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Tom Shakepeare is an eminent, and somewhat controversial, contributor to disability studies. As he outlines, part of the explanation for his controversial status within that field stems from his engagement with disciplines outside it, including genetics and bioethics. For many in the field of disability studies, no genuine engagement should be sought with scholars in genetics or bioethics because—so the party line goes—these areas of study are inherently opposed to disability rights and otherwise pose genuine threats to the status of disabled people. The present volume is unlikely to do much to reduce his controversial status.
The book is divided into three parts. The first presents a detailed criticism of the social model with some, more positive, proposals concerning how disability is best conceived. The second part—perhaps the one that will be of most interest to JME readers—concerns bioethical issues in disability (specifically, prenatal diagnosis, “cures” for disability and autonomy at the end of life). The final part focuses on themes such as care, charity, intimacy and the role of the non-disabled in “the world of disability”.
The main reason why this book is unlikely to reduce Shakespeare’s controversial status is that its central theme is a sustained attack on the so-called and widely held “social model” of disability. According to this model, the causes of disability lie in the social environment, not within the individual. So, change the social environment in appropriate ways, and disability disappears. Shakespeare illustrates the various ways in which this model is analytically flawed and has had a negative effect upon disability studies, research and the lives of disabled people. …