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The politics of disablement

On August 25 and 26, 2022, Disability Studies in Nederland organises the summer school “The politics of disablement” at the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht. The summer school will explore the relationship between disability and politics through three topics:

  • Citizenship
  • (New) eugenics
  • Capacity and representation

During this summer school participants will work together in three half-days on and reflect on these themes on the basis of the research they do. In the fourth half of the second day, the common threads and differences between these themes will be investigated, with the aim of jointly arriving at new questions about the relationship between disability and politics for future research.

This summer school is aimed at (research) master and PhD students, but is also open to other researchers who are interested in these subjects. There is room to work with a variety of formats: presenting a (research) paper, roundtables, workshops and so on.
Mail your abstract, idea, or pitch to before March, 31, 2022 to: angela.hanse@disabilitystudies.nl

Please read on below to find more information on the three topics.




Citizenship refers to civil rights and the ability to exercise them. Albrecht (2006) calls this juridical citizenship. Citizenship also has a political connotation, which stresses the importance of ‘making a contribution’ to society. Contribution equals ‘full citizenship’, which implies optimal participation. Although persons with disabilities should be able to fully participate in social life, for example education, work, cultural experience, and social relations (i.e. inclusion), citizenship is often narrowed to employment (Brown & Patrick, 2012). Here, citizenship is more of an outcome, a participation rate; that is, it attributes value to people who contribute to society in a specific way. The Dutch Council for Public Administration (2001) described three layers of citizenship: formal status, democratic practice, and identity. Citizenship as formal status is seen as an elementary dimension. Equality is an important principle; society should be socially and physically accessible. Citizenship as democratic practice emphasises the mutual bond between citizens in a society. Citizens have a responsibility for living with each other, with all their differences, interests, and possible conflicts. Citizenship as identity concerns the way citizens want to participate in society and whether the citizen is acknowledged as anequal member of that society. In this summer school session, we invite participants to reflect on their research topic from a citizenship perspective.

Questions might be:

  • What should citizenship scholars learn from your research topic?
  • What should people with disabilities learn from your research topic concerning their citizenship?

(New) eugenics and quality of life

Quality-of-life is a concept that has had robust development and application in the field of disability in recent decades. It functions as an apt goal for individuals to enhance their lives, as well as for policy and disability support. Quality of life helps address ethical issues by acting as a key guidepost in ethical considerations. Current philosophical and human rights approaches to disability support the view that disability is no reason to assume poor quality of life. Moreover, individuals with disabilities themselves typically rate their own quality of life quite high. Similarly, families perceive disability as contributing to family quality of life in some ways, although this is tempered by social constructs, especially normalcy and ableism, that support marginalization and discrimination. Disability Studies, and critical disability theory that constitutes much of its foundation, offer an alternative perspective of disability that values its contribution to larger society – disability as a positive and necessary aspect of the diversity within the human mosaic. This perspective of disability negates the necessity of new eugenics practices.

Possible topics and questions to examine in this session include (but are not limited to):

  • In what way can critical disability approaches being applied to analyze and discuss eugenic thought in practice as well as to examine current issues (e.g. genetic technology, artificial intelligence, reproductive autonomy)?
  • How are individuals and families impacted by (public and structural) stigma related to living with disabilities?

Capacity and representation

The other of ‘disability’ has often, understandably, been posited as ‘ability’. Etymologically, the term ability can be traced back to the Latin habilitas, which does not only denote the possession of a skill to perform a certain action, but also one’s aptitude (a supposed ‘natural inclination’ or ‘fitness’ to do something). This panel questions the presupposed inclination of common ‘abilities’ themselves in relation to matters of representation. To represent can mean to represent oneself or others in a social/political context. In order to represent effectively, what is required is the (bodily) capacity that translates into the particular abilities needed to represent oneself or others. The ability to speak, for example, is an ability that excludes and disables those with communicative capacities that are not recognized as viable and valid abilities within a given political order in which speech is the norm. Capacities therefore are codified as abilities when they receive validation within that order. The term valid in turn comes from the Latin validus; that which is strong, powerful, and active. Abilities that are validated are strong abilities; capacities of the body which are not yet recognized are in a liminal space, in between being recognized/validated and/or ignored. This panel is interested in those cultural, social, and political contexts in which bodily capacities are not (yet) recognized as abilities, and seeks to examine the ways in which capacities get validated as abilities or not, and how this relates to matters of representation.

Guiding questions can be:

  • How and where is the (political) representation of people with disabilities problematized due to normative abilities being required for that representation to be effective?
  • In what ways can capacities related to disability that are not recognized/validated by a (dominant) social/political order disrupt or intervene in that order?