Biopolitics Disability and Culture

Principal Supervisor: Name: PROFESSOR DAN GOODLEY
Department: EDUCATION
Tel: 0114 222 8185
Email: d.goodley@sheffield.ac.uk

Co-supervisor: Name: DR ESME CLEALL
Department: HISTORY
Tel: 0114 222 2619
Email: e.r.cleall@sheffield.ac.uk

Description of proposed project

This project will explore the contemporary cultural discourses and meanings around disability and trace their origins to earlier historical periods through reference to the notion of biopower as developed by Michel Foucault, Hardt and Negri and others. The project seeks to engage with the ‘epidemic of signification’ that has occurred around the disabled body and disruptive mind. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and other impairment labels have gained huge currency in recent times. It is possible to trace the origins of these ‘conditions’ to the emergence of natural and social scientific discourses. And any label of disability evokes a relationship with class and race (as well as other groupings). This project seeks to bring together education, history, sociology and psychology as complementary resources that allow an interrogation of the marking and constitution of disability in a host of educational, social care, medical and psychological institutions. The supervisory team will bring expertise in relation to the intersections of race, disability, gender and class and theoretical perspectives from history, critical psychology, sociology and education. These perspectives often fail to dialogue with one another. This research affords real opportunities for speaking about disability across and between different disciplinary perspectives.

The proposed study will include four phases of fieldwork:

(1) A critical discourse and documentary analysis of popular texts relating to the labels of Autism, ADHD, OCD including parenting literature, novels, broadsheet;
(2) A critical historical analysis of early medical, psychological and social policy texts on childhood disability (circa 1900s to 1960s);
(3) An ethnography of schools and children (aged 4 – 16) with the label of Autism, AHDH and OCD which will include interviews with children, family members and professionals.
(4) Analysis-findings workshops – which presents key findings of the research and seeks feedback and responses from a host of key stakeholders including children, families and professionals from health, social care and education.

This empirical work will allow us to address a number of pertinent research questions including:

(1) Where and when in modern history did labels of childhood disability emerge?
(2) Whose interests were and are being served by these labels?
(3) What have been the advantages and disadvantages of these labels?
(4) How do children, their families and associated professionals live and work with these labels of childhood disability?
(5) What are the lived realities of schooling, accessing health care and community participation for children with a host of childhood disability labels?
(6) How can we feed our findings back to children, families and professionals in ways that enhance the lives of disabled children?

The research questions and phases of empirical work will allow us, therefore, to provide genealogical socio-historical and contemporary qualitative analysis of childhood disability in ways that contribute to wider debates around cultures of biopower and the psy-complex (Rose, 2009): which will be of relevance to social theorists and educational and medical practitioners. This research will also consolidate an area of collaboration and research in Medical Humanities Sheffield: the cultural construction and psychological constitution of ab/normality and dis/ability.

Summary

We live in a contemporary culture where more and more children are being labelled. These labels include ‘conditions’ such as Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and treatments range from specifically targeted forms of therapy, education through to drug treatments. We want to explore where these labels came from, whose interests they serve and the experience of children and their families who are living with these labels. The project brings together supervision team from History and Educational Psychology. We will draw on our distinct backgrounds to ask a number of questions including:

+ Where and when in modern history did labels of childhood disability emerge?
+ Whose interests were / are served by these labels?
+ What have been the advantages and disadvantages of these labels?
+ How do children, their families and associated professionals live and work with these labels of childhood disability?
+ How can we feed our findings back to children, families and professionals in ways that enhance the lives of disabled children?

The PhD student who carries out this research will answer these questions through historical analysis of documents (including early texts on childhood disability through to more contemporary texts) and qualitative analysis of the experiences of disabled children (aged between 4 to 16), their families (though research which involves the researcher spending time with children who have been labelled in their families, schools and the community). In addition, to check that our findings are connecting with some key considerations, the student will carry out a number of analysis workshops which will gather the views and perspectives of key people including children, families and professionals from health, social care and education. We want to make sure that theories and ideas developed by academics are of use to people outside of universities. This research seeks to make theory accessible and usable by academics and non-academics alike.

Additional Information

Professor Dan Goodley has recently taken up the Chair in Disability Studies and Education (October 2012). He has supervised 15 doctoral students to completion (at the Universities of Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester Metropolitan University) and externally examined 31 doctoral students in the areas of psychology, education, sociology, cultural studies, clinical psychology, educational psychology and social policy. He has also supervised students for the Open University, many of whom are engaged in practitioner research, which brings together distinct disciplines such as dentistry and education.

Dr Esme Cleall is the second supervisor for 2 current PhD students (at the Universities of Liverpool and Sheffield) in history and has also been involved in supporting postgraduate students in their development of academic writing skills (Liverpool and UCL).