How did you become interested in the intersections of disability in UN human rights monitoring practices?
My interest in this topic arose from reading the debates about the operationalisation of intersectionality. I was intrigued by the critique of the “incorrect” application of intersectionality. Furthermore, I was captivated by the mounting influence of intersectionality in academic and policy realms. Mainly, I found that, in recent years, intersectionality holds a prominent position in UN human rights treaty bodies. At the same time, the works of disability scholars stimulated and broadened my interest in intersectionality. As I read, I kept wondering about governmental responses to the intersections of disability. I had a hunch that the study of the connection of disability with other identity markers would allow me to have a better grasp of the systems of knowledge/ignorance that operate in the recognition of identity intersections in international human rights.
Can you describe your main research question?
My thesis, entitled “Towards an understanding of the entanglement of disability in international human rights”, is a book-length monograph exploring the inclusion of disability in UN human rights monitoring protocols and practices, and how disability is coupled with other category formations in those practices. So, my research question is: How is disability combined with other identity markers in the monitoring practices of international human rights?
What methodology do you use to approach that question?
I build on the theories of governmentality and intersectionality and construct the concept of entanglement. Using content analysis of more than 3,000 UN human rights documents, and interviews with Colombian human rights advocates, I found that disability entered UN discourse only after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2006, and that disability is primarily invoked in conjunction with age or sex, ignoring other possible identity intersections (as with sexuality, ethnicity, religion, race, etc.). To explain this phenomenon, I developed the concept of identity entanglement, showing how certain combinations of identity become discursively reified and institutionalised, while other identity interactions remain unrecognised.
Can you elaborate on this finding?
I claim that the study of these discursive arrangements reveals seven features of UN normative contexts. First, disability has not been a core category of difference in international human rights monitoring practices. Second, it is only once the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was adopted that disability has become visible to UN committees. Third, entanglement has been a prevalent apparatus for the insertion of disability in the UN human rights monitoring practices. Fourth, this apparatus of inclusion endows categories with stable, inevitable, and fixed characteristics and properties. Fifth, it introduces disability without substantially altering the universal anchors of modes of subjectification. Sixth, UN human rights monitoring practices prioritise disability in conjunction with gender and age, while selectively ignoring its interaction with other ascriptive labels. Seventh, disability finds space in group listings, which atomises differences by manufacturing connectivity, proximity, and homogeneity. All in all, I suggest that the analysis of the inscription of disability intersections in international human rights monitoring practices exposes the constitutive limits of identity thinking in institutional power contexts.
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Felipe Jaramillo Ruiz defended his PhD thesis in International Relations/Political Science in June 2020. Professor Annabelle Littoz-Monnet presided the committee, which included Professor Elisabeth Prügl, thesis director, and Associate Professor Eléonore Lépinard, Gender Studies Center, University of Lausanne.
Full citation of the PhD thesis:
Jaramillo Ruiz, Felipe. “Towards an Understanding of the Entanglement of Disability in International Human Rights.” PhD thesis, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, 2020.
Good to know: members of the Graduate Institute can access Dr Jaramillo Ruiz’s PhD thesis via this page of the Institute’s repository.
Interview by Nathalie Tanner, Research Office.
Banner picture: excerpt from an image by anaglic/Shutterstock.com.