(Im) Material Citizens: Cognitive Disability, Race, and the Politics of Citizenship

Erevelles, Nirmala

Transforming individuals into citizens has historically been one of the most important functions entrusted to educational institutions supported by the liberal state. Liberal theorists such as Locke, Rousseau, Dewey, and Rawls theorized the state as a collective creation of diverse individual members socialized via education to work toward the common good (social contract), while, at the same time, acting as autonomous agents to freely pursue their individual interests (Levinson, 1999). On the other hand, scholars such as Pateman (1988), Young (1990), and Mouffe (1996), among others, have challenged the universalism implicit in these formulations of citizenship by pointing out that notions of the “common good” and “equal treatment” presume a homogeneity among individuals and render difference invisible and/or unimportant. In fact, the historical struggles for the rights to citizenship by people of color, women, gays and lesbians, and disabled people1 have demonstrated that citizenship, rather than being a universal category, represents “a terrain of struggle over the forms of knowledge, social practices, and values that constitute the critical elements of the [liberal democratic] tradition” (Giroux, 1988, p. 5).