[Marxism] Ravi Malhotra: The Political Economy of Disablement: Advances and Contradictions

davidquarter at sympatico.ca davidquarter at sympatico.ca
Sun Mar 20 18:50:35 MST 2005

                [Great analysis of Disability...DOQ]

                   Marta Russell and Ravi Malhotra
Having a disability is conventionally regarded as a personal tragedy which the 
individual must overcome, or as a medical problem to which the individual must 
become adjusted. In 1976, however, the Union of the Physically Impaired Against 
Segregation in Britain made a significant advance when it pointed out that ˜disability 
is something imposed on top of our impairments by the way we are unnecessarily 
isolated and excluded from full participation in society™.1 Among those concerned 
with disability it soon became common ground that ˜it is society which disables 
persons with impairments™.
This social model of disability2 necessitates a rethinking of prevalent definitions. 
Leaving aside biological or physical-anthropological definitions of disability which 
make it appear that impaired persons are ˜naturally™ and, therefore, justifiably, 
excluded from the mainstream labour force, even quite mainstream definitions have 
serious shortcomings. The World Health Organization, for instance, defines 
impairment (the condition of being deaf or blind, or having impaired mobility or 
being otherwise impaired) as the physiological ˜problem™; disability as restricted 
functions or activities resulting from an impairment; and handicap as the 
˜disadvantage resulting from the impairment or disability, that limits or prevents the 
fulfillment of a role™.3 This terminology has been criticized by social model theorists 
of disability because it relies primarily on medical definitions and uses a bio-
physiological definition of normality. Further, ˜the environment™ within which this 
˜disadvantage™ is located, ˜is represented as œneutral, and any negative 
consequences of this approach for the person with an impairment are regarded as 
inevitable or acceptable rather than as disabling barriers™.4 
Reconceptualizing disability as an outcome of the political economy, however, also 
requires acknowledging the limitations of the ˜minority™ model of disability, which 
views it as the product of a disabling social and architectural environment. In this 
view the fundamental source of the problems encountered by disabled persons is 
prejudicial or discriminatory attitudes, implying that by erasing mistaken attitudes 
society will accept ˜difference™ and equality will flourish.5 This approach diverts 
attention from the mode of production and the concrete social relations that produce 
the disabling barriers, exclusion and inequalities facing disabled persons.
In contrast, we take the view that disability is a socially-created category derived 
from labour relations, a product of the exploitative economic structure of capitalist 
society: one which creates (and then oppresses) the so-called ˜dis-abled™ body as 
one of the conditions that allow the capitalist class to accumulate wealth. Seen in 
this light, disability is an aspect of the central contradiction of capitalism, and 
disability politics that do not accept this are, at best, fundamentally flawed strategies 
of reform or worse, forms of bourgeois ideology that prevent this from being seen.

Full: http://www.yorku.ca/socreg/RusMal.htm

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