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The DisHuman Child

Goodley, D and Runswick-Cole, K and Liddiard, K (2015) The DisHuman Child. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. ISSN 1469-3739


Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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In this paper, we consider the relationship between the human and disability; with specific focus on the lives of disabled children and young people. We begin with an analysis of the close relationship between ‘the disabled’ and ‘the freak’. We demonstrate that the historical markings of disability as object of curiosity and register of fear serve to render disabled children as non-human and monstrous. We then consider how the human has been constituted, particularly in the periods of modernity and the rise of capitalism, reliant upon the naming of disability as antithetical to all that counts as human. In order to find a place for disabled children in a social and cultural context that has historically denied their humanity and cast them as monstrous others, we develop the theoretical notion of the DisHuman: a bifurcated complex that allows us recognise their humanity whilst also celebrating the ways in which disabled children reframe what it means to be human. We suggest that the lives of disabled children and young people demand us to think in ways that affirm the inherent humanness in their lives but also allow us to consider their disruptive potential: this is our DisHuman child. We draw on our research projects to explore three sites where the DisHuman child emerges in moments where sameness and difference, monstrosity/disability and humanity are invoked simultaneously. We explore three locations – (i) DisDevelopment; (ii) DisFamily and (iii) DisSexuality – illuminating the ways in which the DisHuman child seeks nuanced, politicized and complicating forms of humanity.

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