Political Affinities and Complex Identities: Critical Approaches to Disability Organizing

  • Natalie Spagnuolo Doctoral Student, York University
Keywords: Historiography, Critical Disability Theory, Materialism, Intersectionality, Identity Politics.


This article addresses the criticism that critical disability studies (CDS) is morally relativistic and politically unhelpful. Written from the perspective of a current CDS practitioner, this response foregrounds political approaches to disability that are based on materialist and intersectional modes of analysis derived from CDS insights. Recent CDS scholarship is assessed through a historiographical review, and relevant political trajectories are contrasted with the call for “clear ethical guidelines” and approaches to advocacy based on a politics of identity, vulnerability, and reified difference. Throughout this discussion, binary framings of postmodern/modern, discursive/materialistic, theory/praxis, among other pairings, are challenged through a review of existing overlaps, and a consideration of constructive directions stemming from these syntheses.

Author Biography

Natalie Spagnuolo, Doctoral Student, York University

Natalie is a graduate student in Critical Disability Studies at York University. Her doctoral research is primarily in the area of medical decision-making and knowledge production and the role of economic factors in these processes. Current projects consider the ways in which historical constructions of intelligence and productivity have affected the provision and regulation of social services. Her research is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.