Postdoctoral Research Scholar, Columbia University
Editor, Platypus: The CASTAC Blog
Svetlana Borodina is a postdoctoral research scholar at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University. She studies cultures and the politics of disability inclusion in Russia. Her ethnographic work explores the technologies through which bodily and mental differences become folded into the production of postsocialist forms of citizenship and relationality for abled and disabled individuals alike.
Contributions to Platypus: The CASTAC Blog
The first weeks of 2021 brought no relief, even though so many hoped otherwise. Instead, the first twelve days clearly demonstrated that exclusion, inequity, violence, and multiply intersecting systems of oppression didn’t magically disappear into the thin air as the clock struck midnight on January 1. Neither in the US nor in other parts of the world.
Twenty-eight years ago, in 1992, the United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3 proclaimed December 3 as International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Immediately following the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery and followed by the International Day of Banks (yes), the International Day of Persons with Disabilities was and still is charged with the impulse “to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.” Each year, a specific theme is chosen to direct public attention toward a specific issue. In 2018, it was “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.” In 2019, “Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda.” In 2020, “Not all disabilities are visible.” A product of a policy-oriented reformist environment, International Day of Persons with Disabilities helps to direct attention, mobilize action, and bring about material changes in the lives of people with disabilities. But what happens to these impulses on December 4th (besides the International Day of Banks)?
For someone interested in the genealogy of disability inclusion in Russia, Soviet disability pedagogy, known at the time under the name of defektologia, may seem to be a somewhat unexpected place to turn to. On the one hand, the Soviet system of korrektsionnoye [corrective] education for children with disabilities embodied isolationism and paternalism, the features which characterized Soviet disability governance more broadly (Shek 2005): schools for students with disabilities were built at a significant distance from the heart of urban life; they functioned predominantly as boarding schools, de facto exerting control over children’s mobility and public appearance; they often had little contact or interaction with mainstream schools and communities. On the other hand, Soviet disability pedagogy also produced moments when disability exclusion, otherwise naturalized across various domains of life, had been problematized and questioned. To them, I turn in this post.