The Limits of Subsumption: Disability Politics, Institutional Power, and the Locality of Bio-oppression

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Dyer-Witherford’s (2008; 2010) argument that Bio Communism constitutes a timely and viable orientation for the communist movement, and his proposal for global redistributions of money and technological goods as it’s immediate programme, rely on two key claims around the scale of capital’s subsumption of human life: a belief in ‘the capitalist subsumption (...) of life’s informational, genetic and ecological dimensions’ (2008, unpaginated); and a strong reading of Marx’s assertion that money constitutes the alienated form of man’s species being (2010: 492)- allowing its unconditional distribution to constitute a de jure liberatory development.

My paper uses the experience of the Disabled People’s Movement (DPM) in Britain, particularly its ‘emancipatory’ wing (Hunt 2019: 377), to complicate these assertions. Despite broad sympathy to Dyer-Witherford’s concerns with species-wide responses to oppression and the biologically uneven distribution of goods and harms in late capitalism, movement literature provides a contrary analysis of the scope of capitalist subsumption and the ability of emergent commons to ameliorate social oppression inherent within bourgeois society. As a consequence, it develops a critique of universalistic programs that ignore differentiated governance at local institutional levels.

From an exegesis of the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation’s (UPIAS) (1975, 1976) conception of disability as the failure of capitalist social relations to subsume a category of human subjects, I outline a topography of variegated and de-socialised institutional spaces, governed by localised regimes of states and civil society, which mediate the relationship of un-subsumed subjects to to the social totality; to which emergent commons appear to have little relevance. From this experience, I argue that the struggle for democratic control of resources, spaces, and social leverage in already defined state formations and locales represent a greater priority to the overcoming of biologically distributed oppression than formally universal programmes of the kind proposed by Dyer-WItherford.

I explore this conclusion through two positions within the DPM: a critique of the rights-based approach to disability, which sought to alleviate disability oppression through a combination of legislation and unconditional cash payments to alter market formation (Oliver and Barnes: 2006, FInkelstein: 2007): and the critique of compensatory resource allocation which finds its most recent expression in objections by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) to Universal Basic Income (DPAC 2019). These critiques argue that universalistic demands encourage instrumentalist interpretations of the firm and state - ignoring political and economic dynamics of capitalist society - and that the gains made thereby are swiftly dismantled by market forces.

Works Cited

Disabled People Against Cuts - UBI: Solution or Illusion (2019); London, DPAC Report

Dyer-Witherford, Nick - ‘Species-beings: for bio communism’ (2008) Paper Presented at the Historical Materialism Conference, “Many Marxisms”, London School of Oriental and African Studies, Nov. 7-9, 2008.
‘Digita; labour, species becoming, and the global worker’ (2010) in Ephemera: Theory and Practice in Organisations 10(¾) pp.484-503

FInkelstein, Vic - The “social model of disability” and the disability movement’ (2007)

Hunt, Judy - No Limit: A Radical History of the Disabled People’s Movement (2019): Manchester, TBR

Oliver, Mike & Barnes, Colin - ‘Disability politics and the disability movement in Britain: where did it all go wrong’ (2006)

Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation - Aims and Policies (1975): London, UPIAS
Fundamental Principles of Disability (1976): London, UPIA
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2020
EventBiocommunism - Reconceptualising Communism in the Age of Biopolitics - Polish Institute of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland
Duration: 25 Jan 202026 Jan 2020


ConferenceBiocommunism - Reconceptualising Communism in the Age of Biopolitics


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