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Philosophy and science: the axes of evil in disability studies?
  1. S Vehmas
  1. S Vehmas, University of Jyväskylä, Finland; simo.vehmas{at}

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In this review, I concentrate on analysing the response Tom Shakespeare’s Disability rights and wrongs has awoken in the disability studies community. I argue that the complicated relationship between politics and science is the underlying cause for many controversies in disability studies. The research field should regain its autonomy and scrutinise properly its ontological premises.

The field of disability studies in the UK is in turmoil. During the past 10 years or so, there have been several debates that have revolved around the social model of disability. The latest source of a heated debate is Tom Shakespeare’s Disability rights and wrongs. Many of us working outside the UK have followed this debate with feelings ranging from amazement to disapproval, from amusement to sadness. The February 2007 issue of Disability & Society, the leading disability studies journal in Britain and also the persistent unofficial organ of the social model, includes a review symposium on Shakespeare’s book. It is nowadays rare to come across mischievous, ad hominem arguments in academic publications. However, one of the reviewers, Mike Oliver, a sociologist and the main architect of the social model, has no problem lashing Shakespeare by depicting him as “a relatively affluent person with a minor impairment who is never going to be at the sharp end of personal support services” and who thus writes “well intentioned but meaningless platitudes”.1 According to Oliver, the main reason for Shakespeare’s allegedly errant writings is the fact that his book draws heavily on philosophy, a discipline whose “only use is as a career opportunity for middle-class intellectuals who can’t get a proper job”.1

Although the UK disability studies community produces, fortunately, a lot of ambitious work that respects the traditional criteria of good academic practice and research, the preceeding description gives some idea …

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  • Competing interests: None declared.