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Disability Studies A Nordic Perspective Disability Studies Conference Lancaster, July 2004 Rannveig Traustadóttir Faculty of Social Science University.

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Presentation on theme: "Disability Studies A Nordic Perspective Disability Studies Conference Lancaster, July 2004 Rannveig Traustadóttir Faculty of Social Science University."— Presentation transcript:

1 Disability Studies A Nordic Perspective Disability Studies Conference Lancaster, July 2004 Rannveig Traustadóttir Faculty of Social Science University of Iceland

2 Disability Studies A Nordic Perspective Overview The Nordic context Nordic Disability Studies/Disability Research Similarities and difference with UK Disability studies Is there a Nordic model of disability? Understanding disability Theoretical approaches The social model of disability from a Nordic perspective Disability studies as a field Future of Nordic - UK connections

3 The Nordic Context Five Nordic countries Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway & Sweden Three self-governing regions Åland Islands, Faeroe Islands & Greenland Lapland - Sami people in the North Crossing Norway, Sweden, Finland & North Russia

4 Nordic Situatedness and Politics of Location How do we handle our located situatedness? Empirical research located in own country lessons from others lessons for others Domination of UK and USA important contributions dominating and generalized Non–English/ Non–UK/USA must decide if we locate us or generalize problems of language and translations

5 Disability & Disability Studies in the Nordic Countries Historical and political context 1960s/70s Citizenship and equality – basic principles and values of the welfare state The principle of normalization was formulated in the Nordic countries Disabled peoples movement Independent living movement Welfare provisions and human rights should be extended to all, including disabled people

6 Disability & Disability Studies in the Nordic Countries? Historical and political context 1960s/70s Critique of institutions – unacceptable living conditions and human rights violations Critique of medical understanding of disability Society and the environment should be be changed so disabled people could participate Environmental turn - The focus shifted from the individual as the sole problem to include the social context Top down reforms

7 NNDR Nordic Network on Disability Research 1992 FUN, Forskning om utveklingshemming I Norden (Nordic Intellectual Disability Research) 1997 NNDR, Nordic Network on Disability Research 1999 SJDR, Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research

8 Nordic Disability Research From NNDR Statutes NNDR is a multidisciplinary network of disability researchers interested in cultural, societal and environmental dimensions of disability and marginalization. The purpose and intention of NNDR is to promote and advance research and development in the field of disability.

9 Nordic Disability Research cont… From NNDR Statutes cont… NNDR provides a forum for disability researchers, particularly from the Nordic countries, to meet, present, and discuss their research, as well as encouraging Nordic and international exchange and collaboration.

10 UK Disability Studies From Lancaster 2004 conference Disability Studies is concerned with the inter-disciplinary development of an increasing body of knowledge and practice, which has arisen from the activities of the disabled peoples movement, and which has come to be known as the social model of disability.

11 UK Disability Studies cont… From Lancaster conference cont. The social model of disability locates the changing character of disability, which is viewed as an important dimension of inequality, in the social and economic structure and culture of the society in which it is found, rather than in individual limitations.

12 Two Major Differences UK focus: Disability Studies The social model of disability Nordic focus: Disability Research No one single theory or model of disability

13 Is there a Nordic Model of Disability? No one single way or approach but a family of ideas The Nordic relational model/approach Three main characteristics Disability is a person-environment mismatch (relationship/relational) Disability is situational or contextual Disability is relative (Tøssebro 2002, 2004)

14 Understanding of Disability in the Nordic Countries Issues of Language Disability is an umbrella term for groups of people with different impairments No unity within the Nordic countries about language use The distinction between disability and impairment does not translate well into Nordic languages Disabled people or People with disabilities The term disability studies is also difficult to translate into some Nordic languages

15 Nordic Disability Studies Many disability scholars Many disability focused courses Single courses as part of other programs (social work, education, …) Few disability studies programs - but are being developed – mostly MA programs Doctoral students in many fields focus their work on disability Not a clear definition of disability studies DS and traditional disability focused programs (rehab., special ed., …)

16 Theoretical Development in Nordic Disability Research Most Nordic Disability research has been practical empirical policy oriented research Main characteristics (Gustavsson 2004) Non-theoretical approaches The reformers perspective (does-it-work approach) Personal experiences (Experience-near perspectives)

17 Theoretical Development in Nordic Disability Research Three main theoretical perspectives Essentialist perspectives Individual essentialism – the clinical model Contextual essentialism – the social model Constructionist perspectives Linguistic constructionism Cultural constructionism Relative interactionist perspective The most Nordic – originates in 1960s/70s as an alternative to the more individual, essential definitions of disability

18 Theoretical Development in Nordic Disability Research Relative interactionist perspective Takes the relative definition of disability seriously Emphasizes a multi level approach and analysis Empirical sensitivity Different versions of the relative interactionist perspective can be identified

19 Approaches to Disability in the Nordic Countries Given the most common understanding of disability and the theoretical approaches in Nordic disability research there is a firm believe that no one theory, approach, method or model can bring all the answers instead we must employ multiple ways and approaches - and keep looking for new ones the complexity of human existence calls for multiple and complex methods and approaches

20 UK Social Model of Disability and the Nordic Countries UK social model has received much attention among Nordic scholars, disabled people and professionals The social model is in line with dominant understanding of disability in the Nordic countries Has worked to re-vitalize and radicalize discussions and debates Liberating for disabled people Has directed Nordic attention to UK Disability Studies

21 UK Social Model of Disability and the Nordic Countries The disability – impairment debate is confusing and not easily understandable in the Nordic lands Which social model? Is there one social model? Linking DS to one model is difficult for Nordic scholars to relate to Has been criticized by Nordic scholars

22 UK and Nordic Disability Studies Similarities and Differences Social and environmental emphasis Commitment to disability rights political agenda - and activism Disabled researchers Links to disabled people and the disabled peoples movement Theoretical perspectives Issues of accessibility Two major contributions Nordic: Normalization UK: Social model of disability International influence

23 Disability Studies Belongs to a group of new multidisciplinary fields, e.g. Feminist/womens/gender studies Lesbian and gay/queer studies Ethnic minority studies

24 Disability Studies and Other Multidisciplinary Fields of Study Similarities Roots in social movements aimed to end oppression and marginalization Scholarship and activism Opposition to hegemonic normalcy Critique of dominant theories Challenging key concepts Development of new methodologies The biological and the social Essentialism and constructivism And much more …

25 Disability Studies and Other Multidisciplinary Fields of Study Differences At least one significant difference between DS and the other fields: Society has put in place service industry to deal with disabled people and devotes much resources to it Other differences How big is the group in question The individuals relationship to the group Historical, social and cultural context And more…

26 Disability Studies and Other Multidisciplinary Fields of Study What can DS learn from the other fields? How did they start and develop? Why are some flourishing and others experiencing backlash? Historical and cultural contexts Place in the academy (disciplinary affiliation, independent programs or integrated courses) Fragmentation of the fields Survival strategies

27 Nordic – UK Future Collaboration NNDR has made conscious efforts to connect with UK disability scholars Exciting ideas, debates, sophisticated theorizing, innovative methods, etc. Geographical neighbors Many similarities, social, cultural, political, etc. From a Nordic perspective these connections have been wonderful; challenging, expanding, fruitful and inspiring on a scholarly level - and very rewarding on a personal level

28 Nordic - UK Future Collaboration NNDR efforts Working language of NNDR is English NNDR conferences are in English SJDR is an English language journal English language series on Nordic disability research is being published We invite, encourage, welcome and respect multiple and various perspectives

29 Nordic - UK Future Collaboration and Contacts Next NNDR conference Oslo, Norway April 14 – 16, or We welcome people from the UK and other countries

30 References Gustavsson, A. (2004). The role of theory in disability research: Springboard or strait-jacket? Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, Special Issue: Understanding Disability. 6(1), Tøssebro, J. (2002). Leaving the individual out: Practical and logical problems. Paper presented at a Plenary Symposium Understanding disability: The UK Social Model and the Nordic Relational Approach at the 6th NNDR Conference, Disability Research, Theory and Practice, 22 – 24 August, Reykjavík, Iceland. Tøssebro, J. (2004). Understanding disability: Introduction to the special issues of SJDR. Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, Special Issue: Understanding Disability. 6(1), 3 – 7.


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