Sunday, 15 February 2015

Private Tragedy in Social Context


(My own Sickness and the Social Model series will be back next time)

by Patricia de Wolfe @pjdewolfe

This is a slightly amended version of an article I published in the academic journal Disability & Society in 2002 (vol.17. no.3).  It concerns the divide between disability and illness and argues for a disability movement willing to include people who traditionally define themselves, and are defined, as 'sick', as well as those more usually defined and self-defined as 'disabled’.  It contends that in the absence of an inclusive movement, chronically sick people will remain stigmatised, with their strengths unrecognised and social measures to improve their lives unformulated.

I would have hoped that after all these years the article would have become outdated because the argument would have been won.  I have recently discovered, through the blogs of activists like Kaliya Franklin and Catherine Hale, that the debate is raging as fiercely as ever. Much of it seems to centre on the practicality of integrating everybody into paid employment – and hence, supposedly, into society – with some 'sick' people insisting that their symptoms are such that no amount of sympathetic accommodation by employers would enable them to work.  It is because of the persistence of the debate that I am reissuing the article now. 

I am new to Twitter:  @pjdewolfe and would very much welcome comments on through this blog.

Private Tragedy in Social Context? Reflections on Disability, Illness and Suffering

Patricia de Wolfe


The disability rights movement has placed in the public domain a perspective according to which disability is construed as an effect of social organisation, and has evolved a language which enables disabled people to formulate claims which may be made on social institutions and on individuals.  Despite limited progress in implementing the demands of the disability movement, the elimination of disability as disadvantage has been constituted as both a possibility and a social responsibility.  However, as some disability theorists have themselves argued, a divide remains between disability and illness, with social responsibility for the latter construed mainly in terms of provision of individual health care and personal support. Read the rest of the article here

1 comment:

  1. Hi Patricia.
    I really enjoyed your article and particularly liked your section on the way renumerated work is the primary way people are given value in our society, which will always in itself discriminate those of us who cannot do so.

    The current debate has really come back due to the welfare reforms, which are endangering the only possible source of income some people with chronic illness have. Those who had been pushing the idea that all disabled people could work if society removed barriers are not happy to hear other disabled people saying rather loudly that there exist people who cannot possibly work regardless of what anyone does, and this has caused rather a lot of friction!

    I do nonetheless think there is the possibility of union. But discussion is difficult when people's lives are being turned upside down by government policies.