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Disability and the Challenge to Medicine

Lecturer: Claire Shaw

In the 1970s, disability activists in Britain and the United States began to push for a new way of thinking about disability. Instead of seeing a disabled person as an imperfect body to be cured by medical intervention (the medical model), they instead sought to locate disablement in the social obstacles that made it impossible for disabled people to lead fulfilling lives, and advocated for a new vision of society capable of adapting to human variation (the social model). This lecture will consider the context of this shift – particularly the influence of the civil rights movement – and its impact on disabled communities and the medical profession. It will also explore the legacies of the social model, and ask whether it is still relevant in the era of advanced medical technologies and identity politics.

Discussion/Essay Questions:

1. Should disability be considered a medical or a social phenomenon? What are the historical implications of these definitions?
2. How did the civil rights movement shape the development of disabled identity, in the United States and elsewhere?
3. What might the development of advanced medical technologies mean for understandings of disability?

Required Reading:

Video: Judith Heumann, ‘TedxMidAtlantic: Our fight for disability rights and why we're not done yet’:
Paul K. Longmore and Lauri Umansky, ‘Introduction: Disability History: From the Margins to the Mainstream’, in Longmore, Paul K., and Lauri Umansky, eds., The New Disability History: American Perspectives (New York: NYU Press, 2001), 1-29.
Tom Shakespeare, The Social Model of Disability, in Lennard J. Davis (ed.), The Disability Studies Reader (New York: Routledge, 2013), 214-221.

Further Reading:

Colin Barnes, Geof Mercer, and Tom Shakespeare, Exploring Disability: A Sociological Introduction (Wiley, 1999)
Mairian Corker, and Tom Shakespeare, Disability/Postmodernity: Embodying Disability Theory (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2002)
Roy Hanes, Ivan Brown, and Nancy E. Hansen, eds., The Routledge History of Disability, 1 edition (Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY: Routledge, 2017)
Paul K. Longmore, and Lauri Umansky, eds., The New Disability History: American Perspectives (New York: NYU Press, 2001)
David T. Mitchell, and Sharon L. Snyder, The Body and Physical Difference: Discourses of Disability (University of Michigan Press, 1997)
Kim E. Nielsen, A Disability History of the United States (Beacon Press, 2012)
Tom Shakespeare, Disability Rights and Wrongs (Routledge, 2006)
Sharon L. Snyder, and David T. Mitchell, Cultural Locations of Disability (University of Chicago Press, 2010)
David M. Turner, and Kevin Stagg, Social Histories of Disability and Deformity: Bodies, Images and Experiences (Routledge, 2006)