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Social Science People With Disabilities

Disability Politics and Theory, Revised and Expanded Edition

by (author) A.J. Withers

foreword by Robyn Maynard

afterword by Rachel da Silveira Gorman

Fernwood Publishing
Initial publish date
May 2024
People with Disabilities, Disease & Health Issues, Social Work
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2024
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    May 2024
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Disability Politics and Theory, a historical exploration of the concept of disability, covers the late nineteenth century to the present, introducing the main models of disability theory and politics: eugenics, medicalization, rehabilitation, charity, rights and social and disability justice. A.J. Withers examines when, how and why new categories of disability are created and describes how capitalism benefits from and enforces disabled people’s oppression. Critiquing the currently dominant social model of disability, this book offers an alternative. The radical framework Withers puts forward draws from schools of radical thought, particularly feminism and critical race theory, to emphasize the role of interlocking oppressions in the marginalization of disabled people and the importance of addressing disability both independently and in conjunction with other oppressions. Intertwining theoretical and historical analysis with personal experience, this book is a poignant portrayal of disabled people in Canada and the U.S. — and a call for social and economic justice.

This revised and expanded edition includes a new chapter on the rehabilitation model, expands the discussion of eugenics, and adds the context of the growth of the disability justice movement, Black Lives Matter, calls for defunding the police, decolonial and Indigenous land protection struggles, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

About the authors


AJ Withers has been an OCAP activist for twenty years, is a former paid organizer and is currently a member of the Executive Committee. They are the author of Disability Politics and Theory and co-author (with Chris Chapman) of A Violent History of Benevolence: Interlocking Oppression and the Moral Economies of Social Working, as well as numerous other chapters and articles. AJ recently completed a PhD in social work at York University.


A.J. Withers' profile page

Robyn Maynard is an assistant professor of Black Feminisms in Canada at the University of Toronto-Scarborough in the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies, with a graduate appointment in the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the St. George Campus. She is the author of Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present and the co-author of Rehearsals for Living. She has published writing in the Washington Post, World Policy Journal, the Toronto Star, TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, Canadian Woman Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies Journal, Scholar & Feminist Journal, and a number of peer-reviewed book anthologies. Maynard’s research and teaching focus on transnational Black feminist thought, Black social movements, policing, borders and carceral studies, Black-Indigenous histories and praxis, Black Canadian studies, as well as abolitionist and anti-colonial methodologies.

Robyn Maynard's profile page

Rachel da Silveira Gorman is an associate professor in York University’s Critical Disability Studies Program, where she is program development lead for a new undergraduate program in Racialized Health and Disability Justice with a certificate in Mad Studies and Critical Mental Health. She is an artist and activist with expertise in fine arts, cultural studies, transnational social movements, aesthetics of disability, and critiques of ideology.

Rachel da Silveira Gorman's profile page

Excerpt: Disability Politics and Theory, Revised and Expanded Edition (by (author) A.J. Withers; foreword by Robyn Maynard; afterword by Rachel da Silveira Gorman)

Editorial Reviews

“The starting point for this the book resonates with my desire for the histories of slogans and chants as it provoked me to refuse to forget that the original version I heard was not “Stand Up! Fight Back!” but from ACT UP New York City in Montreal in 1989 calling for us all to “Act Up! Fight Back!” In this powerful revised and expanded second edition of Disability Politics and Theory activist scholar A.J. Withers weaves together critical analysis of the social relations of struggle surrounding disablism and its integral mediated connections with colonialism, racism, sexism, capitalism, queer and trans oppression and so much more. For non-disabled people this is a crucial thinking through and learning experience for the many forms and sites of disability oppression and resistance from social assistance policies to sterilization laws and procedures, to Covid, to MAID and much more. It is a devastating refusal of eugenic (including feminist and queer uses of eugenics), medical, rehabilitative, and charity-based constructions of disability and a discerning of the limitations of reformist rights-based approaches and the limitations in many more socially oriented ones as well. Withers captures how radical disability and transformative struggles are always relational and interdependent. This is a must read for all activists and organizers engaged in transformative praxis in the multiple areas of oppression and resistance disablism is connected to. While ruling relations routinely expel “expendable” disabled people from the social fabric of life and support, Withers makes clear how our collective resistance and organizing can build a world based on caring where the social power of disablism and oppression and exploitation more generally is undone.”

Gary Kinsman, queer activist, sociologist and the author of The Regulation of Desire, Third Edition: Queer Histories, Queer Struggles.

Disability Politics and Theory was already an indispensable teaching tool and introduction to disability studies and politicized disability identity and history (especially but not only in the Canadian-American context). Novices (to eugenics, medicalization, social construction of disability or disability justice) and those already in disability or radical movements will all find something to learn and teach here. In this expanded volume, AJ Withers brings us an important analysis of disablism and radical disability politics and the consequences of what happens if we do not engage in them, whether in disability rights and policy or radical activism (the complicity of the left in disabled peoples’ oppression). What Withers does best is make things accessible as a scholar-activist-theorist-(anti-poverty)-organizer while making the theories, their problems and where they came from transparent and open for engagement. This is a book written for action- whether the action is debating it and with it, learning and unlearning, being angry, getting messy, sharing with others, building community or organizing.”

Liat Ben-Moshe is a disability scholar and assistant professor of criminology, Law, and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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