Culture and Social Movements: The Case of Disability Protests Cross-Culturally

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 5:45 PM
Room: 302
Oral Presentation
Sharon BARNARTT , Sociology, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC
Perhaps a naïve observer would think that protests relating to disability would be similar cross-culturally, since the phenomenon of disability has certain medical similarities.  However, this is not the case.  Despite the fact that mobilization around disability issues is increasing, that there is neither one truly trans-national organization nor one international Disability Rights Movement begs explanation. 

         This paper explores data from over 2600 cases of disability protest from around the world, gathered from media reports and analyzed quantitatively.  While media reports themselves raise cultural and methodological issues, which the paper will discuss, the analyses also show markedly different patterns in protest issues and tactics.   One issue with huge cross cultural variation is that of what constitutes disability rights.  In protests in cultures which lack a strong rights tradition, issues which are framed as ‘rights-related’ may actually be framed in others as being  ‘services-related.’   Another cultural difference relates to the types of impairments whose problems become protest demands.  In a number of countries blindness-related demands show up more frequently than do other impairment-specific demands or than general or non-specific impairment-related demands.  Also, in some countries both non-specific demands and demands related to relatively newer conditions such as autism show up more frequently than in others.  There are also cultural differences in types of tactics used.  While protests often take the form of marches, demonstrations, or lock-outs, in some countries they are more likely to take the form of self-immolation or hunger strikes.  These and other culturally-fueled differences such as the timing of disability mobilizations are discussed in order to illustrate the power of culture over the actualization of this social movement.