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Inclusive education is itself a construct exported from the Global North. The application of western constructs of human normativity put in place from the Global North into postcolonial spaces has the potential to continue oppressing (re)colonized populations (Grech, 2015; Klein & Mills, 2017; Meekosha & Soldatic, 2011; Walsh, 2010) The two major theoretical threads of this research are critical disability studies arising within the Global North and decolonial studies constructed by Latin American thinkers.
In this proposal I give an overview of the conceptual framework in critical disability studies and in decolonial thought which are to be developed in the theoretical and methodological chapters of the thesis. The third section of the theoretical overview is to explore or formulate a framework for the project of decolonising disability in a Latin American context. This is the theoretical overview to start the research, I hope it is challenged in the dialogue with the participants.
Global North Conceptualisations of Disability and Critical Disability StudiesIn this section of the theoretical background the aim is to describe what are the hegemonic understandings of disability that have been formulated by academia in the global north and that are at the centre of the human rights perspective that is exported to all the world through World Health Organisation policies (WHO, 2001), United Nations Conventions on rights (2006) and the psychology and psychiatric manuals of classification of mental health and disability DSM V (APA, 2013) and ICF.
These conceptualisations of disability can be explored looking at the main models of disability and how they have been critiqued inside western academia in the field of critical disability studies (Shakespeare, 2014) as well as by disabled rights and community groups and survivors of the psych-professions (Mills, 2014). Disability, is a cultural conceptualisation from the Global North, from so- called developed countries. It is a construct utilised in psychology, in medicine, in disability studies, in education, in psychiatry, in sociology and in many disciplines and academic study areas (Parker, 2007).
Western science has described disability as differences residing in an individual measured against a modernist conceptual idea of what it is to be a normal human being. Critical Disability Studies very broadly have critiqued the human sciences of development, on the one hand, for posturing as decontextualised objective truths and not as theoretical frameworks for understanding development, on the other hand, for focusing the causations of deviations from the norm as centered solely in the individual and not the injustices in modern society.
The medical model of disability is the older model and although it has fallen out of use in theory, it is still the prevailing conceptual model of disability and the most exported globally, a universal truth of what it is to be human. This model ‘disabilitates’ and pathologises mental impairments, it medicalises any variances from an ideal norm of human being. Variances such as learning differences, emotional reactions after trauma, eccentric temperaments, and deviations from linear developmental norms are pathologised.The discrimination and exclusion from mainstream society of people labelled as disabled or with disabilities has become the focus of critical disability studies particularly in the United States and Britain of Global North academics and self advocacy groups (Grech, 2015 & 2009; Goodley, 2014; Soldatic, 2013; Meekosha, 2011, Parker, 2007; Network AS).
Mental Health global programs are critiqued for internationalising one version of being human so we can all fit into the global north political and economic ideology (Titchkosky and Aubrect, 2015; Mills, 2014) There is a push for social justice and the social model of disability represents such a change. Originating in the UK it changed the understanding of disability and mental health as defined by how the society disables those with impairments (Mills, 2014; Oliver & Barnes, 2012; Meekosha & Soldatic, 2011; Shakespeare & Watson, 2002). This model is the basis for many reforms around the world, it has been adapted for international policies and has impacted the lives of many in positive ways. However, it is a model and as such is constantly under review and change, not only within academia but from disabled advocacy groups that don’t feel adequately represented by the social model and other similar incarnations.
The questioning of expertise and whose voice is heard is exemplified in the disability movement slogan: “nothing about us without us” (Network AS) and demands a stop to conceptualising disability from a scientific superiority perspective ignoring the lived experiences of people themselves. Critical disability studies set out to deconstruct the restrictive and exclusive versions of the human that have arisen in the mainstream psych fields and special education arenas and question the pathologisation of being human, who benefits and who loses (Goodley, 2014). Many argue that this pathologisation is for the benefit of a capitalised society in need of productive citizens (Klein & Mills, 2017; Grech, 2009).
Rose (2006) argues that many social scientists are unconvinced that the rise in psychiatric diagnoses reflects a ‘frightful increase’ in mental disorder. Within education there is a steep increase in children being diagnosed. This has resulted in the modification of the role of educators towards categorising and abnormalising differences. Describing children as disordered opens the need for families to request access to limited financial funds for educational support within and out of mainstream educational settings. This ever growing need in an ever abnormal population feeds a prosperous psy-expert field of work which has become embedded within the education system (Barker and Mills, 2017; Bianchi, 2016).
These are the hegemonic western conceptualisations of disability and the therapies that it engineers within the educational system that are being exported around the world, resting on the unquestionable assumption that they are universally human. Critical disability thinkers and disabled advocates question if they are rather universally inhuman. There is good evidence that poverty, poor housing, stressful working experiences and the compromising of health and safety conditions are associated with increased rates of psychiatric morbidity. Human Rights Perspectives have rightly campaigned for those people labeled as disabled to be included as active participants in their societies.
Has there been an international failure to recognise the historical and political causes of disability from real body and soul breaking practices as well as from categorising difference as abnormal rather than human variety? (Mills, 2014; Meekoshi, 2011; Grech, 2009)”the exportation of Western epistemologies will not do, extending the call for a critical global Disability Studies that is interdisciplinary, open, questioning, and willing to learn and challenge ideas at its very core.” Grech (2011)
Latin America resistanceTo move beyond one epistemology, the global north epistemology, many ideas and conceptual frameworks have been explored and developed. Resistance theory has framed the narrative around power struggles and understood resistance not simply as opposition to authority but against systemic issues that oppress and endanger people, seen this way resistance is a motor for social change and justice. (Abowitz, 2000). Resistance theory examines who is resisting, what are they resisting against and why?The threads of resistance in Latin America have never ceased to be present in our politics, our beliefs and cultural lives, they are an integral part of the fibers of Latin American societies, woven deeply into our identities, as deep and hidden as our ‘mestizaje’ (Vargas, 2003).
The publication of ‘The Open Veins of Latin America’ (Galeano, 1971) was one manifestation of resistance through the theory of dependence. The theory of dependence and the theology of freedom are 20th century philosophical bases of the decolonial project in Latin America in the 21st century (Moreno, 2015). They are two important strands of intellectual resistance still evident in different lines of thought in decolonising theories. The theory of dependance from the 60’s is the critique of the development project as a universal objective. Underdeveloped countries can move towards becoming developed by following the developed countries example and programs. This is believed to be true even though the developmental project began in a historic period when the world economy was already formed under the hegemony of imperial powers (Dos Santos, 1998).
The second strand of intellectual resistance; the theology of liberation (Silva, 2009) was formed by Latin America Catholic priests influenced by marxist thought and born out of the lived experience of poverty. Its two fundamental aims were to readdress poverty by helping the poor and to recognise the identity of people in poverty as subjects and not objects. In the 1990’s the project of deconstructing eurocentrism and colonialism in social thinking was gathering momentum with Latin American social thinkers working in universities in Latin America, Spain and the United States (Lander, 2000). For the purpose of my research project into disability conceptualisation and inclusive education there are two important aspects of how the decolonial thought has evolved that I will need to explore.
First, there is the academic slant that focuses on fragmentalising and problematising the certaintities of the naturalised eurocentric world premises. It has some origins in postcolonial postmodern thought but aims to create new epistemologies that don’t answer to the structures of western academia. Secondly, there is the decolonial project that questions the contradiction in praxis between who is decolonising, where they are decolonising from and what is their intention. Some authors have worked within both strands however there are tensions in between them with regards to the creation of knowledge and who this benefits (Rivera Cusicanqui, 2010).From the 90’s onwards many authors have been formulating ideas for the defragmenting of coloniality with the purpose of creating another system with another rationality (Lander, 2000).
Restrepo (Moreno, 2015) describes the unpacking of the organising premises that naturalised the epistemology of eurocentric modernity as the task many decolonial authors have taken on. De Sousa Santos’ (2006) counter globalisation proposal of the modes of knowledge production and knowledge absences is a framework used to identify what epistemologies and voices are absent or present in policy and sociological narratives.
Decolonisers such as Dussel (2000), Mignolo (2009), Grosfoguel (2011), Quijano (2000), Lander (2000) distinguish between colonisation and coloniality, they argue that colonisation established power structures that remain still in place after independence and into modernity as coloniality. Coloniality emcompases the naturalised premises of what is knowledge, coloniality implies that colonial knowledge is the dark side of modernity. This coloniality of knowledge is the continued belief system in eurocentric modernity with its industrialisation and urbanisation as the inevitable routes to prosperity and development. There are many fundamental concepts being explored by decolonial theorists that put forward alternative conceptualisations of power and knowledge such as coloniality of power (Quijano, 2007); myths of modernity and eurocentrism, critiques from identities of alterity and exteriority rather than from identities of difference and foreignness (Dussel, 2000); coloniality of knowledge and world system (Walsh, 2009) alternative globalisations (De Sousa Sousa, 2006); epistemic disobedience (Mignolo,2011), and the coloniality of being (Maldonado Torres, 2007).
From inside decolonial projects more situated in praxis and less inside academia, Rivera Cusicanqui (2010) investigates not only the psychological colonization of the vanquished native peoples, but also the unwitting collusion between the oppressive structure and racist framework permeating the mestizo psyche. “The internal enemy—colonization—is within us all, from elites to the oppressed,” she says. Working to dismantle the internalization of imperialism, she is a pioneer among South American mestizas from an Aymara framework. This articulation of colonisation from within is replicated by feminist decolonising authors. Other identities of alterity contribute to the decolonial turn: mestizos, non white ethnic groups, the colonised, the poor, the indigenous, women and now I suggest, too, those categorised as disabled by the Global North paradigms.
However by naming this final group as disabled am I not also staying within the modernity framework? And by discarding the use of the term disabled am I erasing the realities of people with impairments and ignoring the fields of disability studies and critical disability studies? To defragment the colonial within disability studies and to listen to the voices of all those othered, other frameworks of knowledge could be constructed which are not centered on divergence from a norm. Decolonising disability is a project to decolonise what it is to be human and not to be seen as an outsider of humanity. My theoretical framework will seek to learn from Latin American feminist, underprivileged and indigenous decolonial thinkers, exploring these standing with and next to people labelled as disabled.
The decolonising stance of feminist writers opens a framework where it is from within where we can start to fragment the hegemonic knowledge that oppresses, excludes, hides, medically classifies and gives treatment to the so called ‘disabled’. This defragmenting of knowledge and reframing possibilities of knowledge cannot be a solo academic project. Bolivia has undergone a transformation in its political structures with a new constitution with la Pacha Mama (Nature) as one vertex of the triangulation of rights and responsibilities that is a collective responsibility (Rivera Cusicanqui, 2010).
Resistance in Latin America from the libertadores, theologues of freedom, marxist, indigenous and critical pedagogues has been fired by the call to self determination and social justice for those most oppressed and impoverished. Probably the most well known resistance in education has been Freire’s (1993) resistance to hegemonic knowledge through a pedagogy of ‘conscientizacion’, critical thinking in adult literacy as a form of liberation. Decolonising school inclusion implies rejecting forms of schooling that exclude children for racial, ethnic, gender, religious, cultural, disabled or mentally diverse way of being. It is crucial for any radical educator, to enable students to understand social power, power relations, to self identify and exert their own social agency. This is a collective endeavour, to collaborate, to learn from each other in various countries of the global south seems an imperative to me.
The questions for this research arise from weaving together the threads of critical disability and the decolonial project. The possibility of contributing to a framework for decolonising disability is the hope that drives the research. This will be explored by reviewing the endeavours from other geographical areas of the global south as well as critically reviewing the framework of the global rights agenda policies for disabled people and the local policies this has engendered.It is within the context of resistance that I wish to explore other understandings of what it is to be human. My original research intention was to explore Latin American understandings of disability that could offer re-conceptualisations, supporting social justice for people who are “disabled or diverse” and focusing in particular on acts of inclusion in education. Throughout the last couple of years, preparing for this research piece I have come to the realisation that disability itself is a conceptualisation of categorization of humans that has been born in the west. Now I believe my research questions should change.
How is disability conceptualised in some Latin American indigenous cultures? Is it conceptualised? How are people with visible impairments viewed?I know from first hand knowledge, training as a psychologist in Venezuela and from other Latin American experiences that disability in broad terms is represented and talked about as it is in the West. We have traditionally looked to the west for our science. How to challenge these tools of empire? From a perspective of social-human justice, disability can be seen as caused by and perpetuated by the hegemonic oppression of the so called undeveloped global south by the so called developed powerful global north. The hegemonic pervasive western lens persists on placing disability as centered in the individual and as a burden to society and their families. This oppression is conceptual but equally it is a lived oppression that is material, based in the body and produced within the economic abuse and extortion of the colonised (Meekosha & Soldatic, 2011).
The power dynamics of oppression are multilayered. In the creation of knowledge about who we are as humans we need to ask ourselves, who defines what it is to be human, who decides what are the categories to be used. How do these forms of knowledge affect the lives of people and their inclusion and status in-‘human’ society. Decolonising proposals have to move away from viewing the poverty stricken disabled as a minority. In fact it is a majority who have been dispossessed, incapacitated, oppressed and othered. Some of the reasons I am locating the research in Chile are that I have family and contacts there, and I have family members with diagnosed disabilities in school in Chile. Also Chile is a country of contrasts. It has a strong original indigenous community, the largest being the Mapuches whom in some pockets remained outside of colony, still today resisting integration. Chile is also a prosperous country within Latin America and yet with some of the biggest socioeconomic gaps between rich and poor anywhere in the continent (OECD, 2018).
In regards to inclusive education in Chile it is supposed that children with disabilities attend a variety of special schools or schools that are integrated and that accept certain diagnosis. The Law for Inclusive Schooling came into legislation in March 2016 but has been criticised for not putting funding and support structures into place (Escobar, 2017). Families and parents struggle to find placements in schools that are meant to accept their children. This becomes painfully clear when reading online the pleas for help by parents on websites like Integrados Chile (Integrados Chile website). It makes for grim reading to see line after line of stories of unsuccessful experiences and requests for advice on where to turn next. One mother after visiting the special school recommended for her son and finding it to have an aggressive culture asks if it is wrong to mainstream her son even though there are no integrated places left which means he will not receive any specialist support or therapies.
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