Understanding the Shrinking Social and Economic Rights of Persons with Disabilities through the Lens of Citizenship

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 15:56
Oral Presentation
Marie SÉPULCHRE, Uppsala University, Sweden
Social and economic rights are being jeopardised in times of neoliberalism and austerity. The erosion of the welfare state affects a wide range of citizens and has a particularly negative impact on the lives of persons with disabilities. Scholarship has documented these impacts and highlighted that the present situation is at odds with the formal recognition of persons with disabilities as ‘full citizens’. The situation varies across countries but changes are palpable even in Sweden, a country known for its generous and universal welfare benefit system (Esping-Andersen 1990).

However, the historical processes through which persons with disabilities, like other previously excluded groups, have obtained ‘full citizenship rights’ in the first place and the arguments put forward by disability rights activists to protect their shrinking social and economic rights have received less attention in the literature.

This paper suggests that citizenship theory offers a useful lens to consider these aspects. Drawing upon T.H. Marshall (1950) who conceptualised citizenship as a ‘developing institution’ in a context of social and material inequalities, it analyses the changes relative to the social and economic rights of persons with disabilities. Although the state is the only authority that can formally decide upon citizenship, Cohen (2009) argued that citizenship is informed by competing doctrines of liberalism, democracy and administrative rationality. This paper suggests that, as a democratic movement, disability rights activism participates in (re-)shaping the contours of citizenship. Drawing upon the content analysis of a selection of historical and contemporary claims of Swedish disability rights activists, the paper shows how the citizenship for persons with disabilities is being (re-)imagined through their claims. It concludes that citizenship theory enables gaining a deeper understanding of the societal issues at stake in questions relative to the social and economic rights of persons with disabilities in contemporary society.