The Deranged Disability Analyst


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Observe the lowly pace taken by the evolutionary backward Australian aboriginal [sic], who is seen only to have the cerebral development of the year-old schoolboy. Notice too, that those adults who, as the result of a thriftless and shiftless life, have had to end their days in a benevolent asylum, are altogether below the standard of any educated youth of 20 years.


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T he whole graph is a most striking demonstration of the truth of the principles on which this work is based. With Lewis Terman, who had the dubious credit of being among the first to develop modern forms of 'intelligence testing'[ 22 ], Professor Berry concurred, that some children regardless of their education, could never develop past a certain age chronology. As a consequence, he believed that these children should be identified and tested, so that society could be protected.

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Citing Terman he proposed that:. Moral judgement, social judgement, or any other kind of thought process, is a function of intelligence Morality cannot flower and fruit if intelligence remains infantile' [ 23 ]. In his Figure 8 [ 24 ] [see Appendix 2], Berry clearly shows this scientific view of the universe of 'proper' intelligence, which in some detail differentiates people labelled 'criminals', 'morons' and 'imbeciles' into sub-categories.

It is strikingly clear that at the apex of this hierarchy sits its designer - a 'university teacher' - like Berry himself! Truth and intelligence be believed then, like Nietzsche, to have a face or in this case a brain , rather like his own. Berry's work was academic in nature, and had the stamp of the appropriate credentials to validate its respectability and authenticity.

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The fact that it shared however, many central precepts with popular social commentaries of the nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries, is indicative of the way in which all science must be understood as reflective as well as determining of a broad social context. In a non-academic or 'popular' household medical manual of for example , it had been suggested that when:.

Likewise, in an academic medical publication of a similar period, - A Practical Manual of Insanity For the Medical Student and General Practitioner of , authors, doctors Daniel Brower and Henry Bannister, suggested the following with regard to 'imbecility':. In most cases both the intellectual powers and the moral sensibilities are affected together. Morally they are also deficient; they are apt to be unreliable and untruthful, and subject to fits of passion, and these with their sexual impulses They are [also] cowardly, irascible, egoistic in a way, and generally incapable and unreliable' [ 26 ].

Moral, mental, and physical deficiencies were conclusively linked in these perspectives, which cannot be unambiguously understood as either 'popular' or 'scientific' , with one aspect seen as clear evidence of the other. The perceived lack of truthfulness and reliability served as clear validation for pointing to the very dangers which such groups posed for the social 'health' and 'progress' of western 'civilisation'.

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It is noteworthy, that many of these derogatory characteristics expressed either a too much or a not enough, tendency, so that a natural and healthy balance was evidently not easily attainable or even possible, for large sections of the population. It is significant that women, as a gendered category, shared many of the 'unbalanced' [ 27 ] features associated with others considered defective.

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The popular late nineteeth-century diagnosis of 'hysteria' as a typical woman's mental and moral illness, displays similar characteristics as those accorded to other 'defectives', including:. The attributes usually associated with this 'illness' [ 29 ] read like a list of overdetermined traditional notions about the nature of woman as gendered in western society, so that hysteria appears in these calculations as both a cause and an effect of being female. For although it was also believed that males could suffer from hysteria, these were men considered to have 'somewhat abnormal and feminine mental organizations' [ 30 ].

Common descriptors for the diverse groups called 'feeble-minded' and for women reveal then a shared otherness, and included concerns about traits and behaviours like: passivity, weakness, lack of moral, mental, and physical control, incompetence, emotionalism, hyper-sensitivity or insensitivity, unassertiveness or too much assertiveness, laziness, greediness, craftiness, trickiness, calculating and deceitful behaviours, impressionability, ineducability, temperamentalism, immorality, amorality, being difficult, demanding, dependent, unpredictable, talkative, inconsistent, untrustworthy, indulgent, self-centered, unstable, over-sexed, passionate, undersexed, perverted, irrational, lacking in judgement etc.

The repetitive intersections of these kinds of characteristics, many of which are still implicitly or explicitly influential in contemporary perceptions about women, and about people with intellectual disabilities in our society , suggests an association which is more than coincidental or accidental. In these relatively recent medical, psychiatric, psychological, sociological and philosophical descriptions and prescriptions most of which claimed to be dispassionately 'scientific' , difference was not something to be positively determined, but was objectifying, diminishing, dehumanising, and signifying of less than worthy existences.

As we have seen, any person or any 'thing' that required investigation and explanation was inversely determined by whatever was sanctioned as normal and natural, and by those who clearly considered themselves to represent both. In spite of some popular misconceptions, 'history' is not merely about 'the past'.


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  7. When the idea of past and present as somehow detached, is revised in terms of a perception of all human experience as interrelated and dynamically interconnected, there is we believe, a greater possibility for some reflection upon the ideas, experiences, and contexts which affect all our lives. The ways in which contemporary popular ideas about women, gender, and people with an intellectual disability, still depend in many senses upon eugenic and biological determinations, suggests in our perspective, that it is important to reflect upon current social and ideological influences.

    The fact that much work in these areas has come from feminist commentators of various kinds is hardly surprising, given the ongoing congruence of women and 'otherness' in our society. What is particularly interesting is that the concerns raised about the circumscription of women's lives, through the experience of otherness, have also had important implications for notions about difference generally. Renate Klein, has for example, in a publication entitled: Contemporary Australian Feminism, linked discussion about the impact of reproductive and genetic engineering with contemporary forms of 'eugenics', sexism and racism, suggesting:.

    This is a resurrection of the theory and practice of eugenics as it came to be known over a century ago Since then, it has seen a number of horrific revivals through the passing of sterilisation laws and restricted immigration Disturbingly, some of the same 'diseases' targeted in Nazi Germany [and as we have discussed here, by the western scientific and medical community], are said today to be genetically determined' [ 31 ].

    This raises again, or should we say, continues to revamp the biological determinism which is and has been, the rationalisation for and validation of almost every form of otherness to which we have referred. This focus upon human genetics as influencing or determining human potentialities, has intensified dramatically in recent years, promising an enhanced and lengthened life for some, through the mapping of minute biological variations.

    The best example of these kinds of interests and activities, is the Human Genome Project, an international effort, which aims to document the 'total genetic endowment contained on the chromosome in every human cell' [ 32 ]. To expect however, that all discovered diversity will be dispassionately evaluated, or that the methodologies employed, or the information accrued in such a project, will be 'objectively' considered, without many of the social, economic and political interests and influences prevalent in the older eugenics, would be naive.

    The availability of genetic testing for many future parents, and in pre-natal situations, raises a host of social and ethical questions which require urgent consideration. Just as the preference for a male child remains prevalent in many societies, arguably also our own [ 33 ], so it seems does the desire for a 'perfect' or 'normal' child.

    Marsha Saxton has with regard to disability referred to implicit notions which lie behind, and motivate prenatal testing, thus:. As any parent of any child learns, there really is no such thing as a 'normal' child, there only are some ideas about what normal should be. Perhaps there are some things about 'normal' which may be beneficial when we try to make our way in the world, but differences s need not necessarily be equated with otherness, or with being 'less than'.

    These observations return us to the primary concerns we expressed at the beginnings of this paper, which were to reflect upon the dichotomisation of able and disabled. While it has only been possible here to consider these questions in a very superficial sense, we would like to conclude with an insight from the feminist philosopher, Caroline Whitbeck, who has contended, that it is with the profound awareness of our necessary human interrelationship s that unequal and objectifying forms of 'otherness' may be overcome. This perspective she suggests:.

    Since an other is not taken to be the opposite to the self, the character of the self does not uniquely define the character of the other by opposition to it: others may be similar or dissimilar in an unlimited variety of ways. The relation [then] is nor fundamentally dyadic at all, and is better expressed as self others relation, because relationships, past and present, realized and sought, are constitutive of the self' [ 35 ]. We believe these are important considerations, which offer the possibility for a challenge to our contemporary thinking, and the potentiality for a shared human future where difference can be celebrated as multiplicity, rather than as an oppositional and dehumanising 'otherness'.

    The concepts implicit in these perspectives can themselves be challenged for their assumptions of universality, individualism, gender bias and ethnocentrism i. However we concur with Gilman, with regard to his proposition that stereotyping serves to validate primacy and to categorise difference and otherness. Somer Brodribb , p.

    Irving M. Zeitlin p. See also Caroline Whitbeck , and Christine Overall It is important to note however, that all women were considered to have a 'natural' affinity with the animal kingdom and for animals.

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    It was only that a thinner veneer of 'civilization' was perceived to surround working class women, and this more easily facilitated the escape of bestial tendencies. Dijkstra p. Hence men who did not keep their women on a tight leash and let them roam free ran dangerous risks'.

    But, in so far as it urged the supremacy of rationality in the pursuit of perfection, it made women of necessity more akin to the animal than to the essentially human.

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    If the model was a model of choice between human elements and animal elements, and if it was conceded, as it readily was, that woman's capacity for rationality was less than man's, then the image of woman as sexually innocent and passionless became not a truth of nature but a social and moral necessity'. A considerable literature exists with regard to the relationship of 'hysteria' to western conceptualisations of gender and sexuality. More contemporary references of interest which discuss the concept of hysteria, more or less critically, include: Martha Noel Evans , Elaine Showalter , and Daphne de Marneffe For a more detailed discussion see Trevor H.

    Levere pp.

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    These features were, in terms of their lack, or their accentuation , considered to reveal human traits, characteristics, and tendencies, such as: acquisitiveness, benevolence, cautiousness, destructiveness, hope, parental love attachment for children , spirituality etc. Phrenological ideas have had a long and continuing history, and an argument might be made to associate them with contemporary notions about 'cerebral localisation' and 'left and right brained' discussions. James Hunt London, Longman Green, , pp. That there was an urgency in such categorisations is not surprising, given that it was believed there was 'a differential fertility rate in favour of feeble-minded women.

    Feeble-minded women were believed to be amoral and to pose a threat to acceptable patterns of sexual behaviour and family morality'. See Moira Fitzpatrick, , p. See Martha Noel Evans passim. See Daphne de Marneffe , p. Where hysteria affected men it was generally considered 'environmental', as opposed to the female experience which appears to have emerged from an essentialist perception of her 'true' nature. Elaine Showalter See also Christine Overall pp.

    Caroline Whitbeck's work has been strongly influenced by that of Carol Gilligan. What is This Thing Called Science? HOFF, C. Hanen et al. Hollingdale, Harmondsworth, Penguin. Paper presented at the Abilympics International Conference, September Was previously published in Abstract , Vol. This preview shows page 5 out of 5 pages. I cannot even describe how much Course Hero helped me this summer.

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