Call for Papers: From Each According to Ability? Capitalism, Poverty, and Disability

Canadian Journal of Disability Studies published by the Canadian Disability Studies AssociationFrom Each According to Ability? Capitalism, Poverty, and Disability

Karl Marx (1875/1978) described the political economy of a just society as one organized around the ethos “from each according to … ability; to each according to … need!” (p. 531). The reality for people with disabilities, however, is persistent and disproportionate rates of poverty and unemployment worldwide (World Health Organization, 2011). How well do we understand the reasons for this? And more importantly, what can be done about it? Has disability studies produced an adequate theorization of the political economy of disability?

The Canadian Journal of Disability Studies invites contributions to specifically explore these questions, using a definition of “political economy” as “the study of the social relations, particularly the power relations that mutually constitute the production, distribution, and consumption of resources” (Mosco, 1996, p. 25).

The influential social model could be seen to situate current definitions and experiences of disability within capitalism (Oliver, 1999), and to identify “institutional discrimination” as the source of social inequality (Barnes, 1991). The theory and praxis of disability politics focuses on challenging the medicalization of disability, exploring and developing a positive disability identity and pride, opposing the demeaning practices and policies of welfare states, promoting disabled-led organizations and direct payments for services, advancing disability arts and culture, and most significantly pushing for anti-discrimination legislation and the implementation of human rights for persons with disabilities. Do these political responses follow from the original theoretical contention that the contemporary social construct of disability is rooted in capitalism?

More recently the social model has called for “a radical re-appraisal of the meaning of work for disabled people that goes beyond the rigid confines of paid employment…” and which organizes work around social necessity, obligation, and interdependence (Barnes & Roulstone, 2005). Furthermore, between the need for professional services and the development of self-directed attendant services, people with disabilities should be recognized as both creators and managers of employment (Barnes, 2003). Russell (1998), however, points out the dangers of this “commodification” of disability, in which people with disabilities are seen as a lucrative source of money for medical and institutional organizations. Albrecht (1992) also raises concerns about the implications of “the disability business”.

And what of those people with disabilities who are genuinely unable to work because the nature of their disabilities, rather than the lack of opportunity? Taylor (2004) argues for the “right not to work” and in favour of “cultivating a skeptical attitude regarding the significance of work”—at least as it constructed in a capitalist economy. How do we situate this argument in a political economy of disability?

We welcome article submissions on these and related questions. Other possible topics include, but are not limited to

  • Strategies to address capitalism’s recurring crises as they relate to disability
  • Theories, practices, and crises of the welfare state and disability
  • The intersections of human rights theory and practice and political economic theory and practice
  • Intersections and conflicts between feminism, race theory, queer theory, and crip theory and political economy approaches to understanding and theorizing disability
  • Marxism, neoliberalism, and other economic theories and disability
  • Notions of cross-disability solidarity versus class solidarity
  • The business(es) of disability such as vocational and medical rehabilitation, pharmaceutical and biotechnological interventions, personal support workers and “care” industries, new paradigms of disability employment, etc.
  • Political economy issues of disability in developing countries and across global contexts
  • Issues of identity and inclusion/exclusion within a capitalist political economy

The deadline for submissions is April 1, 2014. All manuscripts must be submitted electronically, in Microsoft Word format, directly via email to this issue’s guest editor Bonita Heath at

Manuscript submissions must be no more than 6,000 words, excluding references, notes, and tables. Submissions should have no more than 40 references.  Keep tables, figures — including graphs, charts, diagrams — and other images to a minimum (no more than 10); all such material must be accompanied by a brief narrative description to ensure accessibility.

For further information please see “Author Guidelines” at


Albrecht, Gary L. (1992). The disability business: rehabilitation in America. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage.

Barnes, C. (2003). Disability. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press; Blackwell Publishers.

Barnes, C. (1991). Disabled people in Britain and discrimination: A case for anti-discrimination legislation. London, UK: Hurst & Co.; University of Calgary Press, in association with the British Council of Organizations of Disabled People.

Barnes, C., & Roulstone, A. (2005). Work is a four-letter word. In A. Roulstone, & C. Barnes (Eds.),Working futures? Disabled people, policy and social inclusion (pp. 315–327). Bristol, UK: The Policy Press.

Marx, K. (1875). Critique of the Gotha Program. In R. Tucker, (1978) The Marx-Engels reader (pp. 525–541). New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company.

Mosco, V. (1996). The political economy of communication: rethinking and renewal. London, UK: Sage.

Oliver, M. (1999). Capitalism, disability and ideology: A materialist critique of the normalization principle. In R. Flynn J., & R. Lemay A. (Eds.), A quarter-century of normalization and social role valorization: Evolution and impact (pp. 1–16). Leeds, UK: University of Leeds, Centre for Disability Studies.

Russell, M. (1998). Beyond ramps: Disability at the end of the social contract. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press.

Taylor, S. (2004). The right not to work: Power and disability. Monthly Review55(10), 30–44.

World Health Organization, World Bank. (2011). World report on disability. Geneva: World Health Organization.