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Disability and political theory: from status and distributive justice to citizenship


Traditional political theory has neglected the issues of disability. Nevertheless, in the last decades we witnessed the introduction of disability within the canon of political theory. Roughly speaking, we can say that political theorists dealing with disability have considered disability from two main theoretical angles: status and distributive justice.

Concerning status, it is significant what Anita Silvers has remarked in a 1994 paper. She wrote that, until then, political theorists had faced disability ‘almost solely in the context of discussion of killing and letting die’. Nonetheless, this has triggered a lively discussion on, among the other things, how and under which conditions a human being can be considered a person and on the rights that should be granted to people according to the presence (or absence) of some peculiar human capacities. Such a debate is very relevant, for instance, in relation to intellectual disability, and theorists have tried to address the issue of whether a human being can be considered a person even if he/she has not full rational capacities.

From the side of distributive justice, political theorists have worked on how mainstream theories can accommodate disabled rights and claims. In this field, a special place has been occupied by the attempt to give an answer to the following question: does disability represent a challenge for traditional theories of distributive justice? Theorists working in the Rawlsian framework, to take an example, have tried to reply to those critiques according to which contractualism, due to its rationalistic and ableist assumptions, is unable to give disabled their due in terms of justice.

However fertile and thorough, these two debates met only rarely. In fact, scholars working on status and scholars working on distributive justice have proceeded independently of each other. This circumstance has somehow impoverished the discussion because it did not allow to see the multiple ways in which the conjunction of status and distributive justice can shed a new light on disability issues.

This workshop aims at filling this gap stimulating a reflection on disability from the point of view of citizenship. In fact, it is in the domain of citizenship (assuming that it concerns legal status, political agency, and membership in a political community) that we can work out a more systematic and general political understanding of disability.

The workshop invites submission on the following (and related) topics:

  • Non-ableist conceptions of citizenship
  • Disability and identity politics: is disability a dimension of diversity such as ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation?
  • The distinction between physical and intellectual disabilities and its impact on citizenship issues
  • Equality/difference in a non-ableist conception of citizenship
  • Rethinking citizenship in the light of the intersection of disability with other causes of social exclusion (gender, race, class, etc.)

If you are interested in participating in this workshop, please submit an abstract (up to 1000 words) to by May 30, 2020. You will receive notice of the acceptance of the abstract by June 6, 2020.