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Ray Aldred


I've been meaning to comment on this review, so I'm glad you posted here. There are two items I hope you can comment on. Keep in mind, these aren't really objections, per se, but perhaps some initial worries I had.

First, regarding the two senses of social models of disability. In much of my research on social models, I couldn't help but get the feeling that there was much more senses than most scholars ascribe to the theories. This makes it a very difficult task to define and describe social model theories than I had anticipate when describing the view, and it certainly makes me frustrated in most attempts to present and explain the view. Perhaps you share this frustration.

One of the senses you presented was simply an opposition to the so called "medical model". However, when going back and reading the growing literature on social models (for and against), it seems that while social model theorists claim to deny so called "medical models", they appear to do so to make a positive claim about what disability is. For example, some social model theorists make a contingency claim, whereby disability is contingent on social feature. To these theorists, this feature is the defining feature of the social model. Medical models, in contrast to social models, apparently don't have a contingency claim. Some social model theorists appear to call into question the location of where a disability is found and what causes it. So, for example some have argued that it is located in environments, and has nothing to do with the body, much to the disagreement of many feminists. So, perhaps "social models" are a more family resemblance concept with many overlapping senses and uses in the literature, depending on the point the scholar is trying to make. What do you think?

Finally, you had suggested "the citizen is always already marked as nondisabled (as well as male, white, and cisgender)." I'm curious about whether you think disabled people are excluded from citizenship. When I read this, I pictured deviant or marginalized groups being classified as non-citizens, which puzzled me a bit. I can see how this might be useful in explaining the seemingly exclusionary treatment many disabled people experience. However, the view I'm thinking of developing is not that disabled people are excluded from citizenship, but that they are disabled citizens. That is, they are citizens of a different sort, to be ruled, governed, dominated, socially rejected or accepted on certain terms, subject to discursive practices, and subject to bio-power in comparison to other non-disabled citizens. In which case, "the citizen" is not marked as non-disabled, rather there are different citizens within society, albeit the ideal citizen may be of the sort you describe. Perhaps maybe you meant "the ideal citizen" there? Or maybe you do really mean disabled people aren't citizens, since they don't meet the dominant features of the citizen.

Shelley Tremain

Thanks for the great comment, Ray, and for raising these concerns and posing these questions. I’ll address the issues about definitions of the social model and medical model first.

I recognize your frustrations with descriptions of the social model and how to adequately capture them in one’s work. I think in fact we are using the phrase “senses of the social model” in different ways. Perhaps if I elaborate on how I intend the phrase in the review, as well as how I see the conflation that I identify, I might also begin to respond to your concerns about my references to the social model and medical model in the review. I note in the review that the two senses that get conflated operate on different levels of generality. Here, the problem is a conflation of type and token. So, the first sense I identify would be a general type of approach to disability; the second sense (the U.K. social model) would be a token, one example of, the general type of approach. But there are other tokens of the type that also get put under the rubric “social model,” that is, under the general (social model) approach, for example, the “minority-group model” that Harlan Hahn proposed. So, as you say, there are a number of social models that we could construe in a family resemblance to each other. That’s actually a nice way to put it. One of the concerns to which I want to draw attention with regard to the conflation goes directly to your frustration about how different models make different claims about what disability is. That hits the nail on the head. For example, throughout the collection reviewed and the field more generally one often finds authors who (1) state that they endorse the social model to disability (that is, the type, the general approach); and explain what this means through (2) use the language of the U.K. social model’s impairment and disability distinction; and in turn (3) offer an explanation of disability conflicts with the tenets of the U.K. social model and better fits with other versions of the “social model” such as the conception that follows from the ADA. As I note in the review, as you intimate in your comment, the U.K. social model claims to make a strict binary distinction between impairment and disability (a point I undermine in my 2001 article) and holds that “disablement is nothing to do with the body” (Oliver 1996). On the ADA, however, term ‘disability’ refers to how a given individual *functions* in the environment, focussing on one’s functional “limitations.” So, these are very different and indeed conflicting conceptions of “what disability is” that get used in the course of one claim, or article, etc. In my work, I never use the term ‘social model’ to refer to a general approach to disability. I usually use the term ‘social-political conception’ to refer to a general approach; I use the term ‘U.K. social model’ to refer to that specific understanding with its distinction between impairment and disability. I hope that gives you a better idea of how I see the problems that you address in the first part of your comment. If you or anyone else reading this post wants to read a more detailed discussion of how I draw out these differences between conceptions, please see my article “Biopower, Styles of Reasoning, and What’s Still Missing From the Stem Cell Debates (Hypatia, 2010). It’s on my philpapers and pages.

In response to your second concern, I probably have less to say (at least until and unless you press me further on this point!). In the review, I refer to “formal” and “informal” senses of citizenship. In the past, most disabled people were denied formal citizenship (not allowed to vote, not allowed to occupy public spaces or run for public office, etc.). Nowadays, most disabled people, though not all (think of “competency” requirements) are recognized as citizens in formal terms. But many disabled people are not recognized as citizens, not taken into account, in informal terms: e.g., are not represented in the media, education facilities and pedagogy are inaccessible, accessible housing is scarce and unaffordable, health care resources are not fairly distributed to disabled people, etc. These are ways in which the legacy of ideas about who counts as a citizen, what citizens do, how they live, what they require, etc. have been marked as nondisabled. Your point about the ways in which disabled people are subjected to administrative regulations, classifications, and so on, that nondisabled people do not get disciplined by is extremely valuable. I think it is implicit in my remark about how ableist ideas about citizenship and the (ideal) able-bodied citizen contribute to the constitution of the category of disability in broad terms, as well as the categories with which disability is intertwined. Perhaps you think this implicit claim was too subtle. If anyone wants to read more about what I have to say about the administrative constitution of disability, they could take a look at my articles “On the Government of Disability” (2001), “Reproductive Freedom, Self-Regulation, and the Government of Impairment In Utero” (2006), or the 2010 article that I referred to above.

Thanks again for your great comment, Ray. I’m very glad that you work in this area of philosophy and I’m happy to continue discussing these issues if you wish to comment on this response.


Nice read


Thanks for sharing.

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