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How well has the position of people with learning difficulties been theorised in Disability Studies?

Stalker, Kirsten (2012) How well has the position of people with learning difficulties been theorised in Disability Studies? In: Disability Studies International Network Conference, 2012-09-11 - 2012-09-13. (Unpublished)

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The aim of this paper is to assess how far, in what ways and how effectively the position of people with learning disabilities has been theorised within Disability Studies. In some respects, the ‘strong’ social model appears to fit well, for example in relation to its materialist analysis of the social and economic exclusion of disabled people and the impact of external social and communication barriers. In other respects, the social model fits less well. There is, then, a need for further theorisation but more energy has been spent debating who is eligible to theorise about learning disability rather than doing it. It has been suggested that emancipatory research, Disability Studies’ preferred approach, is less easy for people with learning disabilities, and some pioneers of inclusive research have avoided developing theory because they believed that to do so would exclude colleagues with learning disabilities. Different theorists have argued that learning disability is a social construct although difference does exist; that learning disability is totally socially and discursively created and that no differences exist between those with and without this label; and that the idea that impairments are simply matters of representation and discourse which can be eliminated through a process of re- or deconstruction is untenable Rather than adopt a dualistic approach which sees biological reductionism as the only alternative to social construction, perhaps the way forward lies in a more complex and nuanced position which takes account of both the real and the social. This might be achieved by adopting critical realism as the ‘grand theory’ of DS with a sociology of impairment (Thomas 2007) as a mid– range or substantive theory.