Casus Shelli Belli [?]

One reason for continuing unease and possibly 'aggressive' behaviour on
this list is the perception that there are certain 'no-go' areas, i.e.
topics of importance, that have been approached intermittently by various
contributors over the past nine years, and from which they have been thrown
back by vigorous, perhaps abreactive, force. And if some well-mannered and
consensus-seeking lurkers think they have seen anything nasty
recently, "they ain't seen nuttin" compared with the shenanigans that
occurred much earlier!

(Older denizens might recall a certain rabbi, whose habit during several
months on the list was to hammer his opponents into the ground with any
available blunt instrument, then haul them out again by the hair in order
to apologise for this treatment, and then hammer them in again to show
there were no hard feelings. Some of his actual arguments were quite
reasonable, or at least interesting; but the quality was often overlooked
in the general panic when he was cleaving someone's head in twain).

A longstanding hot topic has been the Social Model(s) of Disability, or
SMODs. When this list started, it specified a particular interest in, or
desire to serve, discussion among people working in or with the SMOD (which
was, in that period, supposed to be one, rather than multiple). However,
because the list took (or commandeered...) the title "Disability-Research",
it was not always obvious that the space was expected to be used mainly by
users of, or believers in, a SMOD or SMODs.

Further, while the use of a particular model is hardly obnoxious in itself,
on several occasions when questions were raised about SMODs, a sharp
polarisation appeared, because SMODs were being used basically in two
different ways by their adherents. Some participants were willing to
discuss SMODs as models that could and should be used for doing better
research, more inclusive, participative and emancipatory research, as
against various other models which they considered gave poor or false
results because of the weak or superceded paradigm on which they were
based. There were other list participants for whom the SMOD was not a model
for research, but a battle cry, the slogan on their banner, the idea that
had turned their life around, and was now a sacred dogma, definitely not up
for discussion.

The 'Believer' position could (though it never did, to my recollection)
have drawn upon the historical fact that a central idea in SMODs has been
around for some millennia in various parts of the world, i.e. the view that
society, or the behaviour of a local community, or the (mis)design of the
social environment, can play a significant part in generating disability.
Believers could have taken comfort from the fact that the 'explanation'
embodied in SMODs had proved enlightening to people in many places and
generations, so it was unlikely to be much harmed, or to disappear, merely
through a little discussion in an academic research corner. (But Believers
who feel that someone is scratching their central plank are seldom easily

On the other hand, there were (and are) people doing disability research
who have felt uncomfortable with what has sometimes appeared to be the
exaggerated importance attributed to SMODs, the elevation of Believers to
become thought police, and the tendency to fence off large areas of life
and declare it out of bounds to all research not approved by a small
section of the research community. Normally-reasonable researchers can turn
very stroppy when they see part of 'their' patch thus being sequestered or
(mis)appropriated, and when they perceive that terminology is being
manipulated in a way that ejects them smoothly down the trash chute.

Further, significant changes have occurred during the past nine years, so
that conflict over SMODs in 2004 is not identical to conflict in 1995. (But
this is where it gets very difficult to give a fair and neutral account...)

Five years ago, two major figures published views about SMODs.  Vic
Finkelstein, long one of the most combative proponents of the British SMOD,
denounced what he saw as a sneaky tendency to take the cutting edge off the
SMOD and rectify it to fit comfortably into a society that was just as
unfair and disabling as it had ever been. He saw the need to insist on the
cutting edge, the need for radical restructuring of society. Meanwhile, the
French philosopher and disability historian, Henri-Jacques Stiker,
suggested that the British SMOD had served its turn and was now past its
sell-by date - its particular construction belonged to a certain era, but
the world was moving on. There was also a groundswell of voices complaining
that people's bodies were important, but they weren't being allowed to talk
about them in ways they wanted to do, because some people feared that to do
so would bore holes in the SMODship, and let the dreaded Medical Modellers
come pouring in again.

Soon afterward, SMODs took some further jolts from researchers. From
debates focused around ICIDH-2 revision (which was looking into ways of
accommodating Disability Movement inputs, while not giving up the basic
biomedical paradigm), Jerome Bickenbach and colleagues suggested that SMODs
had been useful as campaign slogans to achieve some Disability Movement
objectives, but the dyadic approach (Impairment / Disability) was not
sufficient for describing the complex observed realities of people with
impairments as they undertook activities for themselves or attempted to
participate in a social environment, nor was the SMOD operationalisable as
a research tool. Tom Shakespeare, who had earlier engaged in vigorous
defence of SMODs, did some rethinking, decided that there had been enough
exaggerated thesis / antithesis battles, and published an appeal for moving
forward to positions that better represented the realities as now perceived.

These last few paragraphs are grossly truncated as an overview -- and I've
omitted references, for the moment -- but anyhow, there seems to have been
some significant shift of academic ground over a decade. Further, recent
years saw some shifts of emphasis among North American non-biomedical
disability studies. I won't attempt any description - but it appears that
the "British SMOD" c. 1970s to 1990s has had a rather modest impact on
North American disability discourse, and that impact is hardly growing; it
might be declining.

These trends (which could be much more accurately described, and then
heavily argued about, in 50,000 words rather than 500) have left quite a
number of believers bruised and bloodied, and researchers uncertain how
things are going to pan out, or how they ought to pan out. The trends have,
however, had very little calm discussion on this list. There has only been
some intermittent sniping, and an occasional flare-up.

Mark Priestley, who really has spent a considerable part of the past decade
tending to the more tedious aspects of keeping the list wheels turning,
unjamming the technical glitches, assisting people who want to join, or
leave, or get their dog registered, or whatever, posting good-humoured
housekeeping notes, and very occasionally asking specific people either to
cool it or to take a break and come back when they're feeling more
cheerful, has (I think) no less right than anyone else to post information,
as well as to express his personal views about disability and research, on
the list he co-founded.

Shelley Tremain has the advantage of being trained in philosophical
argument and experienced in turning a radical gaze on disability research --
 but these assets have not seemed to find workable ground, traction or
counterpart on this particular list recently. That's a pity. There have
been earlier debates here, in which the input of a trained philosopher was
badly needed to untangle things, point out the different usage of terms,
drop some further ideas in and so on. We didn't always have a philosopher
to hand, unless Anita Silvers spared the time for it.

Participants out there may not agree that SMODs are at present in a phase
of decline; but I think a lot of people would agree that there is
turbulence in this area, and it is not easy to discuss. That is, I believe,
a major factor behind the recent sniping and discomfort. I didn't achieve a
neutral and balanced account above, but as some recent participants
asked "what's going on?!", and I feel some empathy with both Mark and
Shelley, I gave some sort of account.

Feel free to disagree, either with the account, or with its pertinence to
recent business!

[But, as Mark sometimes pleads:  you don't have to take up bandwidth by
repeating this over-long post underneath your further remarks!!]


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