas: Section at Review of Disability Studies, an International Journal.