The Social Model of Disability Fails – Dissertation pt. 6

The social model of disability, while useful, liberating,  and accurate in many respects, it ultimately fails. The following are my concluding remarks.

Here are the 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)

What is Left for the Social Model of Disability? (part 5)


In this essay, I have paid special attention to the emotional experience of an impairment, its relationship to disability and the social model of disability.

First, I explained the social model and the important ideas it introduces to understanding disability. Key to it is the three dichotomies it creates between impairment and disability, the disabled and non-disabled, and the medical model and the social model of disability.

Second, I discussed the model of emotions offered my Martha Nussbaum which claimed that emotions have an object, they are intentional and form beliefs about the object. This leads to the conclusion that rational emotions have some intelligence about them.

From this, I moved onto discussing anger specifically and engaged with Amia Srinivasan’s discussion of when anger is genuine. Her concerns were largely political but I attempted to expand her definition to non-moral violations. In other words, I asked and answered whether you can rightfully be angry at an impairment without being angry at another person. The following section argued that it appropriate when the impairment is harmful, and sets back your interests unfairly by significantly limiting your life projects. This can be seen as disabling. Due to this, we have an intermediate conclusion that because you can be angry at a disabling impairment. The social model of disability does not accept that impairments are disabling so the social model goes askew.

There was possible resistance to my argument by saying it does not matter whether you can but you should not be angry. This follows a long list of people rejecting the usefulness or value of angry but the charge remained unsuccessful for two reasons. Anger can be very useful via its epistemic productivity and asking whether you should be angry can miss the point because emotions do not need to be justified in terms of whether they are productive. They can simply be appropriate. As a result of this discussion, I found that the social model rejects other emotions such as sadness because they can be directed towards the impairment.

Recognising the place anger and sadness have in a person’s understanding of impairment is not a flaw or a one-trip ticket to making people feel worse. To ignore it is to prevent people from ‘dealing with the difficult aspects of impairment’ and limit personal understanding of how impairments such as ‘depression, fatigue, chronic pain prevent us from realising our full potential’ (Crow, 1996). The experience of impairment is often dynamic and invites a range of difficult emotions and the social model of disability cannot appreciate this. For this reason, I argue we should move on from it.


And that’s it. It took a lot of thinking, reading and personal revelations to finish but I’ve learned a lot.

I’ve learned that I care much more about disability than I ever thought I would.

I’ve learned that there’s a lot of good literature out there on disability (even if much of it is skewed towards the social model).

I’ve learned that thinking about things for a long time is difficult and frustrating but very satisfying when it works out in the end.

Libraries fill up too quickly. People actually sleep in the library which is kinda mad because why would you do that

Books on disability are ironically placed on the top shelves in some libraries.

I have a lot to learn yet.

I hope you enjoyed it.


I won’t post the whole reference list (unless someone asks, I had like 0.3 books on it anyway) but here are some of the most important pieces I used:

  • Lorde, Audre. 1984. The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism, Women and Language, 11.1, December 1987
  • Nussbaum, Martha, Upheaval of Thought, Cambridge University Press, 2001
  • Seneca, Lucius Annasus., On Anger, in ‘Moral Essays vol.1’, Trans. John W. Basore, The Loeb Classical Library, London: W. Heinemann, 1928
  • Shakespeare, Tom., Disability Rights and Wrongs, Routledge, 2006
  • Srinivasan, Amia., The Aptness of Anger, 2015 [Available here:]

Ok, I’ll stop talking now. Bye. Back to regular content.



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