My doctoral thesis, through a case study of the theocratic-nationalist politics of the Iranian regime and the imperialist politics of the U.S., Russia, and Western Europe in the Middle East, investigated the ways in which gendered-, ideological-, and raced social-relations sustain armed conflicts and generate disability/injury. The study contributed to the emerging field of materialist/Marxist disability studies and critical race moves in disability studies by engaging the dialectics of geopolitics in order to contextualize war, and by proposing a new transnational theory for theorizing disability. In this paper, I extensively discuss my theoretical framework, along with the methodology for collecting and analyzing data in order to offer a radical alternative research method to traditionally biomedical, post-conventionist, liberal, and bourgeois approaches to disability. Additionally, I discuss how I built the new model using the case study in details while introducing its core theoretical constructs emerging directly from the case study. My conceptualization of a transnational theory/model interrogates the violence of the global political economy 1 in producing disablement on a global scale. Finally, I discuss possible directions for further development of the transnational disability model not just as a theory, but also as praxis, active revolutionary knowledge, and political consciousness.

Between 1980 and 1988, the Iranian regime fought a war with Iraq to establish itself as a new state in the Middle East region and on hopes to expand its Shi'a empire as far as Palestine. "Iraq deployed almost 1,800 tons of mustard gas, 140 tons of tabun, and 600 tons of sarin. Of the approximately one million people exposed to mustard gas, 100,000 required medical care, and today 75,000 continue to be chronically ill" (United Nations, 2003, p. 57). More than a million young Iranians died in that war, while approximately 800,000 more were left with permanent injuries and severe disabilities. The ones who survived the war with a disability were either institutionalized or became housebound due to systematic inadequate care and support. I have discussed their living condition elsewhere 2. Not surprisingly, there is substantial evidence suggesting the Iraqi state was fully funded and supported by the West (U.S., France, Germany, and Italy) as well as the Soviet Union and China (Timmerman, 1991; Friedman, 1993; Hilterrmann, 2007; McGovern, 2013; Cooper, 2013).

Through my doctoral research 3, I examined the social relations that produce and sustain disability, behind the global context of the Iran-Iraq war, in order to demystify these relations by engaging the dialectics of global and Middle Eastern politics. I used the global context of class and ideology enfolded within the capitalist economy and the imperialist politics of Iran, Iraq, U.S., Russia, and Western Europe in the Middle East to understand how disabled bodies are generated through armed conflicts sustained by exploitative social relations. By conducting the case study of Iranian chemical warfare victims in the Iran-Iraq war, my main goal was the formulation of a materialist theory of war injury and disablement, which I call Transnational Disability Model (TDM). My main goals in conducting this study have been to transnationalize disability by bearing witness to the living conditions of the disabled bodies from the "third world" via a case study of the Iran-Iraq war and to conceptualize a transnational approach to disability/disablement.

To contribute to materialist approaches that have recently been abandoned in Disability Studies (DS), I utilized Marxist methodology to explore and understand the concrete material reality that disabled people face in the "third world" on a daily basis. The theoretical framework used to conduct this project has been dialectical and historical materialism (DHM), and the data collection and analysis methods have been case study (Yin, 1984) and building a theory from that case study (Eisenhardt, 1989). I conducted the case study, premised upon the DHM analysis of disability among Iranian and Kurdish victims/survivors of the Iran-Iraq war, that builds upon the works of prominent Marxist-feminist theorists Bannerji (1995, 2015), Gorman (2005, 2016), and Erevelles (1998, 2011).

For this project, I conducted a digital study of the Iranian veterans' online comments on the state-sponsored Iranian news agencies' websites, as well as the books/memoirs, blogs, visual arts, reports, documentaries, published interviews, and eyewitness accounts written/made by the veterans themselves. I also conducted a textual analysis of the several documents that indicate how the parties involved in the war organized it to unfold and why (e.g., U.N. Security Council Resolutions (United Nations, 1987) and documents from the U.S. National Security Archives that have recently become declassified (NSA Archives, 2015).

In this paper, I discuss my theoretical framework, along with the methodology for collecting and analyzing data in order to offer a radical alternative research method to traditionally biomedical, cultural, post-structuralist, post-modernist, liberal, or bourgeois approaches to disability. Additionally, I will discuss how I built the new model using the case study in details, while introducing its core theoretical constructs emerging directly from the case study. In this paper, I view capital not as a productive economic entity, but as the central power institution of capitalist, nationalist, and imperialist social relations for which war is a necessity. Simultaneously, I treat capitalism not just as a mode of production and consumption, but as a mode of power to kill, injure, and render (usually poor and racialized) people disabled.

Theoretical Framework and Research Method

My overall theoretical framework is Marxist theory informed by geopolitics and a DS lens. Before elaborating on DHM as a Marxist framework (theoretical umbrella) for interpreting data, it is first necessary to explain what is meant by geopolitics and a DS lens. By geopolitics I mean politics, especially international relations, that are influenced by geographical factors. And by DS lens, I mean paying close attention to how social relations produce disability, or how social/economic relations mediate mechanisms of disability production, such as war.

The Marxist theoretical framework of DHM sheds light on the ways in which the world actually operates. Prevailing political and social systems largely function to protect the circulation of capital as it seeks new opportunities for the production of more commodities and profit. The international economic system operates according to the inherent laws of capitalism; ours has become a world of global capitalism (Allman, 2007). If we do not understand how this world works, how can we make changes in it? It is enormously important to understand that the phenomenon of globalization that has been produced by late capitalism is not an inevitable stage of human history. Instead, these changes are all within conscious human control. Nothing is beyond the horizon of democratic decision-making. We can change social relations, arrangements, and organizations—if we want to. But first we need to understand how the world operates. DHM is not just a theory, but also a way of thinking and conceptualizing.

Reading Disability through DHM: Politicization and Historicization of Difference

To take a step toward a materialist conceptualization of disability, I refuse to disarticulate culture from hegemony, reduce all political issues into cultural ones, or convert culture into a private matter (Bannerji, 1995). As Nirmala Erevelles argues, we can theorize a disabled body only if we situate it within the historical conditions that constitute its material reality (2011), which means following the Marxist methodology of DHM. In The German Ideology (Marx & Engels, [1932], 1998), the foundational conception of DHM was set and constituted as a new method of social inquiry and of recording history. By understanding the material conditions of humans through history, Marx argued, human beings can come to understand their current social and political conditions. Marx criticized Hegel for "mystifying" social relations (Bannerji, 2015). For instance, Hegel gave an independent existence to the 'state', while Marx believed the state is just made up of people (Tucker, 1978). He developed DHM as a way to de-mystify human relations and understand history as a result of "sensuous activity of [hu]man[s]" (Marx & Engels, [1932], 1998, p.25). Marx believed that capitalism reduced all human/social relations to material relations of commodity production and exchange, despite any appearance that such relations might be intimate or personal.

Bannerji (1995, p. 18, 19) reveals that Marx perceived the distinction between "a sense of self or being, and the world that being inhabits" as wrong. Marx disagreed with both idealists and materialists, even though they each insisted that they respectively constituted independent separate approaches. On the one hand, idealists had mastered the "theorization of cultural self, of the sense and imaginative cultural beings" (Bannerji, 1995, p. 18). On the other hand, the materialists theorized the world as constitutive of "organizations or structures." Marx's project was a combination of the two stances. For Marx 4 "the project consists of an introjective and constitutive theorizing of the two moments—of the self or consciousness as being in and of the world, and of the world as history and structures made by the self with forms of consciousness" (Bannerji, 1995, p. 19). In other words, Marx argued that humans (as material and cultural selves) make history and structures of their world with forms of consciousness extended from the past. Here, the use of the word, "introjective," refers to the unity of the self and consciousness, meaning they affect, adopt, and constitute each other as two components in one relationship. As such, Marx's understanding of self and consciousness did not involve a "dichotomy between the two." Instead he theorized them as a unity—constituted by two components that are inseparable from each other. Marx, as he argues in the Theses on Feuerbach, believed that knowledge is not separate/separable from the physical body, and therefore not separate/separable from the material world (Marx, [1845], 1976). Marx according to his own words was out to change the world rather, not just interpret it ([1845], 1976). In formulating the approach of DHM, he developed a new knowledge adequate for creating change "with a centrally-situated agent or subject, without whom no transformative politics would be possible" (Bannerji, 1995, p.19).

From the standpoint of Marxist disability scholarship, the task is to use DHM to present a dialectical and reflexive understanding of disability, difference, subjectivity, and agency. The key in understanding DHM, and using it, is to understand everything as it relates to history and social structures, such as class and capital. This understanding includes social relations such as imperialism and social organizations such as slavery and colonialism. Unlike poststructuralists and postmodernists, for whom "experience" and "identity" are the ultimate destination around which they revolve and mobilize (Bannerji, 2000), I use the experience of the Iranian and Kurdish veterans of the Iran-Iraq war only as an entry point. This entry point manifests how and why that particular experience has been socially and politically organized in the way it has.

DHM helps to connect the personal experience to a much bigger picture comprised of the social organization of relations. Viewed from another angle, it also helps us understand how that bigger picture determines that specific experience in the first place. As such, DHM is useful because it grants us the necessary tools to draw the links between one story of disablement to the war, and from there to a larger organization/structure 5 of social relations that have caused war in the first place. By causing war, I do not mean just the particular action of initiating military hostilities; rather, I am referring the entire process that predated the Iran-Iraq war, started it, and prolonged it for eight years.

DHM theorists of disability argue that the social construction of the disabled body emerges from "the specific ways in which society organizes its basic material activities (work, transport, leisure, domestic activities)" (Gleeson, 1997, p.194). Historical materialism presupposes that labor is the core organizing force in history, for humans through their relationship to labor and within historical contexts "produce" their lives versus "just living their lives" (Erevelles, 1998, 2011). Historical materialism presents the ability to map out the dialectical relationship of individuals to social structures as determined by their locations in the social division of labor. In turn, the social division of labor is determined by the social organization of the economy within specific historical contexts (Erevelles, 1998).

To use Marxist theory, it is necessary to give central attention to the capitalist social relations that dominate the world economic system. The Marxist framework sheds light on the ways in which the capitalist economy survives the worst depressions and recessions through its enormous flexibility to accommodate various shapes and means of profitmaking (Harvey, 2004). This happens through the regeneration of resources via stealing (dispossessing) them from the global south, and redistribution of resources through preservation of class-hierarchy at home (Harvey, 2004; O'connor, 2010). Within this context, how is the disability of Iranian survivors produced and sustained with respect to their location in the social division of labor? Additionally, how have their race, ethnicity, and class determined their particular marginality? Perhaps it should be considered whether their location in the social division of labor has determined their disability, rather than the reverse (Erevelles, 1998, 2011).

In the Iranian context of 1980, the younger generation who volunteered for frontline combat were mostly from working class, poor, and uneducated families who were either underemployed or unemployed right after the 1979 revolution (Ghamari-Tabrizi, 2009). This is not a phenomenon specific to "third world" countries; even in North America many young people join the military because they want to have a job, a solid income, and perhaps change their socio-economic status/class. As such, it is important to note that sometimes people go to war and become disabled only because their initial intention was to have a secure employment. Thus, their disability is generated by their need to economically survive. This is a clear indicator that disability is connected to economic and social relations.

At the same time, we need to pay attention to how war is a necessity for capitalist and imperialist states. First of all, we need to look at every phenomenon in its own historical context. Marx's science is not transhistorical. For instance, we know that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius; we also know that this never changes, no matter in which historical era we try to boil it. However, social relations such as capitalism are extremely historically specific, meaning they result according to their circumstances and pre-existing conditions.

After historicity and the significance of understanding every relation and phenomenon in its own historical context, the most important step in grasping the dialectical conceptualization is the relation between preconditions and results. With this concept, Marx emphasizes that certain preconditions set the stage for the rest of a process to emerge. This is not the same as expecting certain pre-ordained results, according to some religions or metaphysical ideology. What Marx means, according to Allman, is that "preconditions…lay the foundations for and…develop into specific results. Certain results, in turn, become the preconditions for more highly developed, more complex, results" (2007, p. 5). Marx invites us to pay attention to the pre-existing attributes of different processes and relations in order to understand why and how they result in their eventual consequence. For example, for this project, there are two key pre-existing attributes to consider: ideology and class. These two are the pre-existing attributes for all three relations that we discuss here: nationalism, capitalism, and imperialism. All are embedded in class-based societies and ideological foundations.

Marx avoids categorizational and linear thinking; instead, his unique paradigm of critical thought is based on internal relations. Marx's thinking is based on the pillars of internal contradictions. Categorizational thinking is based on distinction(s) between different categories, such as different animals and plants, but is insufficient for studying a phenomenon in relation to another phenomenon. In such a case we might have to invoke Marx's dialectical thinking, for it reminds us that social relations should be studied relationally as opposed to categorically (Allman, 2007).

External and internal relations

There are two ways of thinking relationally. One focuses on external relations, the other on internal relations. The first one is the most common in natural sciences such as chemistry and helps to understand how two phenomena interact and what happens as a consequence. For instance, a specific combination of oxygen and hydrogen results in water. So we perceive the resulting water as the product of the interaction between oxygen and hydrogen. This interaction has resulted in a new substance (water), which is able to continue existing with no connection to its constituents (oxygen and hydrogen).

On the other hand, internal relational thinking is much more complex, because in this case the result of the interaction between two internally related phenomena remains dependant on those phenomena and cannot exist independent of them. This is a core concept pertaining to Marx's dialectical thinking. Capitalism must be thought of as a relation. It is the unity of two contradictions and cannot live on its own independent of its contradictory components. Labor and capital are opposed to one another, yet simultaneously united in the relation called capitalism; this unity of opposites is the essence of dialectics. One of these two components (i.e., capital) is perceived as "positive," as it wants the relationship to continue; it makes profit by exploiting the other. Labor, on the other hand, is perceived as "negative" because it can abolish this exploitative relationship at any moment (the "negation of the negation" in Marxist terminology). Human emancipation, then, depends on labor's decision to end this exploitation.


Returning again to Marx's conceptual tools, he argued that relations are not neutral. For him, the state in a liberal/bourgeois democracy was not just a neutral entity that represents the people; instead, the state is a socially organized relation that functions to serve the interest of a particular class (Allman, 2007, p. 9). Marx called this unity of contradictions form. Form is a result of an internal relation, and unlike the result of an external relation, it cannot exist separate from its constituents. Sometimes this form moves between the two contradictory components of the dialectical relation and gets them closer to each other. It might even move amongst its original constituent relation or other relations internally or externally, while always connected to its two opposite sources. Analyzing and studying the movement of a form, according to Marx, is called mediation.

Returning now to the question presented earlier: Is war a necessity for a capitalist state? Inspired by Marx and Paula Allman, I argue that war is also a form/result of preexisting relations—namely capitalism, imperialism, and nationalism. We know that war is a necessity for imperialist states to regenerate resources; in a world with limited resources, this is only possible by keeping most people in poverty or taking over their resources using violence. This manifests in colonialist, nationalist, or imperialist invasions aimed at expanding territory and accumulating new resources through dispossessing invaded nations. Through a reliance on DHM, this project attempts to show that the Iran-Iraq war was not something that happened like an unavoidable earthquake; rather, it was socially planned, organized, and carried out by people. Therefore, disabilities that were created were the byproduct of weapons made by people and purchased precisely to kill and maim. In addition to the necessity of war for capitalist economies and nationalist states, there are other factors that have bearing on who gets killed/injured and who does not. DHM is a way of thinking that helps us to see what is not apparent at first sight, such as global class relations (i.e. imperialism).

Using DHM can foreground the enabling conditions necessary for the transformation of exploitative capitalist and imperialist social relations that create and support the oppression of subjects of difference. In this regard, I reject claims by Mehan (1992) and Ladwig and Gore (1994), both liberals and poststructuralists, that the Marxist theory denies the validity of all individual experiences and reduces all explanations to a vulgar economic determinism. Instead, I join Erevelles (1998) and Ebert (1994) in arguing that human experience, knowledge, and truth cannot be understood in separation from the political economy of labor.

Feminist Marxism

Jeff Hearn, in his critique of Marxism, questions the lack of 'sex, gender, and sexuality analyses' in Marx's writings. He argues that the involvement of the concepts such as 'woman and gender' are political and that Marx certainly would have not understood the latter term as a critical lens, if he was still alive (Hearn, 1987). He contends that what Marx mainly focused on was economic relations constructed in their political essence, but he failed to look at these social relations from a gender-sensitive ontology (Hearn, 1987). That's exactly why a Marxist-feminist movement has started to fill this theoretical gap. However, neither transnational feminism nor Marxist-feminism has ever included the "issue" of disability in their analyses. Rachel da Silva Gorman and Nirmala Erevelles are the only Marxist-Feminist DS theorists who have addressed this "issue" in their works. This is why this project, developing on the path charted by them and informed by my Middle Eastern Marxist-feminist consciousness and politics, is a politically-necessary intervention in the DS discourse, for it re-theorizes DS from a "third world" disability standpoint that aims at "emancipation" not "reproduction."

Dialectics in Data Analysis

In this study, I did not just look for causality or correlations. Instead, to stay true to the Marxist method of inquiry, I went beyond what is apparent and examined my data dialectically. Marx believed that phenomena are 'processes' rather than discreet 'things' and that every phenomenon is mediated by relations and forms of consciousness in extended circumstances from the past. I adopted this way of thinking, dialectically examining what constitutes reality at any given time and space, and throughout the study. I tried to convince the reader to shift from binary, oppositional, and linear thinking to dialectical thinking and historical materialist understandings of contemporary social relations (Allman, 1999). While immersed in the collected data, I discovered several relations and processes as a way of analyzing data deductively according to an existing framework (DHM). Thus, I used both inductive (allowing dialectical relationships and processes to emerge from the data) and deductive analysis (relying on previous analytical categories, DHM reading, and engaging global politics accordingly).

In the figure below, violence of war is examined through the DHM lens, meaning it is considered as a relation and a process rather than an event, thing, or phenomenon. It then makes the transition to the final result, which according to DHM is called form. How violence creates disability is a mediation that leads to a form called disability. In the figure below, the small circles around violence represent the preexisting conditions that cause violence. In order to prevent violence, it is necessary to step back and first abolish the preexisting conditions that cause violence. For instance, if poverty causes disability, then we have to go beyond fighting poverty to understand what kind of a socio-economic system requires poverty to sustain itself? This forces us to think about distributing wealth equally so as to ensure that one person's poverty does not lead to another's enrichment. The historical circumstances extended from the past should be changed, not just the apparent violence.

Violence of class and ideology examined through the lens of dialectical and historical materialism. More description above.

Figure 1: Violence of Class and Ideology

Teasing Out the Transnational Disability Theory from the Case Study

According to Eisenhardt (1989), the five key steps that should be followed when embarking on the building of a new theory are: 1) Elaborating an a priori specification of constructs and defining them thoroughly; 2) Sharpening emerging theoretical constructs; 3) Keeping other potential cases in mind; 4) Confirming the emerging relations; 5) Reaching theoretical saturation and comparing the emerging theory with previous literature. I briefly introduce these steps and extensively define the key constructs using the evidence emerging from the case study. Then, I will use the constructs to build the first few necessary pillars for the emergence of our new theory.

Step One: A Priori Specification of Constructs and Defining them Using Evidence from the Case Study

Eisenhardt (1989) argues that a priori specification of constructs is useful in designing and conducting theory-building research. She posits that the specification of constructs has not been common in theory-building so far; however, she finds it worthy because it allows researchers to determine/define/measure constructs more accurately. Additionally, Eisenhardt argues the theory-building process is intimately intertwined with material evidence collected in the case study. If theory building is done properly, the actual evidence will be a direct response to the emerging theory and vice versa. This means that the theory will in all likelihood mirror reality (1989). Translating this step from theory-building into action requires presenting the questions that guided the case study in order to start hypothesizing about features of the first aspect (i.e., disability caused by war) of the new disability theory. The questions are: How do social/economic relations mediate mechanisms of disability production, such as war? What produced and sustained disability/injury in the disabled Iranian and Kurdish populations?

The case study analysis signified the role of several crucial factors and relations which, through two processes, resulted in death and disablement for hundreds of thousands of people. In the theory-building process, we should translate those components to the theoretical constructs upon which one important aspect of our new theory will stand. These important constructs are: Dialectical historicity (pre-existing conditions leading to unavoidable forms), class, nation-state, violence of capital (or capitalist relations) along with other violent social relations (such as imperialism, nationalism, patriarchy), and ideology. Let's define these theoretical constructs as well as present the evidence from the case study analysis that supports their existence.

Dialectical historicity

The first construct to extract from the case study and put toward building our new theory is historicity. I define historicity as the first construct for the new theory because the case study taught us that we need to approach social relations with enormous caution since they are historically-specific concepts. I approached the case study by first contextualizing it and studying it in its own historical context. As such, I first provided the reader with a historical sketch of the Iran-Iraq war as part of the project. If it wasn't for the historical contexts, we would not have been able to detect several ideological constructs that the Iranian regime used to send people to the war after they had just overthrown the Shah. Therefore, we need to look at every phenomenon in its own historical context.

DHM is the main instrument and protocol for this emerging model, since we analyzed the case study using DHM. According to DHM analysis of the case study, for this emerging model, there are two key pre-existing attributes to consider: ideology and class.


By class-based societies, I mean societies that are run on the lines of a capitalist economy, which is based on the internal contradiction between labor and capital. This relationship is not fixed, meaning we can abolish it. The DHM's conceptual tools that I have been applying to the new model to emerge, based on the case study analysis are internal relations, dialectical contradiction/unity, form, and mediation. The DHM analysis of the case study taught me that Iran, Iraq, and the U.S. are all class-based societies —societies that are run in accordance with the logic and rules of a capitalist economy. So are the other Western powers that armed Iraq and remained silent as weapons of mass destruction killed and injured Iranians and Kurds. It is important to note that ideology and class are the most crucial components of nation-building process/nationalism (Hassanpour, 2015). It is the nation-state, formed by the ruling class that enforces its ideology upon society. In this process, Marx thought, the ruling class/bourgeoisie uses cultural ideology (superstructure in Marxian terms), such as religion to control/guard the economic base (natural resources) (Hassanpour, 2015). In the case of Iran, the "ruling class" is the clergy who promote their religious ideology (so called "Islamic-Nation Building") and control entire natural resources (the economy). If the ruling class feels threatened, they will use any potential ideology to destroy ideas of peace, transnationalism or coexistence (Hassanpour, 2015). These ideologies include patriotism, fascism, Xenophobia, anti-Semitism, hatred, and war. We learned from the case study analysis that Iran, Iraq and the Western imperialist powers, such as the U.S., France, and Germany, as capitalist counties, all engaged in the core capitalist dynamic of "expand or die" (Hassanpour, 2015).

Among the evidence from the case study: In the case of Iran, Mir Hossein Mousavi, the prime minister (ruling class) at the time, addressing parliament, stated, "some 30 percent of the 1983-84 budget…was spent on the war effort. Expenditures were 14 percent higher in 1984 than in the previous year" (Ghamari-Tabrizi, 2009, p.2). The ruling class' corruption is another problem in Iran, especially that of the foundation for the disabled veterans.

In the case of Iraq, Saddam Hussein's dream was always a Sunni pan-Arab nationalist Middle East run by his Ba'th party (Al-Khalil, 1990; Timmerman, 1991). Saddam horrendously oppressed the Shi'a population who had been living in Iraq as second-class citizens. Saddam and his supporters in the Ba'th party were determined to rule over the Sunni Islamic world by becoming an undisputed military power.


A concept or a set of beliefs that conceal/s reality (Allman, 2007). Iranian and Iraqi politics were anchored in ideological relations, namely nationalism, theocracy, and nation building. Evidences from the case study include: The Iranian state has its own official narrative of the war, which it refers to as the "Sacred Defense" (defa' moqadas) or the "Imposed War" (jang taḥmīlī). Part of Khomeini's identity-building project was fighting the imperialist forces found not only inside the country, but also everywhere else as well (Katouzian, 2009). His dream was to establish a Shi'a regime comprising the entire Middle East region. Saddam's identity project, on the other hand, was rooted in an ideology of physical expansion while eliminating minorities, such as Persians, Jews, and Kurds.

In the case of Iran, the prime minister characterized the Iran-Iraq war as a "war against blasphemy" whose ultimate goal was "the defense of the honor of the Qur'an and Islam" (Ghamari-Tabrizi, 2009). Historians believe that this war was in fact an important investment for the Iranian regime to expand and legitimize itself against both domestic and foreign dissidents (Murray & Woods, 2014; Rajaee, 1997; Ghamari - Tabrizi, 2009). Iranians at the time believed in the famous slogan of "neither West, nor East: the Islamic Republic." Khomeini, who didn't have the same military support from the West, used the ideology of "martyrdom" and "sacrifice" to establish his Shi'a kingdom by sacrificing hundreds of thousands of youth in combat.

Growing up in Iran, my classmates and I were taught in school that the war was about defending our nation, Islam, and the revolution against Saddam Hussein and the West. The reality was that Iran only defended itself against Iraq for three years, and after that, went on the offensive for five years (Abrahamian, 1982; Katouzian, 2009; Rajaee, 1997; Shahidian, 2002).

Nation-state and nationalism (whether theocratic or secular)

According to DHM, state is an organized structure comprised of people that serves the interest of the ruling class, meaning the capitalist, nationalist, and imperialist powers which are gendered and raced (Allman, 2007; Hassanpour, 2015). As is evident, nation-states are significant to the capitalist economy in the sense that they ensure capital's free circulation to the remotest villages on earth (Desai, 2013; Gorman, 2016). Nation-states dominate the economy at the local level by ensuring the regulated and legitimized exploitation of laborer and by serving the "free trade" agreements and policing the capital's flow through international relations at the global level. Indicators from the case study include: Iran, Iraq, and the U.S. are societies that are run in accord with a nationalist ideology. Iran still upholds theocratic/Shi'a nationalism, while Iraq's nationalism was Sunni pan-Arab nationalism during the period 1980-88 (Al-Khalil, 1990; Timmerman, 1991). The U.S., on the other hand, not only operates based on capitalist economy and nationalist ideology, it also asserts its imperialist power to dominate and preserve global class relations. In 1980, Iran, as a newly-established ideological state, was interested in spreading its Shi'a ideology across the Middle East (Abrahamian, 1982).

Iraq led by Saddam Hussein, was interested in establishing a League of Arab Nations, oppressing every dissident (especially Shi'as and Kurds), and spreading Sunni Islam across the Middle East (Timmerman, 1991; Al-Khalil, 1990). While pursuing the goals of his ideology, Saddam received enormous military support from his western allies (Frankel, 1990; Hiltermann, 2007). Ruhollah Khomeini mostly relied on the power of theocratic nationalism (Ghamari - Tabrizi, 2009; Katouzian, 2009). Saddam's horrendous oppression of the Shi'a population who had been living in Iraq as second class citizens, as well as his fear of Khomeini's Shi'a revolution just next door, indicate that his nationalism is theocratic/Sunni-Islam, and not secular (Al-Khalil, 1990).

The Iranian state sustains itself by funding and empowering organizations like the Veterans' Foundation that overlook the production of cultural content on the Iran-Iraq war and uses disability as a token/tool to construct that content (Haghgou, 2014). The Iranian state's cultural nationalism is partly carried out via reference to manufactured evidence from imaginary glory days of the nation (Haghgou, 2014). The ubiquitous referral and comparison of disabled veterans to prominent historical Shi'a figures (Farzaneh, 2007), such as Imam Hussein's brother, Abolfazl is framed in a way to indicate that the Iran-Iraq war resembles previous wars fought in defense of and for the integrity of Shi'a Islam.


Capitalism is a relation. It is the unity of two contradictions and cannot live on its own independent of its contradictory components. Labor and capital are opposed to one another, yet simultaneously united in the relation called capitalism; this unity of opposites is the essence of dialectics. Few evidences from the case study include: The Shah's military funding had reached $1.7 billion USD between 1968 and 1972 (Hanieh, 2013), which implied a solid military alliance with the U.S., even status as the latter's watchdog in the Middle East. In September 1980, Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq and the leader of the Ba'th Party, invaded the oil rich south and southwest provinces of Iran (Abrahamian, 1982). Iran purchased most of its weapons from the international black market, which is why there is no accurate number to refer to. By supporting Saddam, the U.S. and Britain's ultimate goal was to keep the countries busy warring with each other so that neither would jeopardize the flow of the oil supply and trade in the Persian Gulf 6; as well as to protect the other oil-producing Gulf states (Phythian, 1997). It is important to note that even the war between Iran and Iraq did not end until Iran started attacking the oil carriers in the Persian Gulf (known as the "tanker wars"). As soon as the free flow of capital was endangered, the U.S. suddenly became concerned with the war and took the issue to the UN in order to attain an official ceasefire (Ghamari-Tabrizi, 2009, p.2).

Imperialism, geopolitics, and global politics

Imperialism is a form of indirect intervention by one nation or group of nations in another nation's affairs, which influences the lives of its people (even in future generations) by overpowering them in social, cultural, political, and economic relations (Harvey, 2004). In this particular case, the violence of imperialism should be examined in two of its separate, but related, aspects. The first means by which the violence of imperialism was delivered during the war was through the material and logistical support given to Iraq for combatting Iran. The second means was the global community's silence concerning the humanitarian disaster of Iraq's chemical attack on unarmed Iranians. U.S. and other world powers' imperialism manifested itself during both processes of both creating as well as perpetuating the veterans' disablement. Furthermore, the economic sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program hindered injured veterans' access to proper medication and medical equipment.

Indicators from the case study include: The U.S. and other Arab nations of the Persian Gulf region financially supported Saddam Hussein, because they were all afraid of Iran's new Shi'a regime. Iraq imported the most advanced WMD, as it was "[t]he Soviet Union, France, China and Chile who sold Baghdad much of its off-the-shelf weaponry." Meanwhile, "West Germany, France, Britain, the United States, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and Brazil all sold the components, machines and tools—much of it material with civilian as well as military application." (Frankel, 1990, p.3). The U.S. and Britain seemingly remained "neutral," but in reality supplied both Iran and (especially) Iraq with weapons in order to keep them at war while giving Iraq the upper hand (Phythian, 1997; Timmerman, 1991). There is substantial evidence that suggests the U.S. provided Iraq with all sorts of intelligence concerning Iranian soldiers' location and numbers, while being fully aware of what Saddam Hussein was going to do to them with chemical weapons. Eventually, the Iraqi state got away with using illegal WMD on both the Kurds and Iranians.

Step Two: Sharpening Emerging Theoretical Constructs

Following Eisenhardt, I next moved to sharpen my constructs. This process, she argues, has two parts: 1) "Refining the definition of the construct," and 2) "Building evidence which measures [or determines] the construct in each case." In order to sharpen our constructs, we need to go back to the case study. The DHM analysis of the case study was organized in two parts: (1) 'processes of disablement' that are carried out through (2) 'social relations'. Processes included production of disability, as well as perpetuation of disablement, as a socially organized condition. We unpacked the relations that have produced and sustained disability in the affected Iranian war survivors (i.e., capitalism, imperialism, and nationalism). The case study analysis found that relations carry out processes, and processes, in turn, (re)produce relations.

Production and perpetuation of disablement

The word "disablement," as used here, covers two stages: First is the acquisition of disability due to the violence of war; second is living with that disability under conditions of inadequate care. The case study invited the reader to witness the two important processes of "acquiring" and "living with" a disability under inadequate care in a class-based society, ruled by a theocratic state. According to the case study, the process of production of disablement can be divided into six categories: nation-building, initiating a military invasion, prolonging the war, using unconventional weapons, the global community's silence, and certain nations' support for Iraq. The process of perpetuation of disablement, on the other hand, includes poverty, institutionalization, unemployment, state corruption, fetishization of disability by the state, inadequate medical care, lack of medication due to the U.S.-imposed sanctions for over 12 years, chemical incarceration, lack of disability accommodation, lack of physical and emotional accessibility, class hierarchy, and the dysfunctional disability measurement system employed by the Iranian state 7.

Step Three: Keep Other Potential Cases in Mind

Following Eisenhardt (1989), building the new theory using the case study, I compared my case study to other similar cases of "production of disability by the violence of exploitative social relations (e.g., capitalism, nationalism, militarism, patriarchy, and imperialism)" to ensure that I still observe a similar frame emerging. Very much like any emerging line of thinking in every field of research, thinking of similar cases that confirm the emerging relations increase the researcher's confidence in the case. For instance, there are children in some parts of the world, such as India, who are put in huge pots right after birth in order to grow up with tilted legs. The perpetrators who do this to children force them to beg on the streets as disabled children in order to provoke people's pity (Srivastava, 2014). This is another case that cannot be explained by the medical or social model of disability because it involves several more factors than just medical treatment/fixing, inaccessible social attitudes, and physical barriers. There is more than a trace of the violence of ideology, capital, state, and class in this case. I conjecture that this case, if properly investigated, can be explained by the TDM.

Furthermore, I observed that the TDM may potentially be able to encompass congenital disabilities if they are created as a result of violence, such as poverty, chemical, or nuclear weapons. In Japan, for example, after more than seventy years, there are still children born with disabilities as a result of the effects of the U.S.' atomic bombs at Nagasaki and Hiroshima (Oftedal, 1984). Moreover, nuclear testing and nuclear waste elimination are two other important factors to be considered. One example is the disabilities created in some remote villages in India as a result of people coming in contact with the dumped nuclear waste of France (Patwardhan, 2002). The same thing happens in Canada, when nuclear waste is dumped near Aboriginal reserves (Briarpatch, 2012). In these situations, children have been born with congenital disabilities created, in effect, by colonial and imperialist violence, which the TDM certainly covers. The other possibility is malnourishment of pregnant mothers that could lead to disabilities in the child. This also may potentially be coverable by the TDM, because it is concerned with economic relations—the capitalist system—that cause poverty.

Step Four: Confirming the Emerging Relations

Collecting evidence from the case study, I learned that in addition to the necessity of war for capitalist economies and nationalist states, there are other factors that have bearing on who gets killed/injured and who does not. When a bomb goes off in a war, there are lots of relations involved to make that happen as a material reality. First of all, there is someone, or a class, who invest in manufacturing weapons (social relations of production in the form of human labor); there is a second person or class who buy/sell those weapons (social relations in the form of human consumption); and finally, a person or class who use the weapons (human labor in the form of paid work). Once the pain and injury is inflicted upon a person or class, disability has occurred as (a result of) an embodied experience and a form of consciousness.

Here is how I confirmed the emerging relations: I identified recurring dialectics as the first transposition from empirical to theoretical, which is considered to be the "first inductive gap" (Bendassolli, 2013, p. 9). Secondly, I kept wondering about social, economic, and political relations (e.g. nationalism) and processes (e.g., disablement) behind the phenomena that I investigated by (re)reading every word and (re-)looking at every picture and document, scenes from videos, and even a single sentence in a memoir. I remembered Marx believed that the key into understanding dialectics is always being suspect of how things appear at the first sight. Dig deeper. He developed DHM as a way to de-mystify human relations and understand history as a result of "sensuous activity of [hu]man[s]" (Marx & Engels, 1932/1998, p.25). Conducting this research, I adopted DHM and used it to understand everything as it relates to history and social structures, such as class and capital. This understanding includes social relations such as imperialism and social organizations such as slavery.

Step Five: Conceptualization of A Transnational Disability Theory based on the DHM

The social model of disability has been successful in taking over the global north and their institutions, such as the United Nations. The social model has even tried to globalize itself through the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), by advocating for disabled people's rights and benefits as an oppressed group of people (Meyer, 2014). The same logic has never been applied to disabled people in the "third world." They have never been approached by the "rights" and "benefits" discourses, as if their disability is part of the natural state of affairs there. This indicates that a "universal" idea of disablement has abysmally failed, because transnational, local, and international advocacy groups do not fight for equality for disabled people in the "third world." Instead, they just fight for their "survival." Even though good intentions likely motivate the globalizing of DS, it is essential not to assume that we know the problems that disabled people deal with everywhere in the world. For example, the medical model is disfavored by DS scholars here in the "first world," while in Iran, the disabled veterans are in absolute need of proper medical care that is not provided for them.

The social model, on the other hand, is a good prescription but not for every disabled person and every context. I argue that the international disability movement is not a transnational movement because it is stuck between borders, and therefore, nation-states and their approval. Even though the UNCRPD is celebrated as an achievement, it is based on the social model while it has never been concerned with people who become disabled by the violence of transnational capitalism, class, and ideology everywhere in the world. It has especially neglected to focus on disability caused by wars in the "third world," which has been the focus of this project.

What Is Transnational About the Transnational Theory of Disability?

We know that proponents of dominant discourses in DS, such as post-structuralism, do not believe in the materiality of disability. Beside being rooted in the material world, the emerging transnational model means A) We can imagine a world with no borders and avoid trying to impose a universal disability identity upon all disabled people; B) We can resist what dominant DS has been teaching us, which centers "whiteness" and the "west" as its inseparable norms (Chen, 2012; Dossa, 2008; Erevelles, 2011; Meekosha, 2011; Bell, 2006; Gorman, 2016). ; and C) We can start imagining an organized and diverse group of people with no universal disability identity and no necessary ties to nation-states.

Building on the works of DS scholars, whose works have added the social and racial division of labor to our understanding and theorization of disability (such as Erevelles, 1998, 2011; Gorman, 2005; Russel & Malhorta, 2002) and drawing upon the case study, as well as my own experiences with war and post-war conditions, I am building the TDM. As already indicated, the new disability model that I am developing in this paper dismisses neither the medical model nor the social model. In fact, a transnational theory of disability that I am articulating here is not replacing/negating other theories of disability but amending and transcending them, so that they are in turn enfolded into it.

The TDM does not approach disability by locating it inside the disabled individual. Neither does it locate the problem only in the surrounding society. The TDM, instead, locates the problem in the violence of global class-relations (capitalism, imperialism, and neo-colonialism), the dialectics of global politics, historical infliction of pain upon the poor and racialized body (e.g., colonialism, slavery, Indigenous genocide, indentured labor, war on terror), exploitative social relations (gendered, raced, and classes), and destruction of the planet by the ruling bourgeois class causing health issues for every species.

I argue that the TDM is geographically, historically, economically, and culturally sensitive. These features can help us to further understand disability as a raced, gendered, and classed power relation, rather than as a tragedy. It's always important to ask, "Whose disability are we talking about?" Because, we know that "[e]normous gaps … exist[s] in evidence about disability, especially in low and medium resource countries of the world" (Bickenbach, 2011, p. 655 cited in Oliver & Barnes, 2012 ).

On the other hand, different disabled peoples' accessibility needs are often fought-for in mere disconnection from other disabled peoples' struggle. For instance accessibility of buildings is often something that a middle-class disabled American citizen expects to receive from the American state, and sometimes s/he does receive it. However, the accommodation of her/his disability happens in complete disconnection from hundreds of people who become disabled every week in wars and minefields globally. This is what I mean by global class relations of disability. Gorman (2005) reveals that the same social relations which determine our experience of becoming disabled, organize even the way we think about disability. In other words, our system(s) of thought about disability is/are determined by the structures that rule over our consciousness. This means that we should approach 'disability oppression' or 'creation of disability' in conversation with consciousness and agency; otherwise, we would end up floating in an ahistorical empiricist vacuum. I conceptualize the emerging disability model, TDM, as a political project, involves us consciously mobilizing around our experiences and taking off from there to discover and end exploitative relations.

Transnational Forms of Political Consciousness: Transnational Disability Praxis

The current dominant models in DS expect us to celebrate acquiring a disability as a condition that every human at some point in their life experiences. The TDM asks us, however, what if my disability has been acquired under the oppressive conditions of poverty, economic exploitation, police brutality, imperialist violence, war, inhumane working conditions, and lack of access to adequate healthcare and education? What if human variations (e.g., race, sex) are per se used in the construction of disabled identities for exploitative purposes (e.g., slavery, indentured labor, colonialism, immigration law, travel bans, etc.) (Erevelles, 2011)? And finally, how do we build solidarity across disabled bodies and communities while we negotiate the distances that simultaneously divide and damage them/us within the contemporary context of global capitalism-imperialism? Similar to the social model, the TDM recognizes the problem of ideological and institutional discrimination surrounding disability (Oliver, 1983, 1990). However, the emerging TDM is not just a theoretical model; it is also a political project that places enormous emphasis on political consciousness.

Political consciousness, according to Gorman (2005), is "a quality related to a social group, rather than as a sum of individual ideas held by members of the group" (ii). Furthermore, Marx's consciousness theory is rooted in DHM. According to Allman (2007), consciousness has a dialectical relationship with material reality, for it's not separate from social being. Therefore, Allman (2007) argues that when we are engaged with the material world, our sensuous activity does not happen only on an objective level but within the unity of thought and action. Thought and action, or affect and cognition, are internally related, meaning they are part of what constitutes them (i.e., thought and action) dialectically. The material world, as such, is made of real human activities and practices situated by social relations at particular historical moments. Correspondingly, reality and consciousness are internally related, as they both are part of a unity.

Following Marx, I argue that we can both make what we know (i.e., knowledge production) and also live what we know. For example, when it comes to war, we as war-survivors or/and educators, can refuse to mobilize only around our experiences, and instead, live our consciousness arisen from that experience to end the social organization that gave birth to our experience in the first place. According to Bannerji (1995, 2011), it is not enough to only care about expressing our experiences, or having the space and right to do so. We should also organize ourselves in order to end the oppressive structures, which against our will, determine our experiences.

This is a political project. I label it political because it involves political agency. In fact, according to Allman (2007), education, (i.e., knowledge, theory, and praxis) is a political project, because it is aimed at either teaching people to liberate themselves (or others) from an oppressive and exploitative status quo, or it is aimed at teaching people to adapt to work individualistically (in an individualist style, always on their own, rather than organizing as a collective) within given oppressive structures (Allman, 2007).

Future Directions

We know that capitalist economy has intrinsic necessities/features to it such as war, imperialism, class exploitation, and ecological destruction. As such, I argue that the emerging TDM has a potential to help us understand apparently neutral mechanisms through which people become ill, injured, or disabled, such as poverty and ecological devastation. I suggest in order to developing the new model further, we should conduct more case studies. For example, conducting potential case studies involving environmental/naturally-caused disability would shed light on other aspects of transnational disability. Such case studies might include: interviewing people who grew up around radioactive dump sites; interviewing people who clean the inside of oil tankers with no safety; investigating cases of negligence and accidents that have caused disablement/injury; investigating cases where medications cause disablement/injury, such as the case of Thalidomide which was supposed to be a morning sickness medication but ended up causing disabilities in babies born to mothers who took it; or investigating cases where new technologies have been implemented before a proper vetting process (though this could be caused by profit-making purposes, in which case it is not a purely natural phenomenon). We might discover exploitative social relations behind a number of these cases as well, just like we did in the case study at the heart of this paper. These are examples of important research that remains to be done in order to more fully flesh out an expansive and ultimately more cogent version of transnational disability theory.

Another avenue for further developing the TDM could be exploring how the ideological systems such as an ideological state apparatus can cause injury and disability. For instance, the Saudi and the Iranian regimes cut people's hands off if they are convicted of robbery. Ironically, in the case of Iran, there are many members of the state apparatus who steal the money made by selling the nation's oil with absolute impunity. They never get caught, and even if they are, they end up paying small bail and then walk free. This violence of inflicting disability on lower-level/class criminals occurs as a theocratic punishment according to the ideologies that states impose on their citizens in the form of law. Can the existing disability models in DS help us understand what happens in such a scenario? Probably not. However, the TDM can, as it's equipped with DHM as well as geopolitics. Moreover, we know that disability is usually associated with being low-income (Oliver, 1983), for capitalist logic of making profit by exploiting labor-power is always an ableist barrier for disabled people to access proper employment. There is also a cultural taboo accompanied with a disfigured limb, a signal for past criminal activity. The TDM can help us understand how theocracy, class, and capitalist social relations cause a poor person to become disabled due to poverty (read occupation of a low class in the social division of labour). 8


Using the analytical framework of DHM, this project explored how the racialized disabled body is constituted within social relations of production and the consumption of transnational capitalism. Herein, I discussed the theoretical framework, along with the methodology for collecting and analyzing data by which I conducted my doctoral thesis. I proposed a radical alternative research method to traditionally biomedical, post-conventionist, liberal, and bourgeois approaches to disability.

I argued that the materialist disability theory or the TDM can create a major shift in our thinking around disability, difference, and war in the global context toward a transformative body politic. This transformation can be done by raising our political consciousness through revolutionary peace praxis, politically organizing ourselves, and setting the stage for people to take a stand against imperialist, capitalist, and nationalist violence now. By illuminating the horrors of disability production through war, I also hope this study allows future scholars to imagine a world without the violence of war. However, for that dream to become a reality, an alternative economic system that is not based on endless expansion and profit-making—an alternative to capitalism—is needed. As well, we can organize politically around the revolutionary praxis that stemmed from the TDM and be/act in solidarity with the working class all over the world. The key factor to enable movement toward a war-free world is to develop "class consciousness" and then be/act in solidarity with the working class, because as long as there is class, there is war. A war-less world, I argue, will only happen in a class-less world.


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  1. By political economy, I mean a predetermined economy.
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  2. See Kazemi, 2017; Kazemi, 2019
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  3. Partial result of the study has been published elsewheres, see Kazemi, 2019
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  4. Karl Marx, "First Thesis on Feuerbach" in Marx and Engels, Collected Works vol. 5.
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  5. Such as capitalism, nationalism, and imperialism.
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  6. Note that the capitalist social relations behind the war are evident here. The U.S. and Britain did not intervene in the war to end it, but to sell their weapons to both parties and police the flow of capital from the Middle East to Europe.
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  7. The perpetuation of veterans' disablement has been extensively discussed elsewhere. Please see (Kazemi, 2019)
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  8. First of all, the Iranian and Saudi states are both ideological and capitalist states, for whom democracy and collective decision-making are alien concepts. In this political context, these states only serve the interests of the ruling class and not society more broadly, meaning the working class or poor people always remain poor. The judiciary system also serves the interests of ruling classes who are often corrupt and dishonest. So far, we can detect the role of class and ideology in this example and see the social relations behind imposed disablement. Here, the poor person who has been perhaps forced to steal, due to poverty, becomes even poorer because s/he acquires a disability that will likely make it harder to find proper employment. They often end up begging on the street or die of drug abuse.
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