Theorising Disability and Humanity

  • Dan GoodleyEmail author
Part of the Critical Studies of Education book series (CSOE, volume 12)


This chapter will draw upon some of my recent work with colleagues in Sheffield and Manchester in Britain ( and in response to some inspiring writers and writings. Drawing on research projects and intellectual moments of engagement, the chapter considers the ways in which disability disavows normative constructions of the human. I use the term disavowal in its original psychoanalytic sense of the word: to simultaneously and ambivalently desire and reject something (in this case, the human). I will then clarify and expand upon this disavowal—with explicit reference to the politics of people with intellectual disabilities (Throughout the chapter I will use interchangeably the terms “learning disability” and “intellectual disability” to acknowledge the ways in which their different usage reflects different national contexts. Learning disability is preferred in Britain whereas intellectual disability is used in Australia and the USA)—and make a case for the ways in which the human is (1) a category through which social recognition can be gained and (2) a classification requiring expansion, extension, and disruption. Indeed, an under-girding contention of this chapter is that people with intellectual disabilities are already engaged in what we might term a post-human politics from which all kinds of human can learn. The chapter outlines seven reasons why we should ask what it means to be human. Then we will move to focus on four very human elements—support, frailty, capacity, and desire—and disability’s place in redefining these elements.


Intellectual disability Research methodology Interdisciplinarity Disablism Post-human 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of SheffieldSheffieldUK

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