Subjects of Disablement: Exploring Identity-Related Divergences in Relation to Disability in the UK

Below are the slides I created for the talk I delivered at the University of Birmingham’s POLSISTalks on 8th February 2023.


This talk explores the question of how and on what basis could common ground be established among people who identify as being disabled, chronically ill, neurodivergent, having impairments, or experiencing mental distress – beyond inter-group coalitions. Drawing on a qualitative project with 27 participants and on academic/activist literatures, I offer a tentative proposal that addresses long-standing (and still current) divergences over the operationalisation and conceptualisation of bodymind-/disability-related identity terms. In short, I make the case for a new concept: ‘subjects of disablement’.

The talk is divided into three parts. First, I present a cultural-materialist approach to identity, as found in the work of Moran (2015, 2020). Second, I explore the blurry and overlapping definitions and approaches to identity, as expressed by scholars, activists and research participants, with an emphasis on differences across perspectives. The final part includes my proposal for, and justification of, the use of the concept ‘subjects of disablement’. From a Marxist approach to the politics of disablement, this non-identity concept avoids the essentialism often found in contemporary ‘identity talk’ and highlights a commonality between people who have impairments, chronic illness, are neurodivergent, or experience mental distress. This commonality is grounded in the structural process of disablement oppression and exploitation through the social relations of disabling capitalism. Alongside the political identity ‘disabled people’, the analytical adoption of ‘subjects of disablement’ helps to formulate a collective politics that has the abolition of disabling capitalism at its heart.

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Ioana Cerasella Chis