Institutional Survivorship: Abandonment and the “Machinery of the Establishment”

  • Madeline Burghardt York University
Keywords: Institutionalization, survivors, abandonment, capitalism, conditions of possibility


Institutions are a central and painful feature in the historical record of the treatment of people with intellectual disabilities in Canada. To date, scholarly work has provided a robust understanding of the multiple intersecting factors and “political rationalities” (Chapman, 2014) that have contributed to institutions’ development, including their relationship with capitalism’s “exploitative social relations of production and consumption” (Erevelles, 2014, para. 6). Accounts from institutional survivors that describe the direct and lived experience of institutionalization have begun to emerge in Canadian disability studies and historical canons. Based on research that examined the impact of institutionalization on families, this paper draws from survivor narratives to explore the alienation and abandonment that survivors experienced as a result of having been institutionalized. It interrogates the connection between survivors’ experiences and the function of their alienation in the workings of a capitalist system. Additionally, this paper addresses some of the historical, social and political conditions of the time and place of concern (post World War II Ontario), and discusses how those conditions created a discourse of persuasion in the institutionalization of children with intellectual disabilities. 


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