In this paper we aim to explore the realm of impairment in terms of its politicization under transnational claims for justice. The realm of disability rights and justice has been a central theme in disability analytical inquiry and by disability movement actors engaged in struggles of disability affirmative politics. Within this frame, there has been an increasing amount of disability scholarship and activism at the transnational sphere. In fact, since the ratification of the UNCRPD (2006) greater transnational alliances have become a central feature to advancing disability affirmative claims for rights and justice. While welcomed, we argue that within the transnational realm, the focus on disability alone critically marginalizes those groups engaging in repertories of action within the logos of impairment as transnational claims for disability justice tend to naturalise impairment and negate the production of impairment under global structural processes of violence. To address this issue, we suggest that the growing scholarship on transnational theorizing and activism within disability needs to respond to these claims for justice and rights. To conclude we argue that transnational theorizing and praxis is in fact, a double move — an affirmative politics of disability rights and justice and a transformative politics of impairment.


On 7 June 2013, after years of struggle, the Mau Mau people of Kenya finally had their claims for transnational justice recognized by the British Government. With the release of secret government documents, the full extent of the British colonial military's extreme brutality against the Mau Mau people's anti-colonial liberation struggles was revealed. The exact numbers of people killed, impaired and traumatized, though, remain unknown. What is known is that the Mau Mau people suffered extreme violence at the hands of colonial powers. This violence was embodied — as memories, as impairment, as cultural destruction and dislocation — propelling them to seek justice for the crimes committed against them as individuals, peoples and subjects who had been violently colonised. Other such cases had previously been tried in the US Courts, but had failed. The people of Bhopal and the peoples of Vietnam had too attempted similar cases against Northern states on the grounds of embodied violence, but to no avail. In fact, as Soldatic (2013) documents, the claims for justice on the grounds of impairment brought to the US Supreme Court by the people of Bhopal and Vietnam were mutually constituted, despite their separation by time and space. The collective embodiment of (neo)colonial violence, from war, capitalist global production chains and injustice, is mobilizing collective struggles for justice. Increasingly, central to many of these claims is the politicization of impairment. Impairment in this context symbolizes the ongoing suffering that is embodied, memorialized and incarnate of the corporeal pain that remains a marker of the violated body and mind.

Over recent years, a growing number of disability activists, advocates and scholars have increasingly tried to engage in a transnational disability politics. Within the realm of the academy, disability scholars have begun to critically consider the framing of disability beyond the boundaries of the nation-state. Margaret Shildrick (2009) and her thesis on anomalous bodies and the work of Robert McRuer (2010) on Disability Nationalism are two such examples that seek to move disability theorizing beyond its consistent grounding in methodological nationalism (Soldatic 2014). Outside the academy, local activists are building movement repertoires with a sensibility of global disability solidarity, such as the Disability Collective initiative of the World Social Forum held in Perth, Western Australia (2005) and the political art form of Yelling Clinic, representing the relationship between war and disability via a transnational lens. 1

Indeed, over the past years, transnational activism on the grounds of disability, has stepped up, revealing of a repertoire of collective movement action cutting across the North and South divide. These mobilized collective actions have united the movement despite the heterogeneity of socio-political, historical, cultural and economical landscapes from which these movements emerged. The most visible outcome of this transnational activism has been the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) (UN 2006). Initially proposed by Mexico, this global imagining of a disability rights instrument mobilized a global repertoire of disability advocacy, action and protest, combining efforts to articulate disability justice at the transnational level. The success achieved by the transnational mobilization of these disparate nationally-based disability groups was not limited to the development and ratification of the CRPD. The mobilization and unification of 'disability' at the transnational scale democratized the demos, whereby an unprecedented number of disability civil society actors actively participated in the formulation, conceptualization and articulation of what disability rights should be (see Disabled Peoples' International 2006). In fact, since these efforts, we increasingly see disability civil society actors transnationally organizing to position disability concerns for justice and rights within the centre of transnational negotiations. This is particularly the case within the disability feminist movements, where activists from Australia, such as Carolyn Frohmader, have united with other actors from across the globe, to position disabled women's concerns at the centre of the global gender debate (for example the recent ICPD Beyond 2014 Conference; see Frohmader and Ortoleva 2013).

Engaging within the transnational scale means that we are also confronted by the realities of the vast competing claims for rights and justice, such as those legitimate claims by the Mau Mau people, the people of Bhopal and the Vietnamese peoples. There are an increasing number of these claims, some of which directly challenge some central concerns embedded within disability scholarship and praxis. Within the academy, a growing number of scholars are seeking to critically elaborate upon disability theorizing that traverses the politicization of impairment (see Grech 2011; Meekosha 2011; Sherry 2007; Soldatic 2013). This emerging literature argues for a reorientation of disability theorizing on issues of rights and justice. In some instances, it seeks to recognize impairment as embodied experience and identity. Moreover, this advancing disability scholarship seeks to situate impairment within the dimensions of geopolitical power, and explore how, under this frame, alternative positionings of impairment contest some key 'disability' theoretical assumptions around disability, rights and justice (see Soldatic 2013).

In this paper we suggest that growing claims for justice on the grounds of impairment create a political conundrum for disability studies as a field of scholarship and disability activism. Disability theorizing, the claiming of a positive disabled identity, and the struggle for recognition to receive rights as nation-state citizenships pivots around the celebration of disability (Meekosha 2011). However, the growing number of transnational claims for justice built upon the suffering of geopolitically produced impairment confronts these general principles within disability theorizing, including those ideas of ableism as being purely socially, politically and culturally constructed. Our essay is built around the following question: How can we theorise, mobilize, and organize a politics of impairment that does not undermine a progressive politics of disability? Moreover, in this paper, we also seek to further extend the work of the above identified scholars, critically engaging with these emergent debates. Despite these scholars' attempts at advancing theories and practices at the transnational level, there remains an invisible visible within the transnational space, that is, the potential for impairment to be a category of transformative geopolitical praxis. We will therefore argue that under the global conditions of North-South power relations, critically theorizing the transnational claims for justice on the grounds of impairment has the potential to identify how disability discourses concerned with securing 'rights' may, in effect, undermine the safety of disabled people within the national scale, both in the North and the South.

Disability Rights & Justice: Theoretical Limitations, Real Contradictions

[We are] committed to social and economic justice for all people with disabilities — in lockdowns, in shelters, on the streets, visibly disabled, invisibly disabled, sensory minority, environmentally injured, psychiatric survivors — moving beyond individual legal rights to collective human rights.

          Sins Invalid, 2009

The realm of disability rights has been, perhaps, the most solidifying theme across the transnational space of disability justice for scholars, advocates and activists. Across the globe, advocates and activists within both the North and the South have actively harnessed the moral grammar of its global status to move the nation states of which they are citizens to ratifying it into national law (see Mehrotra 2011 on India; Joly and Venturiello 2013 on Argentina as examples). And leading disability scholars are theorizing its power as a mechanism for respect, recognition and strategies of redistribution to redress the deeply held processes of marginalization and stigmatization of disability injustice (see Kayess and French 2008; Stein 2007; Rioux et al. 2011). This reasonably unified call for disability justice has indeed over the past years provided for what appears to be a promising dynamic, seeing many nation-states signing and ratifying the CRPD. This would in theory allow individuals to make claims against any injustices by their nation-state to UN oversight bodies (UN 2012). In response to its high profile, many countries, both North and South, have in fact over the past few years, developed quite an impressive collection of legislation and policy measures, especially in relation to anti-discrimination 2, creating an impression that a large majority of nation states were finally serious about addressing disability injustices in earnest, and that the time had finally come for all disabled people to make claims within the polity for what is rightfully theirs as citizens of the nation-state.

However, this has been far from the case. Despite the many promises, and the hope that things would change in practice, the CRPD, as an instrument of disability rights law, 'is a derivative of broader relations of power' (Cutler 2003: 62). There are serious limitations embodied within the CRPD. Within both disability scholarship and activism, there has been the general tendency to assume that human rights and citizenship rights are mutually constitutive. This theoretical tendency to conflate human rights with citizenship rights within disability scholarship is associated with disability's longstanding critique of liberalism, its idea of the 'human' and, more broadly, the set of social relations which governs relations between the liberal state and its citizens (see Breckenridge and Vogler 2001 as an example). Even though the realm of human rights and citizenship rights have stemmed from a similar political tradition, they have followed diverse, yet separate, trajectories. Human rights universality does not apply to citizenship rights, where citizenship rights are "premised upon difference, on the clear distinction between those who are included and excluded from the demos" of the bounded modern territorial state (Tambakaki 2009: 4 original emphasis). Brysk and Shafir (2004: 11) note that 'the sovereign nation-state remains the sole institution that administers and enforces rights, even those conceived to be universally held'. Thus, the translation of human rights to mean citizenship rights by disability scholars, as Lipschutz (2002: 29) suggests, is a common mythical feature of social understandings of their relationship. This explains why under neoliberal nation-states, particularly within the Global North, disabled people appear to be losing their citizenship rights rapidly under new forms of workfare, despite their governments simultaneously signing and ratifying the CRPD (see Grover and Soldatic 2013).

First, one of the CRPD's primary constraints is that its framing of disability justice is limited to the realm of the 'modern territorial state' (see Fraser 2009: 98), with the implication that disability rights and their reinforcement depend on one being a citizen of a nation-state and making claims for justice upon that state. This is what Pisani (2012: 90) terms the 'citizenship assumption', a dynamic whereby 'citizenship is taken for granted' and 'how the way we have come to consider and pursue social justice … has been framed within sovereign structures'. This has particular implications for the free movement of disabled people across borders, whether this is forced migration such as disabled refugees and asylum seekers, for disabled citizens who are seeking to make claims against a nation state to which they are not a citizen, or for disabled citizens residing within the South who wish to make claims against transnational institutions such as the World Bank, WTO, and the IMF for the devastating impacts of their economic and social restructuring programs on local livelihoods, communities and environments.

In terms of immigration, nation-states such as Australia and Malaysia have ratified the CRPD on the proviso that interpretative clauses granting exemption from Article 18: Liberty of Movement and Nationality, are accepted with their ratification (Meekosha and Soldatic 2011). Such provisions exempt countries such as Australia and Canada from removing discriminatory migratory laws, policies and instruments that actively exclude disabled people from settling in the polity (see El-Lahib and Wehbi 2012; Soldatic and Fiske 2009). Article 18 is central to ensuring the protection and securing of the rights of disabled refugees to their just claim for settlement. Mirza's (2011) research stresses how disabled refugees are often the last to be considered for resettlement in a third country even when recognized as legitimate refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and deemed eligible for resettlement.

Second, the centrality of the modern territorial state within the CRPD means claims for justice by disabled people against another state, or transnational governance organizations, such as the World Bank, WTO or IMF, are also not permissible. As the cases of Bhopal and the Vietnamese peoples reveal, it remains critically difficult for Southern disabled people to make claims against the governments of the global North, their transnational corporations and global governance institutions. This becomes notoriously difficult considering the global hegemony neoliberal governance, dictated and imposed by the North through these and other institutions perpetuating neoliberal globalisation as the unquestioned legitimate ideology and order of things in 'development' (Grech 2011). Following Escobar (1995), it is perhaps important to take a step back and highlight that these interventions are premised on and sustained by the notion that they are intrinsically productive, 'good' and benevolent — they are in fact needed — whether it is sweatshops dictated by Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) or wars motivated by the will to 'democratise' and enforce 'good governance'. Not only are these interventions vested with all bounds of humanity, but they remain indefinitely dependent on the construction of the space and subject of 'intervention' (the South and the Southern body) as problematic, unproductive, yearning, uncivilized — thereby demanding, or needing, that very same intervention (Grech 2012). And so are Southern epistemologies and practices (Santos 2012).

Scholars researching the human impact of these well-established Northern development strategies, such as the maquiladoras of Mexico or the Free Trade Zones of Sri Lanka, frequently discuss how these development strategies are granted exemptions from nation-state protections. For example, Biyanwila (2011) argues that not only are particular types of bodies-and-minds locked out of work through policies of active discrimination (including the 'unproductive' disabled body), but when locked in work, these bodies-and-minds are not protected by international labour standards or social protections, such as those offered under the International Labour Organization's Decent Work Agreement. This occurs even in those settings that may have national anti-discrimination legislation on disability, and other categories of human difference, that are perpetually marginalized within the nation-state.

From these few examples, it is clear that many claims for disability rights and justice are outside the boundaries of the current sphere of disability justice as articulated within the Convention. In spite of the CRPD's grounding in international human rights law, claims for justice rely upon one being the citizen of the modern territorial state where the injustice has occurred. Further, the securing of disability rights is not something that all disabled people can do, as they exist within exclusionary zones beyond the scales of justice that disability rights instruments assume. In turn, rights are invested deeper in the body of the more 'civilized' Northern citizen perpetuating them, indefinitely creating all sorts of illegal 'aliens'. The limitations outlined above, are, in fact, related only to disability. The realm of impairment is not included within this framework of rights and justice.

Contesting (il)logical progressions: Impairment = Disability

When 80 percent of disabled people live in developing countries, many in poverty, it seems essential to reframe what has largely been a Western understanding of what it means to be disabled. What are the shared experiences of disabled people around the globe? Are these shared experiences enough to claim some sort of global disability "culture"?

          Yelling Clinic

There are other issues of justice within, yet beyond, the zone of disability that lie in the transnational sphere: that is, the global production of impairment in the South and, impairment embroiled in the historicity of the colonizing project of white settler societies (Salmon 2011). Adopting a critical approach, it is in fact not hard to see that possibilities for justice claims remains limited and constrained, especially when impairment is itself an everyday event of hegemonic Northern trade rules (framed as 'aid') (Khor 2000); capitalist global production chains destroying workers' bodies (Chant and McIlwaine 2009); the starvation, malnourishment and environmental degradation caused by the imposed monocropping limiting agriculture to export (Raworth 2004); and wars for resources triggered by the North's over-consumption of rare and precious metals sourced from these 'distant' places (Gedicks 1993). What emerges perhaps most clearly is that these bodies-and-minds embody the repositories of the biopolitical injustices of geopolitical power. These bodies-and-minds, are not safe, and in some instances, are 'disabled in different ways, or cripped, or targeted for death' (McRuer 2010) while disability rights are being secured for the targeting of life.

Within the transnational sphere of justice, there are numerous such claims and these are swiftly growing (see Amunwa 2011 for discussions surrounding the claims by the peoples of the Nigerian Delta against transnational petroleum companies). Unfortunately, claims for transnational justice on the grounds of produced impairment emerging from the South remain inadmissible within the current zone of disability justice. While the CRPD is about the impaired body and its socio-political reproduction into disability and disablement, the production of impairment is outside its referential frame. In fact, the CRPD only mentions impairment on two occasions and on both of these it is within the natural realm as an absolute fact:

Recognizing that disability is an evolving concept and that disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

          Preamble (e)

And again,

Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis.

          Article 1.

This grounding of impairment as natural, 'emphasise[s] the first side of social embodiment, the way bodies are participants in social dynamics' (Connell 2011: 1371), reifing Northern hegemonic frames of disability rights and justice where impairment is clearly located within the domain of the natural and as an objective absolute fact. This is similar to the hollowing out of the social model's impairment/disability dichotomy (see, for example, Oliver and Barnes 2012) that continues to leave impairment untheorized and, often resisted, as a critical part of the disability experience, relegating pain, the embodied experience and the way the social is lived in and through the body to an ontological forgetfulness (Grech 2011).

The positioning of impairment as natural ignores the production of impairment and bypasses its embodied dimensions such as the trauma of impairment caused by conflict or wars. These can hardly be ignored when they have been and remain the mobilizing grammar of transnational claims for justice, such as the Mau Mau people of Kenya. The causes of impairment are taken as given, and the impairment itself pushed backwards, removing from the analysis not only understandings of the production of impairment, but also excluding any possibility of probing the same causes of these impairments, all too often replete with social injustices, the product of global political asymmetries and violence that have a long historical lineage.

These unquestioned assumptions of impairment's 'naturalness' are now being embedded within transnational governance instruments that have international responsibility for monitoring, implementing and evaluating the realization of disability rights. The 2011 WHO / World Bank World Report on Disability is one such example. Throughout the report, disability is bound within the modern territorial state; however, the discussion on the experience of impairment is presented as universal and absolute. Models of nation state practice are held up as either exemplary strategies of redress (usually within the North) for others to potentially adopt, or as moments of state failure (usually within the South — such as the Vietnamese example in the report, Box 7.3, p. 218), which should always be improved in some future moment. Disability is counted, measured and typologized, and methods for disability inclusion and rights realization are summarized.

Impairment is not discussed. Transnational relations between nation states within the North and their impairment-creating effects within the South are outside the purview of the Report. The discussion pertaining to the lived experience of disability assumes a logical progression from impairment to the claiming of a disabled identity, despite how it was made, under what conditions it was made and where. The situational logic of having an impairment should automatically lead to the claiming of a disabled identity, as a process of individual identification and collective identity formation.

This logical progression from impairment to disability represents a particular logical trajectory where it is assumed that the claiming of impairment will move one to a position of disability identification. Southern feminists such as Spivak (1988) and Mohanty (2003) have illustrated that a similar argument can be found within the global feminist movement which is dominated by Northern positionings — where it is assumed that because one is female they are a feminist. Here, it is assumed that because one has an impairment he/she considers him/herself disabled, and willingly takes on a disabled identity despite the contextual, experiential and other complexities of its contours. This process of identification, that is, an assumed shifting from impairment to disability, fails 'to see the vitality of assorted impairments … a thisness of life rather than as detractors from identity [original emphasis]' (Overboe 2012: 117-118).

However, the transnational claims that 'speak of "impairment" … emphasise the second side, the way social dynamics affect bodies' (Connell 2011: 1371). Impairment in this situational context, such as that when trying to capture the impact of the long-standing colonized violence against indigenous people within white settler societies (see Salmon 2011), the destruction of bodies with the onset of 'Northern' interventionist war and aid, and the polluting effects of transnational corporations, are not of concern within these theoretical examinations and nation-state applications.

For instance, in white settler colonies such as Australia, the ongoing dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their lands and culture with the onset of colonization is strongly correlated with the rise of impairment across Aboriginal communities. According to researchers such as O'Leary (2004) indigenous populations within white settler societies have the highest levels of congenital impairment. In Australia, over half of the indigenous population has an impairment or long-term health condition (ABS, 2010). While impairment was a common feature of indigenous societies prior to the arrival of the white colonial settler (Ariotti, 1999), the disproportionate prevalence of impairment caused by (neo)colonial violence has been met with silence in the global instruments of disability justice. In a similar fashion, the vast impairment caused by a US-instigated 36-year civil war in Guatemala, especially among the indigenous population, remains unquestioned and untargeted, excluded from national disability instruments and policies.

Butler (2010: x) suggests that such a process is an 'interpretative maneuver, a way of giving account of whose life is a life, and whose life is effectively transformed into an instrument, a target or a number, or is effaced with only a trace remaining or none at all' [original emphasis]. That is, by removing impairment production, or the making of impairment from its frame, the CRPD performs a referential technique, subtly transmitting ideas of who is of value or which bodies-and-minds matter and which don't. The Southern body and its embeddedness within geopolitical relations of power, is set outside the boundaries marking the CRPD's strategic rationality and, in turn, makes the global production of impairment in the South invisible (Meekosha and Soldatic 2011). On the other hand, the violence caused by the same 'barbaric' and 'uncivilized' Southern body is all too often referenced and remembered as a common pathology, devaluing these bodies even further, while stripping such contexts of any historicity and perpetually legitimizing the same outside intervention while contemporaneously crushing collective memory (see Fanon 1963; Grech 2012). Thus, this situational logic reveals the contradictory features of disability rights securitization at the cost of making some bodies-and-minds unsafe. Those bodies outside the boundaries of the Northern imperialist state are not safe (see Casper and Moore 2011) from imperialist violence leading to the production of impairment. Such a referential move removes the potentiality of drawing upon disability rights in the transnational claims for justice grounded within the logos of impairment.

Reflecting further, it becomes clear that as an instrument of global disability governance, the CRPD acts as a tool to make the global production of impairment within the South 'absolutely invisible … fall[ing] outside the register of sight' (Derrida 1995: 90). Our contention, henceforth, is that the increasing number of claims for transnational justice emerging from the South against the North on the grounds of produced impairment remain hidden in a veneer of intractable geopolitical power relations in which the CRPD is embedded as an instrument of normalizing rationality. This is despite the fact that impairment is the place that makes visible the invisible debts of the global North that are owed to the South. It is a visible marker of the opportunistic invisibility of imperialist power and violence. Impairment is thus real and material, yet in these claims for justice it is distinctly social. 3

While the CRPD has been a 'unifying' force between the global North and the global South in terms of the transnational sphere of disability justice, it has also been about 'excluding in order to govern, so that the framing will, of course, attempt to render some issues non-political, while others are allowed to be raised within it' (Nancy Fraser in Nash and Bell 2007: 76). The limits of such exclusionary boundaries, as outlined above, have as a consequence rendered the production of impairment invisible within the transnational sphere of disability rights and justice. There may be even instances where the securitization of disability rights may result in the destruction of bodies-and-minds, rendering the spaces and places in which they are embedded, unsafe.

Transnationalising disability, Transnationalising impairment

It would be wrong to state that there have been no attempts at positioning impairment transnationally, but as recent history has shown us, these efforts remain extremely limited for two main reasons: what Butler (2010 77) refers to as 'neutralization' and 'erasure'. The thesis of neutralization is perhaps effective in framing what remains the dominant way of positioning the Southern impaired body within the disability arena, a process whereby Southern bodies-and-minds continue to be dismembered from their communities, their lands and the historical temporal-spatial structures of power (Soldatic and Biyanwila 2006). This is usually presented as a universal narrative of sameness — 'people in whose soul an inferiority complex has been created by the death and burial of its local cultural originality' (Fanon 1967: 9). Bodies-and-minds are quantified and then categorized into various sub-groups along fixed themes including those of discrimination, exclusion and marginalization (see for example Groce et al. 2011; WHO/WB 2011). 4 What therefore emerges is that disability is the squeaky point of analysis and subjects' intersecting identities of class, caste, gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality and rurality, which result in differing experiences of oppression and repression, are too often removed from the analysis. Consequently, disability is represented as a cross-cultural singularization, ahistorical and abstract, decontextualized and disembodied, a pattern which Southern feminists have commented is typical of the North, where "Universalism is produced through specific assumptions about [disabled people] as a cross-culturally singular, homogeneous group with the same interests, perspectives and goals, and similar experiences" (Mohanty 2003: 112). Western disability theorists have in fact done much to homogenize, simplify and generalize disabled people and their experiences under the auspices of dominant narratives of disability such as the social model. This served not so much to politicize disability (as often claimed), but to assert the dominance of Western epistemologies as 'the knowledge', and to legitimize their transfer (and ensuing discourses and practices) from North to South, reinforcing the geopolitical fortresses of epistemic power (see Grech 2011).

The second limitation of attempts to position disability transnationally is in relation to the politics of erasure. A number of disability theorists have undertaken this path, however, it is probably Shildrick (2009) and her thesis on global anomalous bodies that is the strongest example of these processes of erasure in her account of the Sri Lankan 'carer' on two fronts. 5 First, Shildrick ignores the global division of labour (see Spivak 1988: 69) in her non-critical account of Northern landscapes of care that rely on Southern women's labour. The issue here surrounds the denial of care for those within the South so that it can be provided in the North and the biopolitical processes that this entails — support and care that is provided to Southern disabled bodies in far away spaces and places. Second, Shildrick's account of the Sri Lankan carer erases the contextual, historical and spatial politics of struggles that force Southern women to provide 'care' for others in far away spaces and places. This disengagement with the geopolitical dynamics of power in effect, relegates Southern understandings of bodies-and-minds, identities and cultures to the periphery. Instead, they are captured only as marginal and subordinated to Northern ways of knowing and being in the world (see Connell 2007), distancing eternally from what Santos (2012: 50) calls 'intercultural translation', critical for an epistemology of the South.

While this type of theoretical positioning may not raise significant questions for some in the Northern sphere, this process of erasure results in what Southern feminists within the global feminist movement results in a 'feminist osmosis thesis' (2003: 109). The process of osmosis is manifest in the representation of an anomalous body being transformed into a monological coherent whole regardless of context, caste, dis/ability, religion, class, gender, sexuality or ethnicity and the geo-political processes of power that this entails. Not only are we asked to put to one side the historical memory of colonization, ethnic conflict and the contested site of citizenship, but so too, Southern anomalous bodies are asked to deny their agency and collective struggles for personal identity, cultural integrity and economic equality. This means erasing the content of these differential socio-political historicities on which the grammar of the struggle for justice is framed (Mohanty 2003), including its locus of enunciation (see Mignolo 1992). While disability studies writers in this frame suggest that they offer a transformative frame of disability by the analytic sphere of the global, in practice it erases the North—South power differentials and the externality of impairment that results from relations of global power. The moral grammar of struggle for transnational justice, on the grounds of created impairment which reveals the invisibility of power, is not only illegible, but also erased from history. The omission of impairment, by either neutralization or erasure, to reiterate Butler, 'separate[s] us from the knowing and responding to the suffering that is caused, sometimes in our names' (2010: 77).

The referential frame for setting the boundaries of who qualifies as being in and who is outside of the framing of disability rights and justice, as Fraser (2005) argues, requires political repositioning. Rather than ignoring or silencing impairment claims for justice by the subaltern, there remains a profound need for engagement with the moral basis for the construction of political claims for disability justice. And questions arise here: How can we ensure that we neither silence, nor deny the collective agency of counter-hegemonic struggles within the transnational sphere? Moreover, can we elaborate upon the strategic contention of disability theorizing and activism which engaged with cosmopolitan politics with the advent of the CRPD to reframe disability politics in a way that recognizes the language and actions in which the subaltern seek to transform the global sphere, including the disabled subaltern?

While the assertion of impairment as a claim for transnational justice may appear to be problematic or polemical in terms of disability, it is in practice a position sustaining a global claim to radically intervene in power injustices (past and present), in the hope of transforming geopolitical relations of power in the future (see Santos and Rodríguez-Garavito 2005). This is where impairment becomes truly political and politicized, where far from being an individualized claim of deficit or deficiency (as historically narrated within medical science), it becomes a collective claim for justice. From colonial times, many of the injustices of history continue to be inscribed on the body, and it is through these same bodies that much resistance (discursive as well as material) continues to take place (see Fanon 1967). In fact, following Spivak (1988), one may stress that individualizing claims around impairment are forms of strategic essentialisms. Or perhaps, they may be more reflective of Connell's thesis on social ontoformativity — where the manifestation of impairment reveals the dynamic power structures residing within these same bodies-and-minds, providing an opportunity for these victims of transnational injustices to begin to collectively mobilize (see Santos 2002).

This framing of impairment as a claim for transnational justice is ultimately an issue of political strategy — in a context where representation within the Northern dominant sphere of justice remains much needed, and where resources must be redistributed. This framing perhaps embodies a global form of 'payback', ensuring violence in the South is recognized through neocolonial and capitalist relations, and that dispossession (made visible via impairment) are ultimately returned through transnational justice claims within the realm of redistribution. In this way, engagement with impairment becomes a strategic necessity to overcome the hegemonic dichotomy of victims and agents (Santos 2002), a direct contestation of existing global power dynamics that readily identify bodies-and-minds ripe for exploitation and violence, and contrasting these with others who continue to benefit from their invisible dependency on geopolitical structures of capitalist imperialism, including the ones that cause impairment in the first place.

The Double Move: Affirming disability, transforming impairment

War "victims" are used as symbols of tragedy, remembrance, and patriotism. They are also often used as warnings against war, such as when shocking images of' "deformed" babies are used in protests, or when victims of Agent Orange are described as monsters or horrors. How can we learn from these people's experiences and be critical of what happened to them, while also seeing them as individuals who are more than symbols? Indeed, individuals who may want to have pride in their bodies?

          Yelling Clinic

Our essay has tried to critically capture the contradictory positioning of impairment and disability under global dynamics of power (which the quote above so clearly articulates), as well as some of the limitations that emerge within the field of disability studies. Much of disability studies literature and theory have emerged to propel attention towards the violation of rights of disabled people and to accommodate and sustain disability affirmative claims for rights and justice (see, for example, Oliver 1990), a move, which though beneficial within some contexts and spaces, has to an extent marginalized the theorizing of impairment as well as its production especially under global structural processes of violence. It has also often marginalised or sidelined voices and groups articulating such bodily and geopolitical concerns. But rather than isolating the field of disability studies or disregarding its historical grounding within a radical empancipatory project, our aim was to explore some of the tensions that emerge with the onset of global biopolitics with a view to expanding the scope and relevance of the field. Disability studies can indeed enter the ecologies of knowledge submerged in the plurality of spaces that are emerging from the subaltern transnational sphere (Santos 2007). Feminism has undertaken a similar task, and writers such as Mohanty (2003) and Connell (2011) have been pivotal in articulating feminist concerns over imperialism, gender violence and global capitalist exploitation. Others such as Escobar (1995) have questioned the construction of 'the poor' in a 'development' discourse and practice, which as Grech (2011) stresses, is often as neocolonizing as it is imperialistic, sustaining its neoliberal trajectories at all costs. Similarly, disability theorizing requires a process of reidentification to decolonize its boundaries (Meekosha 2011; Sherry 2007). We therefore suggest an expansion of the boundaries for reidentification: democratizing our disabled identities, and deepening our cosmopolitanism to recognize the plurality of claims in the broad orbiting zone of disability, including those claims framed by the logos of impairment submerged within the South.

As Soldatic (2013) argues, such a process is a double move. One is an affirmative politics of disability in the moral framing of disability justice claims within the modern territorial state, and the other, within the transformative politics of impairment which actively seeks to redress the injustices in the transnational sphere. This substantive claim to justice on the grounds of impairment does not deny claims for redistribution and recognition within the modern territorial state, as once impairment is created via transnational relations of power, disability is then a critical component of the lived experience of impairment and the social relations in which impairment is experienced and embodied. Rather than erasing or neutralizing the global dynamics of power through engaging in grand narratives of disability and the biopolitics of disabled bodies, we need to let speak those ecologies of knowledge that draw upon their own moral grammar to frame the experiential embodiment of global violence.

We would like to thank Janaka Biyanwila and Donna Reeve for their thoughtful comments and Kelly Somers for her editorial assistance. We would also like to thank Michelle Jarman and Alison Kafer for their ongoing guidance and direction throughout the development of this paper. This paper has benefited from a British Academy International Visiting Fellowship.


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  1. While the former have focused upon distilling new ways to position disability as a category of transnational biopolitics with the advent of nascent forms of (neo)colonial power, the latter engages in activism as a critical juncture to unify disabled people's global efforts for respect, recognition and redistributive justice. These efforts in transnational solidarity have been a welcomed attempt to move disability beyond its bounded boundaries of the nation-state, advancing new modes of disability activism and scholarship that transcend national boundaries and spaces. Importantly, these acts of a new transnational disability praxis aims to transgress ideas of the disability as the sovereign site of citizenship (Soldatic 2013).
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  2. See, for example, disability philosophers such as Vehmas (2012), who clearly work within a Western-centric gaze of the impairment/disability divide.
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  3. This is significantly different to Sherry's (2007) argument on the conflation of disability and colonization used within either field of study, and we concur with his argument entirely. The aim of this paper is to engage with impairment as a socio-political material reality of geopolitical power, rather than cultural representation system.
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  4. This is not to suggest that poverty, exclusion or marginalization are not real within the South, particularly for disabled people. However, these 'insights', into the lives of disabled people within the South, often exhibit the qualities of the panoptic orientalist gaze, where disability geopolitical knowledges are captured under a single rubric (Campbell, 2009).
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  5. The critique offered here surrounding Shildrick's thesis on global anomalous bodies is limited to the transnational sphere alone. Writers such as Shuttleworth (2014) have developed alternative critiques of her work, particularly within the realm of disability sexualities.
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