Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 142–160

“I Don’t Have Time for an Emotional Life”: Marginalization, Dependency and Melancholic Suspension in Disability

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s11013-016-9503-x

Cite this article as:
Watermeyer, B. Cult Med Psychiatry (2017) 41: 142. doi:10.1007/s11013-016-9503-x


Social scientific analyses of inequality inform interventions ranging from the material and political to the personal and psychological. At the extremes of this continuum, Marxian militants view the exploration of the inner lives of oppressed people as irrelevant to liberation, while psychoanalysts bemoan the naïveté of “depsychologized” conceptions of the social subject. While both approaches have been applied to disability inequality, an historical materialist view has dominated the discipline of disability studies, where attention has only recently turned to psychological aspects of oppression. This article provides a brief introduction to some key aspects of the social and economic marginalization experienced globally by the disability minority. Thereafter, the complex debates around materialist and psychological accounts of, and interventions upon, racism and disablism are explored and compared, with particular reference to the place of grief and loss in disability discourse. The clinical fragment which forms the title of this paper introduces an engagement with Cheng’s model of racial melancholia, its conceptual origins and explanatory power. The balance of the paper considers how Cheng’s work may help illuminate how it is that disability inequality, like that of race, may remain an obstinate reality notwithstanding material interventions aimed at overturning it.


Disability Marginalization Melancholic suspension Psychoanalytic South Africa 

Funding information

Funder NameGrant NumberFunding Note
National Research Foundation (ZA)

    Copyright information

    © Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

    Authors and Affiliations

    1. 1.Disability Studies Programme, Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Groote Schuur HospitalUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa

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