Disability, Citizenship and COVID-19

Hello! My name is Kim Fernandes and I am a joint PhD Candidate in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development (Graduate School of Education) and Anthropology (School of Arts and Sciences). I am a rising 5th year and will begin writing the first chapter of my dissertation, which is supported by summer funding from CASI. My dissertation is tentatively titled, “Categorizing Disability, Negotiating Belonging: What Does It Take To Be Counted As Disabled in India?” I am particularly interested in studying the processes behind obtaining documentation (i.e., the disability certificate and/or the Unique Disability ID) for one’s disability in India. Working from an understanding of disability not as a fixed status, but rather as the embodiment of interactions between a person’s body and the world, my project engages with what it means for various bureaucratic and medical experts to attempt to quantify these everyday experiences. I am also looking forward to thinking further about the policy implications of studying the process of certifying disability — in particular, what is made possible/accessible by acquiring a disability certificate or (more recently) a Unique Disability ID?

Over the course of the summer, I will begin transcribing and translating meetings between disabled communities, government officials and NGO interlocutors, paying particular attention to the moments at which it becomes important to identify and count a person as disabled (and, conversely, to the ones in which it does not). Broadly, in this chapter, I am interested in exploring further what being certified as disabled means for citizenship and belonging in India. Finally, I hope to explore how the process of certifying disability differs from other processes that certify belonging to different groups in India.

Most of my dissertation fieldwork has happened over the course of the pandemic and has thus necessarily been entirely virtual. As I analyze some of the data that I have collected over the past year and write up my chapter, I am interested in thinking and writing more about how the nature of the ‘field’ in fieldwork has shifted during the pandemic. In particular, I’ve been wondering about how the pandemic has shaped participant observation: what does it mean to participate when on Zoom, and how might the researcher record/note participation in a time where our attention and energy has been spread thin? As I begin analyzing my data, I look forward to coming back to this blog with more insights and updates.

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About kimfernandes5

I am a PhD candidate in Education and Anthropology. I am primarily interested in the anthropology of disability and technology, with a focus on India. Prior to beginning my PhD at Penn, I worked in monitoring and evaluation, education and development. I have an undergraduate degree in International Politics (Honors) from Georgetown University, as well as graduate degrees in International Education Policy from Harvard University and in Statistics, Measurement, Assessment and Research Technologies from Penn.