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DISABILITY-RESEARCH  September 2000

DISABILITY-RESEARCH September 2000

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Subject:

Re: What is Simi's name had been Sammy?

From:

Richard Light <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Sat, 02 Sep 2000 00:48:39 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (150 lines)

To all, but particularly Susan and Michael,

For me, your messages raise some interesting paradoxes.  Before seeking to 
mention those paradoxes, there are a couple of points I would like to make 
clear:

1) my first response to Ann, which was in a far less critical tone, was 
posted off-list, precisely because I did not want to publicly attack 
her.  Ann's original posting to the list, and response to me (also posted 
to the list) are now a matter of public record, whereas my initial response 
is not.

2) It appears uncontested that Ann offered no evidence for the implicit 
allegations contained in the text of her first posting:

  '[Colin's] response [to Simi's paper] carries more vehemence than is 
warranted...'

'In analyzing Barnes' response, it seemed to resemble - although it 
couldn't happen in this day and age - a classic reaction of a traditional 
white male threatened by the intellect of the opposite sex...'

'Is it possible that fresh ideas and ideas built upon the structural 
foundations of earlier and respected scholars are being summarily dismissed 
by the very same, not based upon their lack of merit, but based upon a 
reluctance to admit the "New Generation" - including women - into the old 
boy's network? Or is it also a reluctance to replace their own constructs 
with something better?'

There are, quite clearly, a number of presumptions/allegations evident:

a) that Colin reacted in a 'vehement' way, possibly on the basis of a 
sexist dislike for intellectual women
b) that Colin, and other 'respected scholars' may be part of an 'old boy's 
network' that dismisses 'fresh ideas' - particularly those emanating from women
c) that Colin, and other 'respected scholars' may be reluctant to see their 
'constructs' superceded by later offerings that Ann describes, without 
evidence proffered, as 'better'.
d) that the editorial board of 'Disability and Society', a board that has 
edited a journal in such a way that it has built an enviable reputation, is 
prepared to allow 'vehement' and sexist material that attacks another 
scholar to be published.

I would characterise the seriousness and breadth of these unsubstantiated 
claims/insinuations as of the scatter-gun approach - never mind accuracy, 
sheer weight of numbers will do.

I tried to reassure Ann, in my off-list message, that I was sure that 
Colin's paper was not influenced by sexist attitudes.  I based this on my 
own dealings with Colin and left it that.  I can now say that I know, and 
have done since before Colin's paper was published, what caused his robust 
response to Simi's work, and that it had absolutely NOTHING to do with 
sexism or, indeed, the other motives proposed by Ann and summarised above.

That I should want to correct subjective generalisations that became even 
more harmful (from a sexist in Ann's message, to sexist AND a racist in 
Majid's) in a subsequent message, and which I knew to be patently untrue is 
surely neither surprising nor inappropriate?  If Susan and Michael see 
nothing wrong in the allegations summarised above, then I have significant 
and genuine concerns for the integrity of disability studies.

 From my point of view, things then get worse still, I am now subjected to 
public invective because I have dared to highlight the distinct lack of 
supporting evidence for Ann's sweeping and potentially damaging claims.

It is true that my final response to Ann is uncompromising, but in the 
circumstances described above, I felt (and still do) that this was 
appropriate.  Were Ann to make unsupported generalisations like these in 
any other academic forum, she would risk justifiable censure - is it ever 
too early to understand that?

It will be noted that at no time have I made reference to my own views on 
Colin's work, but it is assumed by both Susan and Michael that I am 
offering a 'knee-jerk' defence of 'accepted wisdom' or outdated theories.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I was asking people that I view as professionals (hence 'colleagues') to 
act in a professional way and to avoid making public allegations that were, 
to my certain knowledge, untrue.  I concede that the veracity of my 
assurance that Colin was not motivated by sexism can be doubted - I can do 
nothing about that, but invite you to consider what this says about the 
state of disability studies and our respect for colleagues working in the 
discipline.

I decline to comment upon Colin's academic writing here; it is entirely 
possible that he has advanced a thesis that I find inconclusive and, in the 
appropriate forum and with due regard for the conventions of academic 
writing (little things like evidence or at least a persuasive argument) I 
may well choose to critique his work and offer an alternative thesis.  Note 
that I will not simply criticise his efforts without offering an alternative.

So, to reiterate, despite not having the faintest idea of my motives 
(analogous of Ann's inaccurate allegations of Colin's motives that set this 
dialogue in motion) Susan and Michael, in different ways, use my messages 
as 'evidence' of a hurtful conspiracy to reject new ideas.

I find that paradoxical, maybe even ironic.

Making allegations, or even snide insinuations, that a colleague is 
motivated by attitudes that are now popularly viewed as objectionable is 
all too easy and, in the world in which we live, such allegations can take 
on a life of their own.  I believe, and will continue so to do, that making 
such claims in public, when no evidence is offered in support, offends 
academic and moral precepts.  Put simply - it is wrong.

My single greatest concern about controversies in disability studies is 
that they have the potential to impede the struggle for disabled people's 
human rights.  That is most certainly NOT to say that we shouldn't search 
for new and better explanations for disablement, but it is a plea to avoid 
systematically wrecking what has gone before, leaving a vacuum by failing 
to advance compelling and robust alternative explanations.

In my opinion, one of the lasting triumphs of feminist theory has been the 
examination of the 'construction of meaning' and, more specifically to 
academe, the prevalence and apparent sanctity of elite assumptions and 
ideology.  As we all know, there has also been criticism of feminist theory 
on the grounds that it is white, middle-class and able-bodied.  All any of 
us can do is come to the discussion acknowledging the barriers to the ideal 
of 'scientific' enquiry. We are ALL products of our histories and beliefs

I don't think that cronyism, sexism - or any other 'ism' provide the 
greatest challenge to disability studies, it is controlling the invective, 
petty jealousies and public quarrels that seem to beset the 
discipline.  For many of us, disability studies is not just a 'job', it is 
something that we care passionately about, but I fear we are in danger of 
losing the big picture - that it is disabling structures/attitudes that we 
are fighting (isn't it?).

Perhaps my response to Ann was unduly harsh - although she seems singularly 
unaffected - but I tend to get passionate when harmful allegations, that I 
know to be untrue, are made.  It should be noted that were Ann to be 
subjected to the unsupported claims that she herself made, I would be 
equally quick to write in support of her.

I sincerely hope that this prolix posting adequately explains my position 
re. Ann's posting and the unfairness of the implied criticism of 
Colin.  Perhaps it will also limit the responses premised on inaccurate 
assumptions about my own position re. contemporary vs. historic theory.

Regards

Richard Light






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