Disability, Human Rights and the Limits of Humanitarianism: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Disability, Human Rights and the Limits of Humanitarianism

1st Edition

By Michael Gill, Cathy J. Schlund-Vials


252 pages

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Disability studies scholars and activists have long criticized and critiqued so-termed ’charitable’ approaches to disability where the capitalization of individual disabled bodies to invoke pity are historically, socially, and politically circumscribed by paternalism. Disabled individuals have long advocated for civil and human rights in various locations throughout the globe, yet contemporary human rights discourses problematically co-opt disabled bodies as ’evidence’ of harms done under capitalism, war, and other forms of conflict, while humanitarian non-governmental organizations often use disabled bodies to generate resources for their humanitarian projects. It is the connection between civil rights and human rights, and this concomitant relationship between national and global, which foregrounds this groundbreaking book’s contention that disability studies productively challenge such human rights paradigms, which troublingly eschew disability rights in favor of exclusionary humanitarianism. It relocates disability from the margins to the center of academic and activist debates over the vexed relationship between human rights and humanitarianism. These considerations thus productively destabilize able-bodied assumptions that undergird definitions of personhood in civil rights and human rights by highlighting intersections between disability, race, gender ethnicity, and sexuality as a way to interrogate the possibilities (and limitations) of human rights as a politicized regime.


'… these essays focus on the suffering and pathos of the disability experience. … Recommended.' Choice ’The essays in this excellent book are adept at showing how the victimization of the disabled is produced and legitimated through constructions of the disabled body as both threat and moral obligation. These writers consistently challenge the clichés that dominate thinking about disability by negotiating the shoals of both social realism and posthumanist triumphalism in ways that will open up these issues for a wide range of scholars and students.’ Terry Rowden, The City University of New York, USA 'I highly recommend this collection. Disability, Human Rights and the Limits of Humanitarianism’s chapters offer breadth and depth, engaging with ’disability’ and ’human rights’ in fresh and, often, provocative ways. … the collection makes space for critical debate of what it means to have access to ’rights’ as currently constructed in neoliberal capitalist economies. Above this, I enjoyed every single chapter - what more could one want from a book than that?' Disability & Society

About the Authors

Michael Gill is faculty member in women's, gender and sexuality studies at Grinnell College, USA. Cathy Schlund-Vials is Associate Professor in English and Asian American Studies at the University of Connecticut in the USA.

About the Series

Interdisciplinary Disability Studies

Disability studies has made great strides in exploring power and the body. This series extends the interdisciplinary dialogue between disability studies and other fields by asking how disability studies can influence a particular field. It will show how a deep engagement with disability studies changes our understanding of the following fields: sociology, literary studies, gender studies, bioethics, social work, law, education, or history. This ground-breaking series identifies both the practical and theoretical implications of such an interdisciplinary dialogue and challenges people in disability studies as well as other disciplinary fields to critically reflect on their professional praxis in terms of theory, practice, and methods.

Series editor: Mark Sherry, The University of Toledo, USA

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Freedom & Security / Human Rights
SOCIAL SCIENCE / People with Disabilities