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About this book

Disability luminary Mike Oliver is joined by Colin Barnes in this agenda-setting response to a capitalist society faced with globalisation, financial instability and lower public expenditure. A timely new edition which reignites the debate on the nature of disability and reasserts the political power of the academic field of disability studies.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Introduction

Abstract
When the first edition of this book was being prepared the capitalist world was emerging from one of its periodic economic crises which had given rise, in the United Kingdom at least, to a couple of major political confrontations resulting in the police being used to crush the legitimate protests of a group of workers and rioting on the streets of many of our major cities over the poll tax. Other groups too, including disabled people, were protesting over a whole variety of legitimate issues, and despite the rhetoric of cuts in public expenditure, considerable concessions were being wrung from capitalist societies all over the world.
Michael Oliver, Colin Barnes

Concepts and Origins

Frontmatter

1. The Importance of Definitions in the Disability Debate

Abstract
In this opening chapter we suggest that despite the surge of interest in ‘disability’ in political and academic circles since the publication of the first edition of this book in 1990, the dominant meanings attached to ‘disability’ in most western industrial and post-industrial societies remain firmly rooted in personal tragedy theory. Although there has been a radical reappraisal of the meaning of disability by disabled activists and some academics across much of the developed world since the 1960s, disability is still widely regarded as primarily a health issue by politicians, practitioners and the general public. This is routinely reaffirmed by the activities of policy makers, professionals and mainstream scholars and researchers who in one way or another explain disability in terms of medical diagnoses of individual pathology, associated functional limitations and culturally determined deficits. These assertions are clearly reflected in official definitions of disability, such as the recent World Health Organization’s (WHO) ‘biophsyosocial’ model of disability (WHO, 2001a), its predecessor, the International Classification of Imparrments, Disabilities and Handicaps (ICIDH) (WHO, 1980) and subsequent academic debates that stress a ‘relational’ approach to understanding disability (Thomas,1999, 2007; Gustavsson, 2004; Shakespeare, 2006).
Michael Oliver, Colin Barnes

2. The Origins of Disability Studies

Abstract
In the previous chapter we attempted to show that much of the work on defining disability has been underpinned by what we have called personal tragedy theory. Official definitions as represented by the WHO’s International Classification of Functioning, Drsabillty and Health (ICF), among others, have failed to move beyond the individualization and medicalization of disabled people’s experiences even though they have begun to acknowledge that the environment plays a major part in the experience of impairment and disablement. We also suggested that this acknowledgement is largely due to the challenge of the disabled people’s movement through its formulation of the social model of disability.
Michael Oliver, Colin Barnes

3. The Rise of Disabling Capitalism

Abstract
The previous chapters have suggested that the definitions, social responses to and experiences of disablement vary from society to society and depend on a whole range of material and social factors. However, as argued in the previous edition of this book, it is an inescapable fact that within modern, capitalist societies, disability is produced as an individual problem, underpinned by personal tragedy theory and shaped by the process of medicalization. While this thesis has been subjected to criticism on the grounds of historical accuracy and an overemphasis on the economic to the neglect of the cultural and personal aspects, no-one has seriously disputed the argument that changes to the ‘mode of production’, the organization of the economy, have played a crucial role in this process.
Michael Oliver, Colin Barnes

Representations and Discourses

Frontmatter

4. Ideology and the Disabled Individual

Abstract
Since the introduction of ‘liberal democratic’ forms of government and the modern welfare state, the role of ideology in formulating economic and social affairs has become a hotly contested issue amongst theorists, politicians and policy makers. Therefore no attempt to develop a social theory of disablement can ignore the role of ideology, for there is a clear relationship between prevalent social structures, dominant ideologies and policies and practices for those considered ‘disabled’ (Oliver, 1990; Oliver & Barnes, 1998). But part of the problem for social theorists is that there is no generally agreed definition of ideology. This is largely because its influence is not always clear as it passes from theorist to politician to policy maker and practitioner and, finally, to disabled individuals.
Michael Oliver, Colin Barnes

5. Constructing Disabled Identities

Abstract
In previous chapters we argued that the impact of the unprecedented structural changes to the organization of work and the newly emergent ideology of individualism that accompanied industrial capitalism in the nineteenth century was primarily responsible for the social creation of ‘disability’ as an individual medical and social problem. This creation has remained dominant throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries despite some challenges by disabled people and their organizations, and remains with us today in both wealthy and poor societies.
Michael Oliver, Colin Barnes

6. Creating the Disability Problem

Abstract
So far we have suggested that the ideological construction of the concept of disability has been determined by the core ideology of capitalism — individualism — and peripheral ideologies associated with medicalization. Underpinned by personal tragedy theory, these ideas have generated and perpetuated a particular view of the ‘disabled’ individual. But this is only part of the story, as the category ‘disability’ has also been presented as a particular kind of social problem. Hence
We contend that disability definitions are not rationally determined but socially constructed. Despite the objective reality, what becomes a disability is determined by the social meanings individuals attach to particular physical and mental impairments. Certain disabilities become defined as social problems through the successful efforts of powerful groups to market their own self interests. Consequently the so-called ‘objective’ criteria of disability reflects the biases, self-interests, and moral evaluations of those in a position to influence policy. (Albrecht and Levy, 1981, p.14)
In this chapter we turn our attention to the ways in which economic, political and social forces are mediated through social policy and so create dependency and the disablement of people with impairments. We will deal with what we call social constructionist and social creationist accounts of disablement and argue that it is the latter which provides the most convincing and useful arguments.
Michael Oliver, Colin Barnes

Agendas and Actions

Frontmatter

7. Dealing with the Disabling Society

Abstract
Whilst there have been some significant improvements in the quality of life for some disabled people in some parts of the world, exclusion, poverty and dependence are everyday experiences for the overwhelming majority of people with impairments in rich and poor countries alike (WHO, 2001, 2011; Sheldon, 2005, 2010; Barron & Ncube, 2010). Consequently in this and the following chapter we aim to provide a broad-based discussion and analysis of the recent changes in the general areas of disability politics and policy with particular emphasis on developments since the early 1990s.
Michael Oliver, Colin Barnes

8. Resisting the Disabling Society

Abstract
We hope that it is clear from the general tone of this new edition that the optimism we felt when producing the first edition of this book has waned somewhat. However this is not meant to imply that disabled people must inevitably accept the disabling practices of global capitalism and relinquish the possibilities of hope or the potential of resistance. We agree with a recent comment made by Harvey that:
To say that the capitalist class and capitalism can survive is not to say that they are predestined to do so, nor that their future character is given. Crises are moments of paradox and possibility out of which all manner of alternatives, including socialist and anti-capitalist ones, can spring. (Harvey, 2010, p. 216)
Historically it has usually been assumed that the working class and organized labour will one day fulfil its historical mission to transform the economic and social relations of capitalism. However the apparent disappearance of the working class and the emasculation of trade unions in recent times have rendered this task increasingly unlikely. That does not mean that resistance is no longer possible but that the rise of ‘movements of dispossession’ offer different possibilities:
The general effect of such movements has been to shift the terrain of political organisation away from traditional political parties and labour organising in factories into what was bound to be in aggregate a less focused political dynamic of social action across the whole spectrum of civil society (Harvey, 2010, p.252)
Michael Oliver, Colin Barnes

9. Doing Disability Studies

Abstract
We began by describing our own personal and professional backgrounds which have obviously influenced our writing in general, and this book in particular. When we began our careers as sociologists, we were introduced to the dominant tradition of ‘scientific objectivity’ which stressed the need to distance ourselves from our own personal experiences in our professional work. We wore this cloak of objectivity during our initial studies but soon experienced ‘cognitive dissonance’ in pursuing our own areas of interest. Influenced by both the interactionist sociologies of the 1960s, Marxism and feminism and the writings of some disabled individuals, we soon came to realize that scientific objectivity was a very partial way of viewing the world which distorted our personal experiences of impairment and denied the politics of our material circumstances.
Michael Oliver, Colin Barnes
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