Transforming Disability, Culture and Childhood: Local, Global and Transdisciplinary Responses

A research website from the University of Sheffield


This transformative programme, running from September 2014 to September 2016, will develop three research strands. Each strand captures a distinct period of the life course (early years, childhood and youth), a particular analytical theme (disability diagnoses, disability dealings, disability discourses) and a specific institutional practice (families/communities, professional practice and policy making). Each strand will develop one or more research bids of inter/national and trans-disciplinary significance. The bids reflect on-going concerns at national and global levels, with issues of persistent inequalities for young disabled people and current global policies (e.g. Millennium Goals and EFA goals) that may be reinforcing and fuelling inequalities ( Understanding local constructions of these inequities, particularly cultural variations in how disability is constructed, are the first steps towards informing larger bids that address some of the societal challenges identified by RCUK and Horizon 2020. The ESRC ‘regard transformative research as that which involves pioneering theoretical and methodological innovation. The expectation is that the transformative research call will encourage novel developments of social science enquiry, and support research activity that attracts an element of risk.’ Our projects disrupt and transform hegemonic understandings of disabled childhoods and young adulthoods. They are novel in the sense that they prioritise the understandings of children and parents themselves and using the work of feminist, poststructuralist and postcolonial theorists to shake up dominant disabling discourses.

Our programme brings together University of Sheffield researchers from the Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities and Medicine to consider the ways in which difference and disability are being globally and locally conceptualised; how disability discourses are articulated alongside a discourse of ableism and the extent to which difference is required as a key component of contemporary society. Currently, new forms of meaning making in relation to difference and disability are being devised through, for examples, the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V.5 and the 2011 WHO World Report on Disability. These supranational discourses of disability inform how nation states govern their citizens, structure welfare and influence civil society. Moreover, as we live in affective and vitalist times where normal, ableist, responsible, moral ideas of citizenship are increasingly being produced through policy, political and practitioner discourses, questions are raised about the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ disabled. We require transdisciplinary, local and global responses to these pressing concerns; exemplified by our programme.


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