Bodies that do not matter: Social policy, education, and the politics of difference

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Steven J. Taylor


Difference, Politics, Disability, Social policy

Subject Categories

Education | Social Policy | Special Education and Teaching


This dissertation offers a re-theorization of disability by asking the following question: within what historical, social, economic, and political conditions does disability as an analytic of difference get constructed in a dialectical relationship with gender, class, caste, and race? To respond to this question, I conducted an ethnographic study of a voluntary organization in South India that provides rehabilitation services to children with disabilities.

While interviewing the staff, I was soon aware of a persistent irony--the fact that the distinguishing line typically used to differentiate between client and service provider was blurred. This was because many service providers, particularly the poor, single, lower caste women, spoke of lives of destitution that often seemed to outstrip by far the destitution experienced by many of the disabled children who received services there. Moreover, the educational resources these disabled children had access to and the living environment they inhabited at DOST, were far superior to the impoverished conditions in which their able-bodied family members and some of their service providers lived. At the same time, even though it was the disabled children who were institutionalized, it was mostly their service providers who found themselves permanently shackled to DOST, unable to leave because of their desperate dependence on the voluntary organization for their economic survival.

On examining these contradictions within the broader context of social structures, this study therefore describes how the politics of race, class, gender, and disability play a crucial part in determining who is entitled to quality educational services, the denial of which produces marginal populations whose limited contributions to the market are read as unproductive, who thus become dependent on social welfare, and who are thereby stripped of their rights to full citizenship. In this way, this study explains how the ideological category of disability is constructed so as to justify oppressive practices that are also implicated in the production of race, gender, class, and caste oppression, as well.


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