Identity, Work, and The Centrality of Disablement to the Reproduction of Capitalist Social Relations [slides]

Below are the slides I created for the talk I delivered at the University of Brighton’s CAPPE on 29th March 2023 – as part of their Interventions in Disability Politics seminar series. More info about the event can be found here.


This talk presents a series of arguments developed through the qualitative research project called ‘The Politics of Disablement and Precarious Work in the UK’. In the first part of the talk, I build on the UPIAS-inspired social model, ‘cultural materialism’, and ‘class composition theory’ to argue for replacing the well-known ‘impaired people – disabled people’ (or impairment – disability) distinction with my proposed distinction between ‘subjects of disablement – disabled people’*. I suggest that ‘subjects of disablement’ is a non-identity term that avoids the essentialism often found in contemporary ‘identity talk’. Importantly, it highlights the material commonality among all people with impairments, who are neurodivergent, chronically ill, d/Deaf, and/or who experience mental distress – and who may or may not actively identify as being disabled. In other words, the commonality of living in a capitalist United Kingdom is grounded in the structural process of disablement oppression and exploitation through the social relations of -what I call- disabling capitalism. Thus, I suggest that activists and scholars ought to foreground the ways in which capitalism itself (not just a given society) disables people. Finally, alongside the political identity ‘disabled people’, the analytical adoption of ‘subjects of disablement’ may help to articulate a collective politics that has the abolition of disabling capitalism / disablement at its heart.

The latter part of the talk briefly explores the project’s second line of inquiry – namely, how gig economy subjects of disablement in the UK navigate, negotiate, and negate the competing demands of work across their daily lives. Informed by the experiences and perspectives of the project’s research participants, I will discuss the relationship between different spheres of activity and the reproduction and contestation of disabling capitalist social relations. The talk will end by arguing that anti-capitalist perspectives which do not consider the politics of disablement and work in their analysis and praxis are inadequate and incomplete.

* or other collectively political identities related to disability

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Ioana Cerasella Chis