Modernity

Beginning in the sixteenth century, the same forces that gave shape to what we now term “modernity” also produced the concept of “disability.” These included burgeoning bureaucratic systems for the management of expanding global trade, the presence of increasingly concentrated, heterogeneous populations, the emergence of nation-states in the global north-west, a shift from religious and extrinsic forms of authority to the open-ended pursuit of knowledge through autonomous reason, and the continuous parsing of populations. The asylums and general hospitals that opened in the seventeenth century in order to sequester impoverished invalids and defectives generally mixed together disabled populations rather randomly and always through the common denominator of poverty. But by the beginning of the long eighteenth century, disability had emerged within modernity as a differential menu of problems to be solved, or at least controlled, via bourgeois systems of charity and in conjunction with the imperatives of a rapidly diversifying …

This essay may be found on page 124 of the printed volume.

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