The Social Model under the Shadow of the Revolution

Ex-combatants negotiating disability identity in Nicaragua

Article appearing in Qualitative Sociology. Volume 37. Issue 4

The social model of disability, which defines disability as the product of social discrimination rather than the physical, cognitive, or sensory differences of individuals, became the dominant logic of the international disability field with the 2006 passage of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As such, grassroots disability associations around the world are advocating for new rights. These campaigns promote a new identity frame of disabled persons as a universally oppressed group. This identity, however, does not benefit all groups equally and actually threatens some. Using qualitative methods, I compare the usage of the disability identity by two grassroots associations in Nicaragua. Ex-Contra soldiers with disabilities use the identity to obfuscate their discredited history as “traitors” and, instead, represent themselves as unjustly discriminated against disabled persons deserving special benefits and human rights protections. Ex-Sandinista soldiers with disabilities also make claims, but only reluctantly as disabled, preferring to self-identify as war wounded. Because of changes in law, however, Ex-Sandinista soldiers are increasingly unable to make claims as war heroes, but must instead access benefits as persons with disabilities “in general.” This case demonstrates how actors strategically use the social model of disability in relation to local political culture and group identity.