Marvellous to see discussion on epistemology. The
social model is and always was an epistemology in its own right that
has given rise to a variety of social theories (Mike Oliver of course
makes the point about the social model not being a social theory).
I think that one of the biggest epistemological challenges for
disability activists, allies, theorists and researchers is how
we contribute to the growing poststructuralist and
phenomenological work on 'the body' (Butler, Foucault, Turner, MP).
This is becoming the sexy topic within the social sciences, though
often these destabilising turns threaten some social facts
(postmodern cough) about the material and social origins of
disablement. Instead of structures we think of 'bodies', instead of
social practices we look at 'discursive positions'.
My concern is that as truths are laid to rest, we are
offered almost Tony Blairite 'third way' positions where anything
goes - particularly a reinvestment of pseudo-biological conceptions
of impairment and disabiltity. Thus while Foucault offers much about
the creation of disabling psy-complexes, gaze, control, intervention
in the name of benevolence, a logical conclusion is that, well, we
should remember the body is always there creating disability. This is
Similarly, Deb Marks' advocation of psychoanalysis is all very well
(I know where Deb is coming from, in terms of a politicised position
on disability), but there are some incredibly essentialist postions
in this field of knowledge (see Lacan, Reich, Irigary) that could
seep into disability theory.
A final point I would like to open up to debate is the notion of
standpoint. As a researcher working with people with the label of
learning difficulties, I find myself critiquing theories in terms of
what they can or cannot offer a politicisation of disability and
impairment. So I feel constrained by an epistemological stance -
the social model - that pushes me in particular ways to look for
suitably politically sensitive theories. This I think is a good
thing. As Foucault put it, where there is power there is resistance.
And Fairclough (1989, p28):
'The social nature of discourse and practice always implies social
conventions - any discourse or practice implies social conventional
types of discourse or practice ... people are enabled through being
constrained: they are able to act on condition that they act within
the constraints of types of practice - or of discourse. However, this
makes social practice sound more rigid than it is, ... being socially
constrained does not preclude being creative'.
A case for being 'epistemological constrained' maybe?