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The Social Model of Disability Under the Shadow of the Revolution: Ex-combatants Negotiating Identity in Nicaragua

Abstract

The social model of disability, which defines disability as the product of social discrimination rather than the physical, cognitive, or sensory differences of individuals, became the dominant logic of the international disability field with the 2006 passage of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As such, grassroots disability associations around the world are advocating for new rights. These campaigns promote a new identity frame of disabled persons as a universally oppressed group. This identity, however, does not benefit all groups equally and actually threatens some. Using qualitative methods, I compare the usage of the disability identity by two grassroots associations in Nicaragua. Ex-Contra soldiers with disabilities use the identity to obfuscate their discredited history as “traitors” and, instead, represent themselves as unjustly discriminated against disabled persons deserving special benefits and human rights protections. Ex-Sandinista soldiers with disabilities also make claims, but only reluctantly as disabled, preferring to self-identify as war wounded. Because of changes in law, however, Ex-Sandinista soldiers are increasingly unable to make claims as war heroes, but must instead access benefits as persons with disabilities “in general.” This case demonstrates how actors strategically use the social model of disability in relation to local political culture and group identity.

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Notes

  1. Segovia is a pseudonym to provide anonymity to organizations and their members, who are also referred to through pseudonyms. Nueva Segovia refers to the northern, mountainous region of Nicaragua near the Honduran border, and thus the area where the majority of the fighting took place during the Contra War during the 1980s. It includes several departmentos and major cities, each of which has grassroots disability associations and coalitions. I chose to call my field site “Segovia” as the name connotes the general region, but does not give specific information about the city itself, thus akin to calling it “Midwest” or “New England” city.

  2. Pseudonyms have been provided to protect the identity of all individuals interviewed or observed in my field site.

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Correspondence to Stephen J. Meyers.

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Meyers, S.J. The Social Model of Disability Under the Shadow of the Revolution: Ex-combatants Negotiating Identity in Nicaragua. Qual Sociol 37, 403–424 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-014-9284-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-014-9284-x

Keywords

  • Social model of disability
  • Human rights
  • Transnational advocacy movements
  • Identity
  • Ex-combatants
  • Nicaragua