Disability, Democracy, and the Politics of Civic Engagement in Cambodia

Type Working Paper
Title Disability, Democracy, and the Politics of Civic Engagement in Cambodia
URL http://www.khmerstudies.org/download-files/publications/Conference_Proceeding/04_Part_03_04_Darren​C. Zook.pdf?lbisphpreq=1
The extent to which the nation-state is a sensory experience is often overlooked
and underestimated. The political textures of the nation-state, and the physical
expressions of political culture that mark its landscape, are arguably just as
important as the functional elements of politics that are often taken for granted by
analysts and observers: elections are as much an audio-visual spectacle as they are
a practical process of democracy. As a spectacle, and as a sensory experience,
however, the nation-state is experienced differentially by its constitutive elements.
Citizens with physical and cognitive disabilities, for instance, do not have access to
the same political sensations as other citizens: monuments remain unseen, anthems
remain unheard, rallies remain unattended, and so forth. In spite of the best efforts
of even the most sensitive of government institutions and agencies, the blunt fact
persists that for citizens with physical and cognitive disabilities, the state is an
indifferent manufactory of a disturbingly diverse array of inequalities.
Yet states, whether democratic or not, cultivate indifference at their own peril;
where citizens seek access and recognition, states seek legitimacy and loyalty. In
many ways, these two simultaneous needs produce a condition of mutual
dependency, but this does not lead ineluctably to a pessimistic end. In fact, there is
a great deal of room here for potential negotiation, and not just of the opportunistic
variety, that can be of considerable benefit for both sides. This potential is enhanced
in moments of democratic transition and expansion. It is in the interest of the state
in such moments to reach out to and incorporate marginalized populations, and it
is in the interest of marginalized populations, and here I will focus on the disabled
communities, to create new channels of access to the institutions of the state. The
state needs its citizens to claim a universal legitimacy, and citizens need the state,
and its array of institutions, to claim and access their rights. It is therefore in the
interest of both sides to redraw the political, social, and cultural landscape of the

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