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Abstract

This dissertation attends to the ways in which the boundaries and defining features of political membership are stabilized and recast in and through disability. Where existing research emphasizes the exclusionary ground of liberal citizenship and its consequences for people with disabilities, I argue that disability as a concept, legal category, and medical condition has become a crucial mechanism through which to negotiate the obligations and entitlements of citizenship. Departing from efforts to trace (and thus to refute) the overdetermination of disability as deficit or lack, I recover alternative figurations and deployments of disability, paying particular attention to their function in suturing—or, more recently, rupturing—the persistent link between work and citizenship. At once a social obligation and the primary means by which we access certain rights and benefits critical to the exercise of full citizenship, work offers, I argue, a unique lens through which to examine the changing contours of political membership. Tracing an historical arc from the rise of industrial capitalism and the abolition of slavery through to the postindustrial present, I show how disability has been called upon at moments of crisis in the meaning and significance of work to resolve the tension between the ideal of work and the conditions of its performance.

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