Disability: Western Theories

Abstract

The theoretical underpinnings of conventional, individualistic medical conceptions of disability have in recent decades been challenged by various socio‐political approaches rooted in the collective experiences of disabled people and their organisations. Disability studies has developed both within and outside the academy primarily through an analysis of the structures and practices that marginalise disabled people in society. In recent decades theoretical approaches have become wider and among others these now encompass materialism, cultural studies, poststructuralism, feminism and phenomenology. Recent debates have centred on the body, the degree to which it should be a focus for social investigation and how it should be theorised. All of this has significant implications for proponents of genetic interventions as solutions to the problem of disability.

Key Concepts:

  • Individual, medical conceptions of disability have been challenged by socio‐political approaches.

  • Theoretical understandings of disablement have been given impetus by increasing evidence of social causes and implications.

  • Western theories of disability are characterised by increasing diversity of approaches, including materialist, cultural and poststructuralist.

  • Scientific understandings of disability have profound implications for life opportunities and situations of disabled people.

Keywords: disability; disablement; illness; impairment; oppression

References

Albrecht GL (1992) The Disability Business. London, UK: Sage Publications.

Albrecht GL (ed.) (2006) Encyclopedia of Disability. London, UK: Sage Publications.

Barnes C, Oliver M and Barton L (eds) (2002) Disability Studies Today. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Corker M and Shakespeare T (eds) (2002) Disability/Postmodernism: Embodying Disability Theory. London, UK: Continuum.

Davis L (ed.) (2006) The Disability Studies Reader. London: Routledge.

Douglas M (1966) Purity and Danger. London, UK: Routledge/Kagan Paul.

Finkelstein V (1980) Attitudes and Disabled People. New York, NY: World Rehabilitation Fund.

Goffman E (1968) Stigma. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.

Ingstad B and Whyte SR (1995) Disability and Culture. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Hughes B (2005) What can a Foucauldian analysis contribute to disability theory? In: Tremain S (ed.) Foucault and the Government of Disability. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.

Hughes B and Paterson K (1997) The social model of disability and the disappearing body: towards a sociology of impairment. Disability and Society 12(3): 325–340.

Kerr A and Shakespeare T (2002) Genetic Politics: From Genetics to Genome. Cheltenham, UK: New Clarion Press.

Mitchell DT and Snyder SL (1998) The Body and Physical Difference. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.

Oliver M (1990) The Politics of Disablement. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan.

Parsons T (1951) The Social System. Glencoe: Free Press.

Scott RA (1969) The Making of Blind Men. London, UK: Sage Publications.

Shakespeare T (1997) Cultural representations of disabled people: dustbins for disavowal. In: Barton L and Oliver M (eds) Disability Studies: Past, Present and Future. Leeds, UK: The Disability Press.

Shakespeare T and Watson N (2001) The social model of disability: an outdated ideology? In: Barnartt SN and Altman BM (eds) Exploring Theories and Expanding Methodologies: Where We are and Where We Need to Go. Amsterdam: JAI/Elsevier Press.

Stone DA (1985) The Disabled State. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan.

Thomas C (1999) Female Forms: Experiencing and Understanding Disability. Milton Keynes, UK: Open University Press.

Thomas C (2007) Sociologies of Health and Illness: Contested Ideas in Disability Studies and Medical Sociology. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Thomson RG (1997) Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Tremain S (eds) (2005) Foucault and the Government of Disability. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.

World Health Organization (WHO) (2001) International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO.

Further Reading

Barnes C and Mercer G (2010) Exploring Disability: A Sociological Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Butler R and Parr H (1999) Mind and Body Spaces: Geographies of Illness, Impairment and Disability. London: Routledge.

Drake R (1999) Understanding Disability Policy. Tavistock: Macmillan.

Jones M and Basser Marks LA (eds) (1999) Disability Diverse – Ability and Legal Change. Netherlands: Kluwer Law International.

Marks D (1999) Disability: Controversial Debates and Psychosocial Perspectives. London: Routledge.

Oliver M (2009) Understanding Disability: From Theory to Practice, 2nd edn. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Pothier D and Devlin R (2006) Critical Disability Theory: Essays in Philosophy, Politics, Policy and Law. Vancouver, Canada: UBC Press.

Russell M (1998) Beyond Ramps: Disability at the End of the Social Contract, Monroe. Maine: Common Courage Press.

Stiker HJ (1998) A History of Disability. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Woodin, Sarah L(May 2012) Disability: Western Theories. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005213.pub2]