Posted on 6 October 2022 in bulletin, disability, isrf, isrf fellows

Living in Anticipation

In this contribution to Bulletin 26, Alice Baderin applies her theoretical conception of anticipatory injustice to forms of discrimination and exclusion experienced by disabled people.


University of Reading

Main image by Daniel Ali (via Unsplash).

Curtis travels with a guide dog. He has well developed strategies to challenge potential access denials in public places, including memorizing state and federal accommodation laws, a legal hotline number and website URLs.[1]

Jason is an athletic young man with hemiplegic cerebral palsy. He has decided not to participate in Paralympic sport, for fear of being exposed to condescending views: ‘“look at how hard those poor people to work”… it’s that kind of attitude that you’re trying to avoid’.[2]

Scott hides his visual impairment from most people he meets. He refuses adaptive equipment and avoids large gatherings where he would have difficulty identifying people. He sometimes encourages others to assume he is poorly prepared or uninterested, rather than acknowledging the effects of his disability.[3]

Disabled people use a wide range of strategies to protect themselves against discrimination, exclusion, and misrecognition. These defensive practices may often be necessary, and sometimes empowering. But they can also exact significant costs. Curtis devotes time and cognitive resources to arming himself with the information he may need, at any moment, to secure his rights. Jason and Scott forgo valuable opportunities in their efforts to ward off prejudice. Scott also experiences the psychological strain of continually monitoring and controlling the presentation of his impairment in social interactions: work that Jackie Scully has described as the ‘hidden labor’ of encounters between disabled and non-disabled individuals.[4]

The practices described above are shaped by specific features of the individuals’ circumstances and identity. For example, the fact that Scott’s disability is not immediately apparent to others shapes his decisions to ‘pass’ as non-disabled. In other contexts, disabled individuals might choose instead to exaggerate or deliberately display a disability in order to protect themselves.[5] The kinds of defensive strategies adopted by Curtis, a white male, may not work in the same way for disabled women or ethnic minorities. However, these particular experiences are also illustrative of a much broader phenomenon, whereby risk exerts anticipatory pressure. When we are subject to threats of injustice, loss or hardship, we tend to contemplate, plan and sometimes execute protective steps. These anticipatory thoughts and actions often have profound effects on our present lives. For example, consider the undocumented migrant who restricts his day-to-day movements and forgoes access to public services to avert potential encounters with immigration authorities.[6] The women engaged in ‘safety work’ in public spaces: adjusting their body language, planning their walking route, and carefully choosing their seat on public transport to pre-empt harassment and violence.[7] The insecure workers devoting hours to preparing CVs and researching alternative openings, in case their current position is terminated. And the racialised minorities who, like those subject to threats of disability discrimination, are engaged in complex public identity management strategies to deflect prejudice. We can begin to trace a common set of anticipatory dynamics across these otherwise diverse contexts of insecurity. Some of these strategies are designed to reduce the probability of risk ripening into harm, others to mitigate or buffer against the damage if it does occur.

In my research, I explore the moral significance of vulnerable individuals’ anticipatory responses to insecurity: What are the characteristic strategies that individuals use to mitigate risk? Which of these practices are specific to particular situations of risk, and which cut across diverse contexts of insecurity? When and why do these anticipatory dynamics matter from the perspective of social justice? I have argued that there is a distinct injustice that stems from the imperative to ward off threats to one’s future wellbeing. I call this problem ‘anticipatory injustice’. An account of anticipatory injustice can help us to answer a puzzle about why, if we care about social justice, we should be concerned about individuals’ exposure to risk. Of course, risk matters when it ripens into harm, and people’s lives go badly as a result: the disabled individual is subject to unequal treatment, the insecure worker loses her job, or the undocumented migrant is detained and deported. But what about the threat itself? Why should we care about risk independently of whether it materialises? An important part of the answer to this question lies in the anticipatory pressures that insecurity generates, and the profound consequences this has for individuals’ present lives.

There are two aspects of the problem of anticipatory injustice. The first is distributive. Living with persistent insecurity often means paying an unfair price now in order to secure one’s future wellbeing. Sometimes these costs are economic. Insecure individuals may forgo earnings opportunities in order to protect themselves, or pay more to obtain goods and services in less risky ways: for example, the undocumented migrant who uses expensive taxis rather than driving to avoid police checkpoints. But risk mitigation practices very often also bring significant non-material burdens. Persistently contemplating, planning, and enacting anticipatory strategies consumes time and energy. These less tangible anticipatory costs are captured in a number of powerful and interrelated concepts: the ‘access fatigue’ experienced by disabled people; the ‘battle fatigue’ of living with the persistent threat of racism; and the burdens of ‘deportability’ for undocumented migrants.[8] Consider, for example, parenting in anticipation of discrimination against a disabled child. Parents describe a range of protective practices such as ensuring that their child is always immaculately dressed, camouflaging assistive equipment, and restricting social activities to avoid stigmatising treatment.[9] These strategies are time consuming and emotionally and cognitively taxing. They can also intrude on the enjoyment of family life. Philosophers have described the values we realize through particular connections with special others as ‘personal relationship goods’: goods such as love, care, and emotional support that are only available within certain kinds of relationships, and that help to make those relationships what they are. In the context of parent-child relationships, these goods include a sense of intimacy, spontaneity and sharing together in the child’s enjoyment of the special goods of childhood.[10] Some of these family relationship goods may be crowded out when parents are persistently working to ward off discrimination against their children.

The second element of the problem of anticipatory injustice involves the loss of a distinctive and valuable kind of freedom. Persistent insecurity has powerful deliberative effects, when individuals come to approach a wide range of decisions through the lens of managing risk. For example, the imperative to mitigate the threat of deportation can frame many big and small choices: from where to live, what job to take, and how to interact with one’s children, to how to travel and what times to leave the house. In extreme cases, it means that ‘all your plans have to revolve around the same thing’.[11] What is lost here is one valuable component of individual agency: the capacity to engage in a direct and pure way with the reasons and values at stake in particular choices.[12] This freedom—I have termed it ‘insulated agency’—matters when it comes to fundamental questions about values and the ways of life we adopt. For example, we should have the opportunity to consider decisions about religious affiliation as decisions about religion, rather than about avoiding social isolation or destitution. But it is also important that we can, at least on occasion, confront some of the trivial choices of life in an insulated way. We should sometimes be able to choose a meal on grounds of taste, or make a pure decision about how to spend some leisure time. This is a freedom that is compromised for many individuals living in persistent poverty, for whom economic considerations consistently loom large even in decisions that, to others, might seem to lack any economic dimension.[13] Similar deliberative effects arise in many contexts of ongoing insecurity. For example, the imperative to ward off racial or disability discrimination can frame diverse decisions over what to wear and what body language to adopt; where to work, to shop, and to take holidays; and what values to impart to one’s children. In this way, persistent anticipatory pressures can pollute fundamental decisions about how to lead one’s life, as well as preventing us from confronting quotidian choices as the trivial choices that they are.

Of course, almost all of us live our lives partly in anticipation of somewhat uncertain futures. We manage our public identities to mitigate risks of misrecognition and exclusion. We may take pre-emptive steps to cushion ourselves against potential economic hardship. Moreover, identifying and responding to risks is an important part of what it means to lead an autonomous life: to exercise agency over the course of one’s future, rather than to be carried forward by events. However, the imperative to ward off risk should not be dismissed as simply a pervasive, even welcome, part of everyday life. Some people, much more than others, are avoidably burdened with the work of risk mitigation. Where these anticipatory pressures are contingent, unequal and persistent, they raise deep concerns of justice.

What then should be done about the problem of anticipatory injustice? One important feature of anticipatory pressures is that they are often invisible to those who do not experience them directly. Thus a first step is simply to recognise the hidden efforts that some people are expending to secure their future wellbeing. Second, the anticipatory implications of insecurity should be a distinct consideration for policymakers. In many cases, we should already be working collectively to eliminate the risks that generate the protective responses. Individuals should not be subject to threats of discrimination or violence, regardless of the anticipatory burdens that accompany these risks. However, where progress on risk-mitigation is slow, policymakers should also identify tools that specifically target the anticipatory dynamics, to separate risk from its unjust anticipatory effects. For example, can we alleviate the additional time burdens of insecure work by capping hours for temporary workers without loss of pay? Can we collectivise some of the anticipatory labour undertaken by insecure individuals and families? For example, could schools and youth services share more of the work of preparing minority children to cope with discrimination?

Our ability to live well in the present depends on the pressures we face to protect ourselves against future injustice, loss, or hardship. If we care about social justice, we should seek to understand and to reshape the anticipatory environments that burden people’s lives and limit their freedom.


[1] Annika Konrad, ‘Access Fatigue: The Rhetorical Work of Disability in Everyday Life’, College English 83, no. 3 (2021), 194.

[2] Michelle Spirtos and Robbie Gilligan, ‘‘In Your Own Head Everyone is Staring’: The Disability Related Identity Experiences of Young People with Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy’, Journal of Youth Studies 25, no. 1 (2022), 57.

[3] Adam Cureton, ‘Hiding a Disability and Passing as Non-Disabled’, in Adam Cureton and Thomas E. Hill Jr (eds.), Disability in Practice: Attitudes, Politics and Relationships (Oxford 2018: Oxford University Press): 15–32. Cureton’s vignette about Scott is based on his own experiences of concealing his blindness.

[4] Jackie Leach Scully, ‘Hidden Labor: Disabled/Nondisabled Encounters, Agency, and Autonomy’, International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics 3, no. 2 (2010), 25.

[5] See, for example, Tobin Siebers, ‘Disability as Masquerade’, Literature and Medicine 23, no. 1 (2004): 1–22.

[6] See, for example, Angela Stuesse and Mathew Coleman, ‘Automobility, Immobility, Altermobility: Surviving and Resisting the Intensification of Immigrant Policing’, City & Society 26, no. 1 (2014), 60.

[7] For the concept of safety work, Fiona Vera-Gray and Liz Kelly, ‘Contested gendered space: Public sexual harassment and women’s safety work’, in Vania Ceccato and Mahesh Nalla (eds.), Crime and Fear in Public Places: Towards Safe, Inclusive and Sustainable Cities (Abingdon 2020: Routledge): 217–231.

[8] See, respectively, Konrad, ‘Access Fatigue’; William Smith, Man Hung, and Jeremy D. Franklin, ‘Racial Battle Fatigue and the MisEducation of Black Men: Racial Microaggressions, Societal Problems, and Environmental Stress’, The Journal of Negro Education 80, no. 1 (2011): 63–82; Nicholas De Genova, ‘Migrant “Illegality” and Deportability in Everyday Life’, Annual Review of Anthropology 31 (2002): 419–447.

[9] Patricia McKeever and Karen-Lee Miller, ‘Mothering children who have disabilities: a Bourdieusian interpretation of maternal practices’, Social Science & Medicine 59, no. 6 (2004): 1187–1188; David Gray, ‘“Everybody Just Freezes.  Everybody is Just Embarrassed”:  Felt  and  Enacted  Stigma  Among  Parents  of  Children  with High  Functioning  Autism’, Sociology of Health and Illness 24, no. 6 (2002), 741.

[10] Anca Gheaus, ‘Personal Relationship Goods’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, September 2018. Available at: (accessed: 8 September 2022) For the concept of ‘familial relationship goods’, see Harry Brighouse and Adam Swift, Family Values: The Ethics of Parent-Child Relationships (Princeton, NJ 2014: Princeton University Press). I discuss the tension between risk mitigation and relationship goods in more detail in the context of parenting against threats of racial discrimination—see Alice Baderin, ‘‘The Talk’: Risk, Racism and Family Relationships’, Political Studies online first. Available at: (accessed 8 September 2022).

[11] Paloma Villegas, ‘“I can’t even buy a bed because I don’t know if I’ll have to leave tomorrow”: temporal orientations among Mexican precarious status migrants in Toronto’, Citizenship Studies 18, no. 3–4 (2014), 287.

[12] Seana Shiffrin, ‘Egalitarianism, Choice-Sensitivity, and Accommodation’, in R. JayWallace, Philip Pettit, Samuel Scheffler, and Michael Smith (eds.), Reason and Value: Themes from the Work of Joseph Raz (Oxford 2004: Oxford University Press), 289.

[13] Anuj K. Shah, Jiaying Zhao, Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, ‘Money in the Mental Lives of the Poor’, Social Cognition 36, no. 1 (2018), 4.


Alice Baderin is a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Reading. Her research explores the moral significance of our anticipatory responses to risk: the characteristic steps that vulnerable people take to ward off threats of future injustice or hardship.