Capitalism and inequality. The capitalist economic system is predicated upon unequal relationships between:the bourgeoisie (the ruling class), who own the means of production (the materials we need to produce, factories, machines, etc.)and the proletariat (the working classes), who work the means of production..
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1. The Marxist perspective
‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves …’
(Marx, 1852/1950: 154)
At Marx's grave, Engels asserted that his friend’s great discovery was that “mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, and therefore work before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion etc.” (Engels, 1883/1972: 603)
2. Capitalism and inequality The capitalist economic system is predicated upon unequal relationships between:
the bourgeoisie (the ruling class), who own the means of production (the materials we need to produce, factories, machines, etc.)
and the proletariat (the working classes), who work the means of production.
3. To understand the oppression of the disabled is to understand:
(1) The changing economic contribution of the disabled
(2) Surplus army of labour
(3) The disability industry
4. (1) The changing economic contribution of the disabled
Disablement is caused by an oppressive relations of power between those who own, and those who work, the means of production, the field, the factory, etc. (UPIAS 1976; Abberley 1987, 1996).
People not deemed as economically useful to the furtherance of capitalism – who are not vital members of the proletariat - are kept out of the way, segregated.
‘The operation of the labour market in the nineteenth century effectively depressed handicapped people of all kinds to the bottom of the market’.
(Morris, 1969: 9)
5. When the disabled can contribute to the economic system they live under they are less excluded, less oppressed:
‘By the 1890's, the population of Britain was increasingly urban and the employment of the majority was industrial, rather than rural. The blind and the deaf growing up in slowly changing scattered rural communities had more easily been absorbed into the work and life of those societies without the need for special provision. … The environment of an industrial society was however different.’
(Topliss, 1979, p. 11)
6. (2) The surplus army of labour: Who gains from disablement? In times of boom or need capitalism must have a surplus army of labour, e.g. The Second World War
Abberley, (1987, p.10):
‘the main and consistent beneficiary must be identified as the present social order, or more accurately, capitalism’.
7. (3) The disability industry
‘The production of the category disability is no different from the production of motor cars or hamburgers. Each has an industry … Each has a workforce which has a vested interest in producing their product in particular ways and exerting as much control over the process of production as possible’.
(Oliver, 1999: 2)
8. (1) The Marxist perspective is overly deterministic Barton and Tomlinson (1984, p.65): the post war approach to educating children diagnosed as ‘having special needs’ is motivated by ‘benevolent humanitarianism’ which in practice translates as, ‘doing good to individual children’.
9. (2) It overlooks attitudes and culture The ‘social construction of disability’
Disability is about culture and attitudes (Shakespeare, 1994).
It overlooks ‘labels and their consequences’ (Booth, 1985)
10. Disability and liberation: Two perspective Marxist
Change the economic system
Disabled people to take control of their lives – disability services for the disabled, by the disabled Humanist
Change attitudes and culture
Ensure that services for disabled people are empowering and inclusive
11. References Abberley, P. (1987) The concept of oppression and the development of a social theory of disability, Disability, Handicap and Society, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 5-19.
Abberley, P. (1996) Work, Utopia and impairment, Disability & Society: Emerging Issues and Insights, In: L. Barton (Ed.) (London: Addison Wesley Longman Limited)
Barton, L. and Tomlinson, S. (Eds) (1984) Special Education and Social Interests (Beckenham, Croom Helm).
Booth, T. (1985) Labels and their consequences, In: D. Lane & B. Stratford (Eds) Current Approaches to Down’s Syndrome (London: Holt, Rinehart & Winston)
Engels, F. (1883/1972) Speech at the Graveside of Karl Marx, in Robert C. Tucker (Ed) The Marx Engels Reader (W.W. Norton, New York)
12. Marx, K. (1852/1950) On Tradition, Personality, and Class-Forces, in S. Hook (Ed.) Marx-Engels: Selected Works Vol. 1 (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing House)
Morris, P. (1969) Put Away (London: Routledge)
Oliver, M. (1999) Capitalism, disability and ideology: A materialist critique of the Normalization principle, in:, R. J. Flynn & R. A. Lemay (Eds) A Quarter-Century of Normalization and Social Role Valorization: Evolution and Impact (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press)
Shakespeare, T. (1999) Art and lies? Representations of disability on film, In M. Corker & S. French (Eds) Disability Discourse (Philadelphia: Open University Press)
Topliss, E. (1979) Provision for the disabled (Oxford: Blackwell)
UPIAS. (1976) Fundamental Principles of Disability. Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation: London