Garland-Thomson, an important figure in disability studies scholarship and activism, analyzes the social phenomenon of staring, particularly staring at people with distinctive bodies. After exploring why we stare and what staring is, i.e., "a physical response...a cultural history...a social relationship...[and] knowledge-gathering," the book analyzes the dynamics of staring, including the learned prohibition against staring and the dynamic power relationship between starers and the objects of their stares, whom Garland-Thomson terms "starees."

She illustrates and analyzes four key "scenes of staring": staring at faces, hands, breasts, and bodies.  The book proposes a new "ethics of looking" in which starees offer starers a collaborative relationship that produces "[s]taring as beholding...a way to bring visual presence to another person, to see them as they need to be seen" (194). Garland-Thomson positions her argument in relation to key works of cultural criticism and sociology including Susan Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others (see annotation), Erving Goffman's Stigma, Elaine Scarry's On Beauty and Being Just, and the ideas of historian Michel Foucault. Her evidence includes  auto/biographical narratives of scenes of staring, summaries of key historical contexts, examples from visual art (photography, painting, film, and cartoon), and literature, and auto/biographical narratives.


Staring is a groundbreaking work. The first published study on staring, it defines the role and situation of the staree and characterizes scenes of staring as potentially positive.  Not simply victimized objects, starees become accomplished in negotiating the interaction so that they control it to some degree. Further, when control is balanced between starer and staree, this "intense visual interaction holds an unexpected opportunity for generating mutual new knowledge and potential social justice" (194). The book includes discussion-provoking visual illustrations and memorable narratives of experienced starees who have physical disabilities, cancer, and other visible bodily distinctions. Its style is accessible as well as learned, making it an excellent teaching text.




Link to video with Garland-Thomson speaking about the book, made by Emory University:

Primary Source

Staring: How We Look


Oxford University Press

Place Published

New York



Page Count