Joint ANSO / IHP Tuesday Seminars
Clara Devlieger

'People who need Rights'? Disability, Entitlement, and the Rightful Giver in Kinshasa

Clara Devlieger, London School of Economics and Political Science
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Room S5, Maison de la paix, Geneva Graduate Institute

The Joint ANSO / IHP Tuesday Seminars series is co-organized by the Anthropology and Sociology and International History and Politics Departments at the Institute to discuss global questions from historically and ethnographically-informed perspectives.

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What does it mean to ask for a rightful claim? This talk examines how disabled people and their donors negotiate different understandings of right(s) rooted in postcolonial histories of distribution and perceptions of the deserving poor. In Kinshasa, informal welfare activities of brokering and begging are viewed as charitable compensations for the lack of government protection for disabled people, but claimed by the ‘recipients’ as forms of work. Aspiring to have their activities recognized as rights, disabled people speak a local language of entitlement that conflates the value of independent work with the ethical and political right to care, asserting obligatory ‘rights’ or ‘taxes’, against the donors’ perception of ‘gifts’. The language of rights is a space of plural contestations and mutual evaluations, a rich and powerful language for discussing issues of inequality, membership, personhood, welfare and power through a fundamental claim for distribution. Givers and receivers evoke differing views on the same transaction that express contradictory aspirations and values about what constitutes a rightful claim. In the absence of formal institutions to enforce informal disability privileges, the right to be a beggar or a broker is negotiated on an interpersonal level, requiring constant value tests on whether claims to assistance are legitimate.


About the Speaker

Clara Devlieger is an assistant professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and formerly a research fellow at Emmanuel College in Cambridge. Her work has appeared in American Ethnologist, Africa: Journal of the International African Association, Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology and Somatosphere. Her forthcoming book is entitled Disability and Distribution: Becoming a Valuable Person in Kinshasa (Cambridge University Press). Clara's research is centred on disability, urban livelihoods and moral economies of distribution and welfare. With a focus on local interpretations of value(s), moral personhood, citizenship, and socioeconomic rights in a transnational context, it deploys long-term ethnography of mobility impaired adults in the DRC to examine questions of broad significance that include: How does one become a ‘valuable person’? How do disability, mobility and uncertainty reframe what is ‘normal’? When everyone needs help, who should have a right to assistance?


The Joint ANSO / IHP Tuesday Seminars is a regular series of discussions co-organized by the International History and Politics and Anthropology and Sociology Departments at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies to discuss a variety of global questions from a multiplicity of historically and ethnographically-informed perspectives.

The Seminars take place every Tuesday from 16:15 to 18:00 in Seminar Room 5 (S5) at the Graduate Institute (Maison de la paix), and are followed by an apero open to the attending public. Connect to this week's seminar online using the event password 85W9yXbTrpF.