04 SES 03 C, Reflecting On Disability: Service Delivery, Social Models And Meta-Theory
This paper explores the usefulness of using meta-theoretical perspectives on disability as a theoretical basis for research in inclusive and special education. A presentation and analysis of several theoretical standpoints is made, then a practical illustration of how to operationalize these is made through the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (the ICF, WHO, 2007).
In 1990 Gustavsson and Söder produced a ‘theoretical temperature gauge’ of disability research (Gustavsson & Söder, 1990). This was followed up in 2004 by Gustavsson (2004) who identified two non-theoretical and three theoretical perspectives and contextualized the Scandinavian relational perspective amongst these. In the 1990 study (Gustavsson & Söder, 1990) present one non-theoretical perspective, the reformer’s perspective. This holds the fundamental belief that any research related to disability is considered valuable in and of itself. In the 2004 follow-up (Gustavsson, 2004) added a non-theoretical perspective, the experience-near perspective, which brings in the personal experiences of disabled persons themselves. The first of Gustavsson’s (2004) theoretical perspectives is the individual and contextual essentialism and can be typified by the dichotomous medical and social approaches to disability. The second is Individual essentialism, linked to the medical approach as when emphasizing genetic, physiological, neurological, and cognitive aspects of disability they are essentialised. The third theoretical perspective of contextual essentialism is very much linked to the social approach which can be divided into two generations: the first stressing calls for changes in societal structures and the second replacing this materialistic perspective with a more constructionist-based grounding (Gustavsson, 2004). In practice this led to calls for a new social theory of embodiment (Shakespeare, 2004) and the re-introduction of the body (Williams, 1999).
The first generation of the social model researchers (Abberley, 1987) take a pre-supposed assumption about what disability is and what it represents – societal oppression which creates barriers is the main theme. The second generation of social model researchers (Shakespeare, 2004; Williams, 1999) developed a constructionist perspective (Gustavsson, 2004) as critique of the previous essentialist perspectives. Here disability is not seen as something created by individual deviance or societal oppression, but is the result of linguistic, social, or cultural construction. Proponents can be divided in to linguistic constructivists and cultural constructivists. Researchers called to distinguish between materialist and idealist explanations (Priestley, 1998) and ultimately to abandon the original social model for an alternative on the grounds that it was only one of a number of social-contextual models (Shakespeare, 2004).
The main criticism of the first generation appears to be that reasoning can become circular if you start with an assumption of what disability is. Goodley (2013) highlights that while the late-twentieth-century disabilities studies field was characterized with finding the (social) factors that led to persons with physical, cognitive, and sensory impairments being culturally excluded, in the current century disability studies has become more concerned with finding nuanced theoretical responses to these factors. Critical disability studies is one such theoretical response with more ontology being brought in. Hughes (2007) responded to calls for more universal approaches (Shakespeare & Watson, 2001) by arguing that while universalism might be a nice theoretical means to alleviate the negative associations with being disable, society is still operating from a non-disabled starting point and thus disabled identify is still central. A critical social ontology that problematizes non-disablement is therefore needed according to Hughes (2007). More recently disability studies has been combined with posthumanism (Goodley, Lawthom, & Cole, 2014) in order to address the complexities of the contemporary human experience whilst also managing to celebrate difference and diversity.
A meta-analysis of the various theoretical standpoints for disability will be made along with an illustration of a practical framework in which to frame the theoretical position, the WHO’s ICF (WHO, 2007) is presented as a viable practical tool to allow us to effectively operationalize a functional understanding of disability in inclusive and special education. Recent interest in the ICF has also re-enforced its suitability for use in the field of education (Norwich, 2016) with additional application and trialling in Portugal (Sanches-Ferreira, Silveira-Maia, Alves, & Simeonsson, 2018) providing evidence for the practical usefulness and implications of its use. While the ICF does not offer a theory in itself, it does take a theoretical position regarding the way human functioning within a context should be assessed; principally this is done through a bio-psycho-social approach where a person’s functioning must be seen from a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors (WHO, 2007). This tri-dimensional approach has similarities with Archer’s Natural, Practical, and Social dimensions (Archer, 2007) and will also be explored theoretically. Returning to disability models and theories, a Nordic relational model mainly based on evaluation of services (Gustavsson, Tøssebro, & Traustadóttir, 2005) has evolved since the 1960s into what Gustavsson (2004) calls the relative interactionist perspective; this is understood to currently represent an alternative to essentialism with an emphasis on a multi-dimensional approach. One interesting implicit underlying assumption is that disability theory should be empirically generated. Gustavsson (2004) goes on to highlight four different variations. The first variation is linked to the WHO’s International classification of functioning (WHO, 2007), and the second is related to critical realism (Bhaskar & Danermark, 2006; Danermark, 2002). The third represents an interaction between medical and economic aspects of disability and holds that disability is observed differently from the perspectives of different systems, an observation theory from a systems theory basis (Michailakis, 2003). The fourth relative interationist perspective is based on hermeneutics and is called the critical interpretation variant and can be described as a placing importance on analyzing the real-life perspectives of human meaning-making (Gustavsson, 2004).
Meta-theory is a useful way of building up a theoretical basis for research – particularly in the multi-dimensional field of disability research. Critical realism provides a useful approach to both frame and investigate the phenomenon of disability (Bhaskar & Danermark, 2006) and it is presented in this paper as a viable and valuable theoretical position in which to place our understanding of disability in the practical field of inclusive and special education. Conceptually a number of different approaches to disability are also presented culminating in the Nordic relational model (Gustavsson, 2004) being proposed as being the most nuanced and best suited to complement critical realism. Practically, the ICF provides a useful way to look at the interactions between the environment and the lived participation experience of children with disabilities. Although the ICF does not itself provide an explicit theory, it implicitly implies a non-reductionist-based ontology – very much like Critical Realism – and includes a social dimension in the analysis of inclusion. Theoretically this complements the social approach present in the relative interactionist perspective as proposed by Gustavsson (2004) where social dimensions are construed as intransitive, transfactual, and stratified (Williams, 1999). It is argued that combining influences from the various approaches, models, and perspective still provides a viable meta-theoretical basis for disability research. This paper reflects on these domains and theoretically provides guidance in the placing of research within the complex field of disability. This paper will conclude by focussing on the critical realist perspective as a holistic and multi-laminate approach to conceiving disability when researching disability and its associated phenomena, and practically presenting the ICF as a complementary tool for the field of inclusive and special education.
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