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Nothing About Us Without Us

Nothing About Us Without Us: Disability Oppression and Empowerment

James I. Charlton
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: 1
Pages: 213
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  • Book Info
    Nothing About Us Without Us
    Book Description:

    James Charlton has produced a ringing indictment of disability oppression, which, he says, is rooted in degradation, dependency, and powerlessness and is experienced in some form by five hundred million persons throughout the world who have physical, sensory, cognitive, or developmental disabilities.Nothing About Us Without Usis the first book in the literature on disability to provide a theoretical overview of disability oppression that shows its similarities to, and differences from, racism, sexism, and colonialism. Charlton's analysis is illuminated by interviews he conducted over a ten-year period with disability rights activists throughout the Third World, Europe, and the United States. Charlton finds an antidote for dependency and powerlessness in the resistance to disability oppression that is emerging worldwide. His interviews contain striking stories of self-reliance and empowerment evoking the new consciousness of disability rights activists. As a latecomer among the world's liberation movements, the disability rights movement will gain visibility and momentum from Charlton's elucidation of its history and its political philosophy of self-determination, which is captured in the title of his book.Nothing About Us Without Usexpresses the conviction of people with disabilities that they know what is best for them. Charlton's combination of personal involvement and theoretical awareness assures greater understanding of the disability rights movement.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92544-1
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. The Argument
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. People Interviewed
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    • CHAPTER 1 Nothing About Us Without Us
      (pp. 3-18)

      I first heard the expression “Nothing About Us Without Us” in South Africa in 1993. Michael Masutha and William Rowland, two leaders of Disabled People South Africa, separately invoked the slogan, which they had heard used by someone from Eastern Europe at an international disability rights conference. The slogan’s power derives from its location of the source of many types of (disability) oppression and its simultaneous opposition to such oppression in the context of control and voice.

      “Nothing About Us Without Us” resonates with the philosophy and history of the disability rights movement (DRM), a movement that has embarked on...


    • CHAPTER 2 The Dimensions of Disability Oppression: An Overview
      (pp. 21-36)

      The vast majority of people with disabilities have always been poor, powerless, and degraded. Disability oppression is a product of both the past and the present. Some aspects of disability oppression are remnants of ancien régimes of politics and economics, customs and beliefs, and others can be traced to more recent developments. To understand the consequences and implications for people with disabilities an analysis is called for which considers how the overarching structures of society influence this trend. This is especially relevant in light of the United Nations’ contention that their condition is worsening: “Handicapped people remainoutcastsaround the...

    • CHAPTER 3 Political Economy and the World System
      (pp. 37-50)

      On one level a political economy of disability is easy to establish. That people with disabilities are powerless and poor is uncontestable. Every socioeconomic indicator says so.

      As with political economy generally, the political economy of disability must be centrally concerned with class. That the vast majority of people with disabilities are poor, without many of the basic necessities to live a full and independent life, is primarily a function of class. This can be expressed from the reverse point ofview as well: people with disabilities who have adequate financial resources have no problem procuring the most modern wheelchairs and...

    • CHAPTER 4 Culture(s) and Belief Systems
      (pp. 51-68)

      Culture exerts a profound influence on the way in which people think and what they think. An individual’s beliefs—whether religious, aesthetic, moral/ethical, political, or philosophical—produce his or her worldview. A worldview not only imparts meaning, it positions beliefs in relation to rituals, habits, laws, grammar, facial expressions, body image, sex and sexuality, artifacts, games, and so on. Culture is “the realm of the symbolic—that amorphous web of values, beliefs, assumptions and ideals that we internalize by being members of certain groups in a certain place at a certain time. It is within the realm we call culture...

    • CHAPTER 5 Consciousness and Alienation
      (pp. 69-82)

      Demonstrating a phenomenology of disability oppression requires consideration of how the relations and structures of that oppression are reproduced. In examining these relationships, many considerations unfold from the central questions of how people think about, feel, and cope with the particular manifestation of that oppression in their own lives and—more simply—why people passively consent to power. Are they manipulated or co-opted? Scared or apathetic? Can they not control their lives, or do they have no hope and vision of such control?

      The short answer might be, various combinations of these. But we also know that wherever oppression has...

    • CHAPTER 6 Observations on Everyday Life
      (pp. 83-112)

      The first volume of Fernand Braudel’s magnum opus,Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century,examines everyday life because everyday life is the context, medium, and range of what was possible for people during these centuries. In this book, Braudel studies subjects as diverse as what people ate and wore to the kinds of economic exchange they used. Although Braudel recognized the insights that resulted for what they were—“snapshots” of or portholes into the lives of real people—he nevertheless upheld their validity: “Everyday life consists of the little things one hardly notices in time and space.... Through the travellers’...


    • CHAPTER 7 Empowered Consciousness and the Philosophy of Empowerment
      (pp. 115-129)

      The experiences related by disability rights activists throughout this book speak of the impossible, accidents of fortune, catharsis, transformation, radicalization, and conversion. They illustrate the powerful role of consciousness when, as Tracy Chapman sings in “Why,” “the blind remove their blinders and the speechless speak the truth.” They also show how, out of similar and divergent experiences, people with disabilities have acquired a consciousness of themselves and the world around them. This new understanding has affected their aspirations and responsibilities. They have come to araisedconsciousness of themselves not only as people with disabilities but also as oppressed people....

    • CHAPTER 8 The Organization of Empowerment
      (pp. 130-150)

      Out of the different and often hard realities of everyday life, organizations of people with disabilities have appeared in virtually every country in the world. Most of these organizations embrace the principles of empowerment and human rights, independence and integration, and self-help and self-determination, and these organizations form the core of the international disability rights movement. This development parallels, although to a much lesser degree, the process of consciousness and organization that gave rise to many kinds of liberation movements. As Sheila Rowbotham reminds us inWomen’s Consciousness, Man’s World,“The vast mass of human beings have always been mainly...


    • CHAPTER 9 The Dialectics of Oppression and Empowerment
      (pp. 153-168)

      Chronicling the theory and practice of any liberation movement tempts a prejudgment of that movement’s ultimate success. Derrick Bell’s assertion of the permanence of racism impressed on me that such claims are often erroneous, even disingenuous. Regrettably, as the permanence of racism appears probable to this legal scholar and political activist, so does the permanence of disability oppression to me. I do not draw this conclusion indifferently. People with disabilities have much experience with different social systems and cultures and a preponderance of signs point to this conclusion. This is not, as many have accused Derrick Bell, a defeatist existentialism....

  10. Notes
    (pp. 169-178)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 179-194)
  12. Index
    (pp. 195-197)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 198-198)