Civil Disabilities: Citizenship, Membership, and Belonging

Civil Disabilities: Citizenship, Membership, and Belonging

Civil Disabilities: Citizenship, Membership, and Belonging

Civil Disabilities: Citizenship, Membership, and Belonging


An estimated one billion people around the globe live with a disability; this number grows exponentially when family members, friends, and care providers are included. Various countries and international organizations have attempted to guard against discrimination and secure basic human rights for those whose lives are affected by disability. Yet despite such attempts many disabled persons in the United States and throughout the world still face exclusion from full citizenship and membership in their respective societies. They are regularly denied employment, housing, health care, access to buildings, and the right to move freely in public spaces. At base, such discrimination reflects a tacit yet pervasive assumption that disabled persons do not belong in society.

Civil Disabilities challenges such norms and practices, urging a reconceptualization of disability and citizenship to secure a rightful place for disabled persons in society. Essays from leading scholars in a diversity of fields offer critical perspectives on current citizenship studies, which still largely assume an ableist world. Placing historians in conversation with anthropologists, sociologists with literary critics, and musicologists with political scientists, this interdisciplinary volume presents a compelling case for reimagining citizenship that is more consistent, inclusive, and just, in both theory and practice. By placing disability front and center in academic and civic discourse, Civil Disabilities tests the very notion of citizenship and transforms our understanding of disability and belonging.

Contributors : Emily Abel, Douglas C. Baynton, Susan Burch, Allison C. Carey, Faye Ginsburg, Nancy J. Hirschmann, Hannah Joyner, Catherine Kudlick, Beth Linker, Alex Lubet, Rayna Rapp, Susan Schweik, Tobin Siebers, Lorella Terzi.


Nancy J. Hirschmann and Beth Linker

Although the study of citizenship has garnered significant scholarly attention in the past several decades, disabled persons have been largely overlooked. But as this volume demonstrates, disability is central to understanding citizenship. In the United States, most of the work on disability and citizenship has happened on the ground—through the blood and sweat of disability activists—or in the courts, where legislation is interpreted into fact. A major category of the modern welfare state, disability has been fundamental to twentieth-century policy formation, health-care delivery, and, more recently, antidiscrimination laws. Disability has also, by turns, served as justification for eugenic sterilization and for exclusion from the workplace and the nation-state as a whole, a prime mover for technological invention, and an occasion for ever-greater inclusion in America’s educational system.

The ubiquity and importance of disability to the development of civil society in the past two centuries seems clear. In the United States, one can trace the beginning of disability legislation to the concomitant midnineteenth-century rise of industrialization and state reliance on a conscripted army. Disabled bodies could not conform to the needs of the productive, capitalistic, imperialistic state. Therefore, welfare measures were put in place but were rarely given priority, and the disabled quickly came to be seen as a burden rather than an asset, an unsightly rift in the fabric of humanity. The U.S. disability rights movement (DRM)—from the 1973 Rehabilitation Act to the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) . . .

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