Resisting Disability, Claiming HIV: Introducing the Ability Contract and Conceptualizations of Liberal Citizenship


  • Ally Day University of Toledo



Ability Contract, Social Contract, Sexual Contract, Racial Contract, Women with HIV, Liberal Citizenship, Differential Consciousness, Feminist Disability Studies


This paper interrogates the ambiguity of disability identification for women living with HIV, drawing on a nine-month field research project where participants formed a book group, reading memoirs about chronic episodic conditions such as HIV, lupus, MS, and chronic depression, and discussed their relationships to disability. In investigating this ambiguity, this paper re-reads Social Contract Theory, primarily the work of John Locke, Mills, Pateman, and Winnubst, to introduce the Ability Contract. Social Contract Theory can provide us with an understanding of labor’s centrality in the construction of the liberal subject, which implicitly shapes construction of dis/ability. Several scholars have written about Social Contract Theory’s applicability to gendered subjects and racialized subjects, but few scholars have used dis/ability to interrogate Social Contract Theory. This project looks at John Locke to argue that his understanding of labor, utility and waste, and the predictability of what will be produced, is a result of understanding one’s bodily boundaries. The Ability Contract is this triad of labor-utility-predictability that is foundational to liberal subjectivity. Disability upsets this construction of liberal subjectivity, which in turn, enables an unstable negotiation of identity that extends Chicana feminist theorist Chela Sandoval’s theorization differential consciousness. For women living with HIV, disability identification is useful for accessing temporary assistance but ultimately, the women who participated in this nine-month book group, disidentified with disability through a negotiation of labor. Through the Ability Contract, and the centrality of labor-utility-predictability, we can understand that a stable identification with disability is a privilege dependent upon male-bodied whiteness. 

Author Biography

Ally Day, University of Toledo

Assistant Professor, Disability Studies Program, University of Toledo

How to Cite

Day, A. (2014). Resisting Disability, Claiming HIV: Introducing the Ability Contract and Conceptualizations of Liberal Citizenship. Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, 3(3), 104–121.