One of the best ways I know to understand connectivity is as a powerful critique of both the medical and social models of disability.
The medical model of disability is based on the premise that you are disabled if you have an impairment. You are disabled, for example, if you are blind, have lost sensation down the left side of your body, or have chronic lung disease.
By contrast, the social model of disability works from the assumption that it is not impairments that are inherently disabling, but social environments that present barriers to people engaging meaningfully in the world.
The medical model has a long history in physiotherapy. Our students are taught what is normal before learning to assess the various physical abnormalities that they will encounter in practice. They learn about normal weight, normal FEV¹, normal end-feel, and so on, and medicine’s reductive model of health and illness becomes well entrenched in student’s minds long before they learn that there are alternatives.
The social model has been a powerful counter-narrative in health care over the last 50 years, however, with many health professionals, disability rights activists and service users advocating for other ways to understand the experience and material realities of disability.
In recent years, a third critical perspective has emerged, drawing on the writings of Margrit Shildrick and Janet Price, but latterly developed by Barbara Gibson and others. This view focuses on the mediating technologies that make it possible for people to engage in meaningful activities. Here, a mediating technology is anything that allows a person to engage meaningfully in the world; be it a communication aid, a wheelchair, a guide dog, another person, or a host of other ‘tools’ that people can use to communicate, remain active, have fun, relax and live otherwise normal lives.
In crudely simple terms, the principles that underpin the idea of connectivity suggest that there are problems with both the medical and social models of disability because both rely on defining the disabled person as ‘other’. While many critical theorists have sympathy for the social model because it challenges the power asymmetries created by biomedicine and works to emancipate the voice of previously marginalised disabled people, there is obviously a problem in perpetuating the notion that disabled people are ‘other’ ‘exotic’ or ‘different’ – even if it is for politically laudable ends.
Connectivity provides a counterpoint to this view and I’ll try to unpack it in more detail in the next post.If you have any better explanations for these ideas, know of good resources and want to add comments that we might use in our paper, add them below.
Gibson, B. (2006). Disability, Connectivity and Transgressing the Autonomous Body. Journal of Medical Humanities, 27, 187-196. DOI 10.1007/s10912-006-9017-6.
Shildrick, M. & Price, J. (1996). Breaking the boundaries of the broken body. Body and Society, 2(4), 93–113.
Shildrick, M. (1997). Leaky Bodies and Boundaries: Feminism, Postmodernism and (Bio)ethics. London: Routledge.
Shildrick, M. & Price, J. (2002). Bodies together: Touch, ethics and disability. In, M. Corker & T. Shakespeare (Eds.), Disability/Postmodernity: Embodying Disability Theory. London: Continuum, 63–75.