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Disability and difference: balancing social and physical constructions
  1. Tom Koch
  1. Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Canada


    The world of disability theory is currently divided between those who insist it reflects a physical fact affecting life quality and those who believe disability is defined by social prejudice. Despite a dialogue spanning bioethical, medical and social scientific literatures the differences between opposing views remains persistent. The result is similar to a figure-ground paradox in which one can see only part of a picture at any moment. This paper attempts to find areas of commonality between the opposing camps, and thus to rearrange the figures of the paradox at a fundamental level. The purpose is first to identify areas in which common ground can be achieved, and secondarily, to clarify the areas in which disagreement continues. While a general and unified theory of physical difference/disability is beyond the scope of this paper the result may advance that general goal.

    • Bioethics
    • disability
    • eugenics
    • paradox
    • social construction theory

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    • Tom Koch, PhD, is a Research Associate in Bioethics at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada and Adjunct Professor of Gerontology at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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