A Historical Sociology of Disability : Human Validity and Invalidity from Antiquity to Early Modernity book cover
1st Edition

A Historical Sociology of Disability
Human Validity and Invalidity from Antiquity to Early Modernity

ISBN 9780367174200
Published October 8, 2019 by Routledge
378 Pages 10 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Covering the period from Antiquity to Early Modernity, A Historical Sociology of Disability argues that disabled people have been treated in Western society as good to mistreat and – with the rise of Christianity – good to be good to. It examines the place and role of disabled people in the moral economy of the successive cultures that have constituted ‘Western civilisation’.

This book is the story of disability as it is imagined and re-imagined through the cultural lens of ableism. It is a story of invalidation; of the material habituations of culture and moral sentiment that paint pictures of disability as ‘what not to be’. The author examines the forces of moral regulation that fall violently in behind the dehumanising, ontological fait accompli of disability invalidation, and explores the ways in which the normate community conceived of, narrated and acted in relation to disability.

A Historical Sociology of Disability will be of interest to all scholars, students and activists working in the field of Disability Studies, as well as sociology, education, philosophy, theology and history. It will appeal to anyone who is interested in the past, present and future of the ‘last civil rights movement’.

Table of Contents

List of figures; List of tables; Acknowledgements; INTRODUCTION; Violating disability; Chapter outlines; Concluding remarks; PART 1: Method and Theory; CHAPTER 1: Thinking through disability history: An act of recovery; Introduction; Methodological self-consciousness: The author in the confessional; New Historicism; The place of Proprium and moral economy in a historical sociology of disability; History of disability or a history of impairment; Concluding remarks; CHAPTER 2: Modelling disability theory: A contemporary history of the disability idea; Introduction; First wave radicalism: The social model of disability; The second wave: Conceptual proliferation, Critical Disability Studies and the growth of the cultural model of disability; Concluding remarks; CHAPTER 3: Conceptualising property and propriety, validity and invalidation; Introduction; Recognition: Moral economy of propriety; Ableism: the cloak of validity; Invalidation; Concluding remarks; Part 1: Concluding remarks; PART 2: Disability in History: Antiquity, the Middle Ages and Early Modernity; Part 2: Introductory remarks; CHAPTER 4: Disability in ancient Greece and Rome; Introduction; Arete: The contours of classical propriety; ‘And those of the worst’: Disposable bodies; Pharmakos: The disabled scapegoat; An ocular-centric culture of light and appearance: being blind in Greco-Roman society; Concluding Remarks; CHAPTER 5: Disability in the Christian Middle Ages; Introduction; Eristic Christianity; God, Church and state: Normate power triangulated; Theological invalidations: The others of the unscathed; Ambiguous God, ambiguous scripture, ambiguous testaments of sin and disability; God’s tease: Saints and sinners; No ears to hear, no eyes to see … the wonders of God; The era of ridicule; From monsters to demons; Merciful conduct: A stairway to heaven; Concluding remarks; CHAPTER 6: Renaissance and Reformation: Disability invalidation in Early Modernity; Introduction; Interregnum; Aesthetics and classical revivalism; Demons and witches; Monsters; Dark subjects; Savages and heathens; Social dislocation: Vagabonds and beggars; Fools and folly; ‘Each to his own’: The closed Protestant body; Concluding remarks; CONCLUSION: A banquet of indignities; Index

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Bill Hughes is Professor of Sociology at Glasgow Caledonian University. He was co-editor of Disability and Social Theory (2012), a regular contributor to and member of the Editorial Board of Disability & Society and, formerly, Editor of the Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research.


'Written beautifully, scrutinized thoroughly, and analysed with depth. This book is a much-needed addition to disability studies literature as it helps us to understand better the historical and cultural mechanisms underlying the (de)valuation of disabled people.' - Professor Simo Vehmas, Department of Special Education, Stockholm University 

'In this expansive, meticulously researched and generously written book, Bill Hughes displays yet again why he is one of the principle go-to theorists for disability studies researchers. This incredibly ambitious social and historical text realises its potential not least because of Hughes's sense of duty to the reader: to make the complex accessible and applicable. A triumph.' - Dan Goodley, Professor of Disability Studies and Education, University of Sheffield

'This is a really stimulating read for academics and non-academics, alike. I commend the author’s suggestion to non-academics to read part two, the historical account, before part one, the study’s theoretical basis; for this facilitates understanding of the book’s novel approach to the study of disabled people’s place in relation to society, both then and now.' - Dr Jim Elder-Woodward, OBE, retired: Former Convenor of the Scottish Independent Living Coalition and co-Convenor of the National Independent Living Programme Board

'This book opens up an entirely new perspective on the history of disability, and in particular the changing meaning of validity and invalidity from antiquity to early modernity. It is a brilliant, fine-grained and civically engaged analysis of the changing relationship between impairment, disablement and moral economy. It is a landmark book that deserves the widest possible reading and discussion.' - Professor Nick Watson, Chair of Disability Studies, University of Glasgow

'Bill Hughes’ latest book brings home the need to face the social meaning of disability today by confronting the past. Poetically political, this is a captivating exploration of how the collective imagination confines disability to multiple forms of in-validation throughout Antiquity, the Middle Ages and Early Modernity. Exploring representations of impairment in the Western moral economy over time, Hughes shows how disabled people are situated as "both good to mistreat and good to be good to." For anyone who knows that being disabled, like thinking about it, is not easy, Hughes work [or title] will enable us to find new ways to expose how disability has been made a problem of invalidation while awakening our need to question this inheritance. This book is a must read.'- Tanya Titchkosky is Professor of Disability Studies in the Department of Social Justice Education at OISE of the University of Toronto, Canada and author of Disability, Self and Society; as well as Reading and Writing Disability Differently; and The Question of Access.

'An exhilarating journey through the theoretical and historical landscape that shapes our understanding of disability. In this ‘historical sociology’ of disability, Hughes presents a richly detailed and scholarly account of disabled people’s place in the moral economy throughout the ages. At times challenging in its profundity, but always witty and often frankly poetic, this is a must read for any serious student of disability.' - Etienne d’Aboville, Chief Executive, Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living