Disability activism developed in the second half of the twentieth century in a world divided by the Cold War. While the history of how Western activists learned to speak in the language of civil rights is well documented and publicly celebrated, the legacies of activists from the socialist countries have been largely erased after the collapse of the communist governments in 1989-1991.
In conversation with Sean Guillory, Maria Cristina Galmarini will offer a more complete and nuanced history of the international disability movement than existing Western-oriented narratives, thus stimulating a re-evaluation of the role of socialist-style, state-supported activism in the development of disability advocacy and social movements more broadly. By focusing on blind activists from the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic, she reveals that philosophies and practices from the socialist side shaped the historical course of global disability advocacy and provided a viable alternative to the approaches used in liberal democracies. Her critical evaluation of blind advocacy under socialism introduces debates over disability paradigms as a key issue in the history of Cold War Europe. It also changes the historiography of cultural diplomacy by complicating the able-bodied imagery on which we assume states relied during the Cold War.
Maria Cristina Galmarini is Associate Professor of History and Global Studies at William & Mary. In her teaching and research, she focuses on the history of disability under socialism. Her first book, The Right to Be Helped. Deviance, Entitlement, and the Soviet Moral Order (Northern Illinois University Press, 2016), addressed understandings of social rights among marginalized groups in the early revolutionary and Stalinist Soviet Union. She is currently working on a new project titled Ambassadors of Social Progress. A History of International Blind Activism During the Cold War.