Disability Term Paper By Jose A. Rosario Student # 700316 Central Texas College For Partial Fulfillment of the Requirement for SOCI 1301 Introduction to Sociology Submitted to Dr. Duffy December 7, 2010 INTRO TO SOCIOLOGY 2 INTRODUCTION This paper demonstrates that hitherto sociological analyses of disability have been theoretically and methodologically inadequate.
It is written that sociology, in common with the other major contemporary disciplines, has accepted almost without question the legitimacy of the individualistic biomedical approach to disability. It is argued that this partial and essentially ‘non-disabled’ reading of the phenomenon has succeeded in precluding a meaningful evaluation of the economic, political and cultural forces which created and continue to create disability in modern society. Thus the discipline as a whole has contributed significantly to the continued marginalization of the disabled population.
Moreover, by focusing on the development of the international disabled people’s movement and the work of disabled writers it is suggested that disability is an issue as central to mainstream sociological discourse and analysis as class, gender, race and sexuality. INTRO TO SOCIOLOGY 3 DISABILITY Recently, a number of sociologists working in a general area of medical sociology and chronic illness have expressed concern over the growing importance of the ‘social oppression theory’ of disability, associated research methodologies, and their implications for doing research in the ‘chronic illness and disability fields’ (Bury, 1992).
Whilst these writers, who call themselves scientists, feel the need to ‘positively debate’ these developments the basis of their concern is similar to that expressed by Hammersley with respect to some aspects of feminist research, i. e. the tendency to ‘privilege experience over sociological research methodology’ (Hammersley, 1992). In short, it is perceived as a threat, firstly, to ‘non-disabled’ researchers doing disability research, secondly, to the traditional role of the sociologist giving ‘voice to the voiceless’ -in this case ‘older’ disabled people whose interests are said to be poorly served by ‘social oppression theory’.
Thirdly, to the ‘independence’ of sociological activities within the ‘medical sociology world’ It can be argued that in the general area of disability research ‘experience’ should take precedence over ‘sociological’ research methodologies, simply because hitherto ‘non-disabled’ researchers have consistently failed to address the question of disability as perceived by disabled people whether young or old.
It will also be proposed that within the context of medical sociology, sociological ‘independence’ has been conspicuous by its absence due to medical sociologists almost slavish adherence to the traditional individualistic medical view of disability or ‘personal tragedy theory’ (Oliver, 1986; 1990). Finally, it will be shown that disability can no longer be considered solely as a medical problem affecting only a minority of the population but must be perceived as a civil rights issue as central to mainstream sociological discourse and analysis as class, gender, race and sexuality.
INTRO TO SOCIOLOGY 4 Disability as Social Deviance The rollercoaster existence of disability can be understood with reference to the freedom from social obligations and responsibilities explicit in the sick role construct and subsequent derivatives, and in the negative view of impairment prevalent in industrial and postindustrial societies. Because such societies are founded upon liberal ideals of individual responsibility, competition and paid employment, any positive association with impairment, such as freedom from social obligations and responsibilities, must be discouraged.
Especially as they may appear attractive to those already economically and socially disadvantaged by class, gender, race or sexual preference. The analysis of social reaction toward disadvantaged minority groups such as people with impairments was central for sociologists working within the traditions of symbolic interactionism during the 1960s. With their emphasis upon meaning, identity, and the process of labeling explored the relationship between disablement and socially proscribed behavior.
Initially, sociologists working within this perspective were interested in crime and drug addiction but after substantial ethnographic research turned their attention toward the mechanisms of deviance creation and the labeling process (Becker, 1963). Lemert (1962) made the distinction between ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ deviance; the former having only marginal implications for the individual concerned and the latter relating to the ascription by others of a socially devalued status and identity.
Secondary deviance becomes a central facet of existence for those so labeled, ‘altering psychic structure’ producing specialized social roles for self-management. INTRO TO SOCIOLOGY 5 Impairment. Disability and Handicap Throughout this period other writers stuck to a more conventional approach. Haber and Smith (1971), for example, argued that we should focus rather on the elaboration of behavioral alternatives within existing role relationships rather than the proliferation of ‘specialized role repertoires’.
In this way the behavior of disabled people is effectively ‘normalized’ as adaptation. But normalization for most sociologists has meant that disability can be subsumed within the category ‘chronic illness’ and, with few exceptions, this is where it has remained for the last twenty five years. Research by Jeffreys and others in the first national study of chronic illness and disability in Britain produced functional assessments of impairment based on the tripod distinction between impairment, disability and handicap (Buckle, 1971; Harris, 1971).
Subsequent work within the international context by Wood and Badley (1978) and Wood (1981) resulted in the adoption of this typology by the World Health Organization (WHO); it has dominated sociological analyses and social policy research ever since. Changing Perceptions of Disability. Within the context of these developments disabled writers, both in Britain and in America, began to challenge the orthodox wisdom and traditional individualistic, essentially medical approaches to disability and rehabilitation.
In Britain, in the early 1960s the disabled activist Paul Hunt put together twelve essays on the experience of disability emphasizing the social nature of the phenomenon entitled ‘Stigma; The Experience of Disability’ (1966). In America, Robert Scott (1970) questioned the logic of the creation of ‘social deviants’ in the interactions between rehabilitation professionals and people with impairments. His study of INTRO TO SOCIOLOGY 6 blindness workers’ describes how they make ‘blind men out of people who cannot see’ by the imposition of blindness related behavior and attitudes which conform to experts’ perceptions of blind people. For Scott this represents a form of enforced socialization in which the person with the impairment is coerced into accepting a dependent subordinate role, concomitant with a non-disabled view of disability. CONCLUSION In an attempt to demonstrate that sociological analyses of disability have been in some ways inadequate, we cannot displace the findings made before us.
The main reason for this is that sociology, within reasonable study, has accepted almost without question the legitimacy of the individualistic, biomedical approach to disability. In reality, it is demonstrated as a one-sided debate. Following the work of the early role theorists who never managed to move beyond the shadow of Parsons’ analysis of sickness related behavior – the field has been dominated by medical sociologists who have chosen to concentrate upon measurements of impairment and the experience of ‘chronic illness’ rather than the experience of disability as perceived by disabled people.
Until very recently, this partial and essentially ‘non-disability view’ reading of the phenomenon has succeeded in precluding a meaningful evaluation of the economic, political and cultural forces which are created and continue to create disability in modern society. Thus the discipline as a whole, has contributed significantly to the continued marginalization of the disabled population.
The outcome of which is that disability is no longer considered simply a medical problem effecting only a minority of the population but is increasingly perceived as one of the major socio-political phenomena of our time with implications for society as a whole. INTRO TO SOCIOLOGY 7 Clearly, it is an issue which is as central to mainstream sociological discourse and analysis as class, gender, race and sexuality. It is an indication of the discipline’s intellectual stagnation and methodological decay over the last fifteen or so years that sociologists have only just begun to realize this.