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(Im) Material Citizens: Cognitive Disability, Race, and the Politics of Citizenship

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Abstract

Transforming individuals into citizens has historically been one of the most important functions entrusted to educational institutions supported by the liberal state. Liberal theorists such as Locke, Rousseau, Dewey, and Rawls theorized the state as a collective creation of diverse individual members socialized via education to work toward the common good (social contract), while, at the same time, acting as autonomous agents to freely pursue their individual interests (Levinson, 1999). On the other hand, scholars such as Pateman (1988), Young (1990), and Mouffe (1996), among others, have challenged the universalism implicit in these formulations of citizenship by pointing out that notions of the “common good” and “equal treatment” presume a homogeneity among individuals and render difference invisible and/or unimportant. In fact, the historical struggles for the rights to citizenship by people of color, women, gays and lesbians, and disabled people1 have demonstrated that citizenship, rather than being a universal category, represents “a terrain of struggle over the forms of knowledge, social practices, and values that constitute the critical elements of the [liberal democratic] tradition” (Giroux, 1988, p. 5).

Keywords

  • Disable People
  • Disable Scholar
  • Citizenship Education
  • Critical Race Theory
  • Social Contract Theorist

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

And now we are men, not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1894)

Cast as one of society’s ultimate “not me” figures, the disabled other absorbs disavowed elements of this cultural self, becoming an icon of all human vulnerability and enabling the “American Ideal” to appear as master of both destiny and self. At once familiarly human but definitely other, the disabled figure in cultural discourse assures the rest of the citizenry of who they are not while arousing their suspicions about who they could become.

Rosemary Garland-Thomson (1997)

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  • DOI: 10.1057/9781137001184_6
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© 2011 Nirmala Erevelles

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Erevelles, N. (2011). (Im) Material Citizens: Cognitive Disability, Race, and the Politics of Citizenship. In: Disability and Difference in Global Contexts. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137001184_6

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