Journal of Global Citizenship & Equity Education, Vol 6, No 1 (2018)

Imagining, Constructing and Reifying Disability in Volunteer Abroad: Able Global Citizens Helping the Disabled Southern Other

Jessica Vorstermans Ph.D.


In this chapter, I argue that the ways that disability is constructed and produced through encounters in volunteer abroad (VA) programs functions to (re)produce a caring and benevolent able-bodied Northern global citizen. This subject formation relies on two main processes: (1) the creation of the able/disabled binary; the volunteer/the one being helped and (2) the obscuring of the role the Global North (the place from where the volunteer comes from) plays in producing impairment. The research presented in this paper is from a larger study theorizing encounters with Southern disabled others. Here I engage in a qualitative textual analysis of Projects Abroad, a large VA organization based in North America that provides international volunteer placements to young people from Canada and the United States. I consider how the lack of analysis of Global North/Global South power relations reproduces depoliticized and ahistorical approaches which individualize and pathologize disability, and subsequently obscure any analysis of the social production of impairment and disability. I end the paper by asking how we can invite young people to engage in more inclusive ways, and in a learning that destabilizes hegemonic narratives of disability in this space.


disability; able-bodied; global citizenship; helping; critical disability studies; agency

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