Traces the post-Reconstruction roots of the slow violence enacted on black people in the U.S. through the politicization of biological health


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.

Stephen Knadler is Professor of English, Spelman College.

“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

Winner: 2018 Tobin Siebers Prize for Disability Studies in the Humanities

- Tobin Siebers Prize

"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."

- H. Aquino, Albright College

"Vitality Politics, in historicizing and queering narratives of health and wellness as they relate to both antiracist movements and liberal multicultural iterations of white supremacy, makes space for the ways structures are embodied and the ways embodiment is systemic and institutional, ways behaviors and regulations of bodies uphold systems of anti-Blackness as anti-Blackness informs bodily behaviors and regulation."
American Literary History

- American Literary History