Rebooting humanity through disability, Dan Goodley (University of Sheffield)

This blog article draws upon some recent research and writing with my colleagues Rebecca Lawthom and Katherine Runswick Cole (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Kirsty Liddiard (University of Sheffield, like myself) (1). Our work centres around a key question; what does it mean to be human in the 21st Century and in what ways does disability enhance these meanings? In posing this question we are drawn to two realisations. First, we recognise that the human being is what we might term an entangled expansive entity (bound up in tight connections of nature, technology, culture). When we think of our friends we now might point to our social media networks and when we consider the human body we are certain to note that we are plugged in to a whole host of relationships with the internet, computers and machines. While it is important to recognise the ever-morphing practices that impinge upon humanity we wonder if disability might shed further light on these entangled and expansive shifts and changes. Historically disabled people have been considered to be less than human by their fellow (non-disabled) humans. Just as people of colour and queer people have been marginalised, so disabled people have been institutionalised, segregated and on many occasions threatened with eugenics and medical interventions that seek to wipe them out. Fortunately, the disabled people’s movement that now enjoys global presence – reaching out across rich and poor nations – demands us not only to include disabled people as members of the human race but, and this is what we find particularly exciting, asks us to think again about what it means to be a full, paid up member of humanity.

The second realisation is that we are living in a time when the human being is under threat. We know that the gap between the rich and the poor is wider now than it has ever been. In June 2014, The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the number of people displaced by bloody conflict and persecution had exceeded 50 million for the first time since the post-World War II era. Meanwhile, as more and more governments execute austerity politics, many human beings find themselves at risk. Yet, the dominant message from politicians is that in order to survive humans need to start taking responsibilities for their own lives. It is not the State that will support you but your hard work, yourentrepreneurial verve and your self-sufficiency. We know though that the reality for many of us – indeed, all of us – is that we cannot live alone. The mythical notion that being a valued human being equates with displaying great individual displays of autonomy and independence needs to be exposed in these dangerous times of global conflict, welfare cuts, precarious labour conditions and the fragmentation of our communities. And this is where disability can help us refresh the values that we attach to humanity.

Disabled activists, artists and researchers have long argued for a rethinking of those qualities that make us all human beings. People with impairments – whether they be sensory, physical or cognitive – have always demand imaginative ways of being human. Wheelchair users fuse human bodies with machinery in order to move. Disabled people have always been cyborgs. People with intellectual disabilities have helped to promote extended support networks, spanning communities, bringing individual human beings into more collective human gatherings. Disabled activists have pushed governments to embrace anti-disciminatory legislation that forces employers to (at the very least) acknowledge employing disabled people. And when employment for disabled people works it does so not only because the skills of disabled people have been allowed to shine but because forms of human support have been put in place to make workplaces inclusive, enabling and accessible. We might hope, then, that the 21st Century becomes a DisHuman century: a time when disability is adopted as the category for thinking again about what it means to be human. Hopefully, the humanity valued in this period of history will be one that emphasises mutual support, interdependence and an enabling blending of bodies, technology and culture.

Dan Goodley, School of Education, University of Sheffield


Goodley, D. Runswick-Cole, K. and Liddiard, K. (under review) The DisHuman Child Discourse special issue ‘Fabulous Monsters: alternative discourses of childhood in education

Goodley, D., Lawthom, R. and Runswick-Cole, K. (2014) Posthuman disability studies, Subjectivity. Subjectivity 7, 342-361,doi:10.1057/sub.2014.15

Goodley, D. and Runswick-Cole, K. (2014) Becoming dis/human: Thinking about the human through disability, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, DOI: 1080/01596306.2014.930021

4 thoughts on “Blog

  1. I read Chapter 5 of “Disability Studies” (2nd ed) by Dan Goodley. Much was new to me despite having a BA in Psychology and another BA in Political Science and a longstanding chronic disability. The seven aspects of “psychologizing” (seven plus or minus two) still seem hard to keep in mind at one time. Or to contain cognitively. Can I even name one so shortly after reading the chapter? And I reviewed the list too. Pseudo-science of sorts was one. Adjusting to impairment was another. Was that one called “normalizing”? Some kind of rulership by professionals was another. I am not sure whether avoidance of socio-political explanations for psychological ones was generic. I find it hard to focus on this concept of “psychologizing.” Is this another standard for normal and able? And a new Disability Studies specialist must socialize me into better understanding disability? Is avoidance of advocacy also an aspect of psychologizing? Checked list again. Much is political. Not caught in the selection of courses available with the usual Political Science undergraduate degree. I even took a Policy Design course and looked into mental health policy and a Theories of Human Rights course and looked into disability rights. Disability Studies falls through the cracks of both Psychology and Political Science. Even my much reading of other books including a text on Community Psychology missed the content domain of Disability Studies.


  2. I just read Chapter 8 from “Disability Studies” (2nd ed) by Dan Goodley et als. I first became aware of LB. I suspect his wrongful death has had far-reaching effects. Persons with disabilities, family and caregivers, and helpers have all been changing. Other stakeholders have changed too. I have had personal experience as a health mentor and have volunteered or worked as a person with lived experience, family member, or helper. Being a representative and a representative representative is complex and challenging in the disability studies field. In a reading group that I am with, we are reading “Together” by Richard Sennett. Disability is diverse. Top down seeks unity and grassroots bottom up seeks inclusiveness. Maybe heterarchy might allow both to happen at once; but, unity usually excludes and therefore, problem-solving and policy-making require common agreement and could reduce inclusiveness. If decisions are transparent, then some monitoring and constructive feedback may be possible. Must a community be divided into segments or the collection of publics served by public relations? I like the chapter, but the italic, bold, and hyphenated formatting ended up just being plain confusing. But a re-reading could be warranted in any case. There were several noticeable typos in the e-book too. I still haven’t properly processed the Manifesto. Not sure about the connections of human, humanity, humanitarian, and humanism. I can connect the dots given enough time. Hope to read “In Praise of Folly” for the first time for a humanity upgrade. Much else to do…


  3. I read Chapter 9 from “Disability Studies” (2nd ed) by Dan Goodley then I read through all of the References at the end of the book. I downloaded a few items. I do some tutoring and sometimes teach ESL and have read “Emile” but am not a professional educator. Is there such a thing as authority and/or authorities in the field of education? People or documents I could defer to? How would I know? Is Education merely reproduction of population, workforce, or culture? Or is the product some kind of nebulous human beings? Who would be an authority on what makes us human? Are we really our own best experts on ourselves? Experts on humanity may be required to be humble but what sort of qualifications might they have? I worked for almost ten years as a peer support worker then after that worked a while as a peer family facilitator. I guess I offered myself as a bit of a role model: but are role models even appropriate for “humanization”? Is this a new form of socialization or rehabilitation? Can humanity be taught? Freire suggested teaching with people. I guess if one were to destroy an important document, it could be rewritten: Government with the people, with the people, and, with the people. Would it still be government?


  4. I finished Chapter 10 from “Disability Studies” (2nd ed) by Dan Goodley and so finished this book. The chapter helps clarify material presented earlier. There was one sentence (of all in the book) which I would edit or revise: “Through globalisation and the rapid expansion of the capitalist free market, all global citizens are more and more likely to come in contact with biopower.” Maybe it can read capitalist un/free market or capitalist dis/free market. I finished the chapter at around 6:30 PM Pacific Standard Time in a coffeeshop. As for being poor and wanting more, Book 3, Chapter 39 from The Imitation of Christ discusses a kind of self-control where we avoid making our desires larger than life: more money, more goods and services, more information, more friends, etc.; and where we avoid making our desires smaller than life: less cost, less pain, less folly, less confusion, etc. Kierkegaard suggests that we might not be who we are and not be who we’re not — difficult at the best of times. Robert Selman’s levels of perspective taking suggest that even perceiving others’ points of views partakes of an ableist paradigm. Aristotle in his Nichomachean Ethics suggests a double standard for self-control among rich and poor: for poor people frugality or thriftiness and for rich people magnanimity. As for cyborgs: even a sheet of paper is evidence of what philosophers call extended mind or brain theory. Thanks for the book: it has extended my mind or brain; and, even for the reader it can be a recursive project which may be revisited with changes and growth.


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