Citizenship and Disability: Incommensurable Lives and Well-Being

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    'Passive' and 'active' conceptions of citizenship are used by spokespersons of the disability rights movement to delineate what are, respectively, illegitimate and acceptable forms of state welfare. The former conceptions are said to reflect discriminatory and oppressive practices concerning disabled people which marginalise and exclude by providing segregated goods and services which meet the so-called 'special needs' of disabled people; while the latter promotes various integrated rights and entitlements to accessing goods and services, allowing for the promotion of individual autonomy and self-determination amongst disabled people on the same, or similar basis, as non-disabled citizens. This paper explores these different conceptions of citizenship and the implications the disability rights movement's case has for philosophical arguments which discuss individual agency and selfhood, welfare enhancement and the promotion of well-being. The main argument is that passive conceptions of citizenship focus on the substantial and objectively definable character of particular impairments, and meeting those special needs arising from them, to enhance disabled people's welfare, also defined as substantial and objective. Whereas, active conceptions of citizenship imply notions of agency and selfhood allowing for the augmentation of opportunities to live a range of potential future lives which are diverse and often incommensurable or incomparable. Consequently, the enhancement of welfare and well-being is promoted as a transparent or open-textured value, so resisting, at least in part, objective and substantial accounts of well-being and welfare which are comparable both between persons and across one person's life.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)403 - 420
    Number of pages17
    JournalCritical review of international social and political philosophy
    Issue number3
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Jun 2013


    • political philosophy
    • social policy
    • citizenship
    • disability


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