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SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell

The Politics of Disability Identity

Alternative title: Funksjonshemning som politisk identitet

Awarded: NOK 12.0 mill.

Disability is one of the clearest predictors of social marginalization and an enduring problem for global sustainable development. Although disability has in recent decades become enshrined in the framework and discourse of human rights, progress has been slow or absent in socioeconomic terms. There is a gap between rhetoric and results in policy: Disability remains correlates with poverty, low levels of education and employment, and relatively poorer life outcomes in affluent as well as less affluent societies. In this project we ask whether current political, legal and cultural understandings of disability amount to a misrecognition that actually hinders material progress. We hypothesize that contemporary human rights-based framings of disability – in much of academia as well in policy – effectively equate it with other identity-defining characteristics such as gender, skin color, and sexual orientation. We further hypothesize that these framings are misleading and produce an ideal that is unattainable for the majority of people with disabilities, while serving mainly to include only the most resourceful members of this large and diverse category. In this project we will critically investigate the history and consequences of the human rights framing of disability. We will provide a knowledge base for sustainable disability policies while advancing the field of disability studies.

In order to achieve our objectives within the constraints of this project we will delimit ourselves to a case study of Norway in recent decades. For our materials we will examine a wide range of discourse objects. We will proceed on the assumption that disability is ubiquitous in every social field, and cast a wide net, including a corpus of cultural texts that have salience in Norwegian society, including popular film and television, media events and sports events, and literary texts, including memoirs. We will also examine register data. By drawing on the unique possibilities offered by Statistics Norway, it is possible to tell a detailed story about determinants of inclusion an exclusion not attempted previously. We will also evaluate the educational attainment and employment situation of disabled people based on the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) and the European Social Survey (ESS). We will provide: • A history of the normative framing of disability as a legally and politically protected identity in Norway, and an analysis of the influence of human rights and Anglo-American framings on Norwegian policy. • A mapping of the constructions of “includable” disability identity in Norway in the fields of education, employment, public life, and culture, and an analysis of who is and who is not represented in these constructions. • An overview of the relative progress of different subcategories of people with disabilities in these fields, including novel and innovative analyses of Norwegian register data. • New knowledge about the fit and lack of fit of current framings of disability and of disability policy, to be communicated to stakeholders in policy, education, employment, culture, the field of disability NGOs and the general public.

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SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell