What Is Left For The Social Model of Disability? – Dissertation pt. 5

And we’re reaching the end – this and one more part to go.

So far, I have explained the different models of disability, laid a framework for how we can understand emotions then established that we can be angry at an impairment for being disabling.

I don’t believe the social model allows this and as a result, it is wrong. Now I ask, what else can be done to save the social model? Does this conclusion affect other emotions?

Previous parts:

The Two Models of Disability (part 1)

Martha Nussbaum on Emotions and Flourishing (part 2)

Here’s What It Means to be Angry (part 3)

Should I be so angry? (part 4)

Does the social model of disability exclude any other emotions?

The discussion on anger and the social model has some wider implications for when emotions are appropriate. It seems to lead to the conclusion that the social model rejects more emotions than anger. Again, how does the social model reject anger?

1) The conception of disability has an external direction. Only society disables people with impairments.
2) Therefore, impairments are not disabling.
3) One can be angry at an impairment because it is disabling.
4) If 2 is true, 3 cannot also be true.
5) You cannot be angry at an impairment because it is disabling.

As we can see, if the emotion is directed towards the impairment rather than society, then the social model must conclude that the emotion is misguided or misattributed. Can other emotions fit this model? I believe so. That is, if the emotion has an object which can be non-agent centred. I will briefly assess sadness to see whether the social model would be forced to reject it given my argument.

Sadness: a reasonably similar emotion to anger in the sense that it is often a reaction to an unpleasant object or event in the world. I might be sad that I did not get a good grade in an essay or angry, either at myself or the people marking it, and claim I should have received a good grade. This sadness has a particular object which can be triggered by not being able to have something you cared about (Callard, 2010). Can you be sad about an impairment independent of what society is doing to disable you? It seems very possible. For similar reasons for why a person who is going blind might be angry because they cannot see what they want to see, she could also be sad she wants to see and cannot. This is in contrast to wanting to continue with her everyday activities with relative ease despite being blind and society prevents that from happening due to its poor arrangement. In this case, the social model would also have to reject sadness as an appropriate reaction to impairments being disabling.

How can the social model of disability survive?

With what has been argued so far, it is difficult to see how the social model of disability can move forward. Especially since it is opposed to the idea that impairments are disabling. A modification which comes to mind is that rather that society being the only cause for disability, we can soften the definition and say society is the primary reason for disability. Therefore, we can still include bodily experience as a reason for disability. However, while appealing and I definitely view this as a better version of the social model, it still falls short. This is because it would not allow for the body and its impairments to be a primary factor in disability. In the process, it would continue to reject the emotional reaction towards impairment as justified because of it would not accept disabilities which have no societal cause.

Another route is to deny that it is a definition of disability and claim it is merely a ‘tool’ for ending discrimination. Doing this means all explanatory power is lost. Rather than answering the question of what it means for a person to have a disability or be disabled, it can only answer the question pertaining to whether disabled people suffer any oppressions. To which the answer is yes. However, because it does not aim to define disability it would be tenuous to claim that society can cause disability for people with impairments.

These suggestions, in conjunction with the detailed discussion above, lead us to the direction that the social model cannot survive the problems I have presented. For a model of disability to be successful, it needs to include the bodily experience of impairment as a route for understanding disability.


Does the social model of disability fail? Or is there another way to incorporate bodily experience into its definition? 

Thanks for reading!


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